Leslie Feinberg: Revolutionary Communist, Transgender Warrior

Nov 17, 2014

(September 1, 1949 – November 15, 2014)

Editor’s Note: Because Leslie Feinberg preferred the pronouns “she/zie” and “her/hir” we are using those pronouns in this article.

Leslie Feinberg, pioneer transgender revolutionary, author and activist, has died at the age of 65. Hir life-partner of 22 years, Minnie Bruce Pratt, was at hir side in their home in Syracuse, N.Y. Hir last words, Pratt writes in an eloquent tribute and eulogy in the Advocate Magazine, were these: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

Born in Kansas City, Mo., Feinberg grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. Hir biography, posted on hir website “Transgender Warrior,” describes hir roots as “coming of age as a young butch lesbian in the factories and gay bars of Buffalo, N.Y. in the 1960s. Throughout hir life, she identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist.”

Hir writings on the super-oppression of transgender people came at a time when voices of solidarity and support for transgender people were few and far between. The impact of hir theoretical development of transgender liberation as a Marxist concept has affected and guided the transgender movement, the LGBTQ movement, academic circles all around the world, and the broader movement for justice. Hir writings and activism have contributed immeasurably to the growth of the transgender movement.

Hir acts of solidarity in support of oppressed people around the world, for Palestine, Cuba, political prisoners such as Mumia Abu-Jamal, Native Americans—plus so many more—have provided a basis for increased working-class solidarity throughout the progressive movement.

Feinberg’s first novel, “Stone Butch Blues,” published in 1993, struck a chord with hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people and others dealing with a hostile and often violent society, a society with zero tolerance for anyone stepping out of bounds regarding sexual orientation or gender identity.

Selling in the hundreds of thousands, the ground-breaking work has been translated into many languages. It captured, in real terms, the realities of people pushed to the edge of society, forced to go underground just to live: transgender people, gay people, lesbians, queer people, street people—all forced to deal with all the complexities of gender and sexual issues in a violent, homophobic and transphobic world. “Stone Butch Blues” remains a classic still today.

It was Feinberg who pointed out, in numerous essays, that in many ways transgender people were in the leadership and on the front lines of rebellions that erupted in the LGBTQ communities in the early days of the modern LGBTQ movement.

At the Stonewall Inn rebellion in New York (1969), the Black Cat Bar uprising in Los Angeles (1967), the Compton Cafeteria uprising in San Francisco (1966), transgender people, those who faced the most violence and hatred, were often the most courageous and effective leaders in those battles for justice. With years of developing tactics and strategies to outsmart and outmaneuver the endless brutality and violence of the cops, transgender people had the skills to lead, and did so.

While engaging in countless struggles as a member of the Workers World Party, and as a managing editor of Workers World newspaper, Leslie Feinberg contributed greatly to the development of a theoretical Marxist material view of the new modern LGBTQ movement, focusing primarily on the role of transgender individuals in history and researching transgender movements and communities both before and after the advent of class society.

Feinberg was unique in that she was perhaps the first to show that it is theoretically necessary to include the rise of oppression of transgender people in any analysis regarding the historical roots of the oppression of women and homosexuals with the rise of class society, and concurrently, the state.

Feinberg’s works include “Lavender & Red,” a series of writing on the links between socialism and LGBTQ history; “Transgender Warriors: Making History”; “Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink and Blue,” and the novel “Drag King Dreams.”

Casualty of capitalist health care system

Original artwork: Stewart Stout

Original artwork: Stewart Stout

Diagnosed with Lyme disease and other multiple tick-borne infections, Feinberg endured many decades of suffering, both from the effects of the devastating illness, from lack of scientific research and effective treatments, and also from the bigotry of the U.S. health care system towards transgender people, who are systematically denied full access to care due to discrimination and transphobia.

In hir blog, Feinberg outlines the brutal ways that the capitalist health care system excludes millions from care, and resorts to prejudice and anti-science to justify inaction on a multitude of afflictions that are left undone because they don’t enrich the capitalist health care monolith.

In spite of failing health, Feinberg continued to write and work. “I had hoped to write much more,” she writes in hir blog, “how the ruling classes have historically used already existing prejudices to deny the scientific resources and individual aid that epidemics require. I had wanted in particular to write more about institutionalized racism, women’s oppression and other barriers to health care, about the infamous ‘Tuskegee experiment’ and the AIDS epidemic.”

Minnie Bruce Pratt, in a moving tribute to hir lover, best friend, and comrade, referred to the necessity for the two of them to marry, in order to protect their relationship. Feinberg was estranged from hir family by their hostility, and Pratt had lost custody of hir sons as a lesbian mother. Feinberg stressed, Pratt recounts, “… that state authorities had no right to assign who were or were not hir loved ones, but rather that she would define hir chosen family, citing Karl Marx who said that the exchange value of love—is love.”

Leslie Feinberg, presente!

Preston Wood is a member of the Central Committee of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.