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A tribute to Leslie Feinberg: Hero of a generation

By Steff Yorek

Author’s note: Leslie Feinberg preferred the pronouns ze (vs. she) and hir (vs. her) so I use those in this piece.

I write with great sadness the news that Leslie Feinberg died on Nov. 15, 2014 at the age of 65, after a protracted illness. Leslie is an icon of the LGBTQ movement, a Marxist and a revolutionary. Leslie pioneered a Marxist theory of transgender liberation. Ze wrote an in-depth class analysis of gay, lesbian and transgender oppression which ran as the “Lavender and Red” series in Workers World newspaper.

It was Leslie’s ground breaking novel Stone Butch Blues that had a profound impact on me personally. In 1993, I was just becoming a political activist and coming out as queer. Third-Wave feminism was starting to find its voice but what was acceptable for progressive women to think and discuss was still filled with the academic moralism and carnage of the feminist sex wars.* Leslie was simultaneously part of the feminist movement and the rising queer movement. In that moment, hir book was like air and light. The Butch-Femme world that Leslie describes in Stone Butch Blues was not my world but in its pages lived working-class lesbians who survived a life of contradictions and compromises with passion and zeal. I needed those women to be part of the political landscape in order for there to be a place for me.

Leslie was influential to the entire Third-Wave of queer and transgender activists. In Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue and Transgender Warriors Leslie further developed transgender theory and revealed transgender history. Leslie’s struggle for an inclusive definition of transgender personhood and broad acceptance of transgender lived experience touched movements and countless individuals.

Leslie’s life said that that we could be our most authentic selves and participate and lead, whether that was the LGBTQ struggle or the anti-imperialist movement. Hir life was proof that the history of LGBT exclusion from Marxist movements was a symptom of the homophobia of the people in them and not a flaw of Marxist theory. While this is my story of a long term distant appreciation for Leslie Feinberg, it is a story shared by many comrades and friends.

Some of us had the honor of meeting Leslie in person when the struggle to free CeCe McDonald brought hir to Minneapolis in the Summer of 2012. CeCe is a transgender woman who was on trial for defending hirself from a hate crime. Leslie came to the Twin Cities to put hir body on the line in the struggle to Free CeCe.

Leslie committed civil disobedience by spray painting the brick walls of the Hennepin County jail where CeCe was imprisoned. Ze spray painted “Free CeCe” on every blank space until ze was arrested, despite being quite ill at the time. Ze stayed at our home a few days awaiting hir first court appearance. Leslie was humble and enthusiastic to work with the young transgender activists at the core of CeCe’s case. Ze was eager to learn from them. Ze had not let the years of struggle make hir jaded or unwilling to see new things in new struggles.

Leslie was an organizer and an activist, a pioneer of transgender liberation, a Marxist and a courageous human being. We will remember Leslie as a revolutionary communist, just as ze wished to be remembered.

Our sincere condolences to Leslie’s partner Minnie-Bruce Pratt and hir comrades in the Workers World Party.

\* The full extent of Leslie’s influence cannot be understood outside of time, place and conditions. If you want to know more, I encourage you to look up any history referenced here that is unfamiliar to you.

Steff Yorek is the Political Secretary of Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

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