"Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness."
- From Feinberg’s obituary, written by hir spouse, Minnie Bruce Pratt.
Leslie Feinberg’s seminal memoir Stone Butch Blues changed the lives of many of my friends. They were excited to read a book about the experiences of someone whose gender was resolutely masculine, despite the seeming conflict of their body; it was their experience.
For me, as a self-identified dyke who would eventually transition to something we all agree to call "male," the very title was too confronting. Butchness was terrifying to me because it suggested that I might be masculine, something about myself I had worked to eradicate, destroy even.
When a period of deep meditation and prayer revealed to me that I needed to change, my response was, "Really, God? Really? Because I don’t have enough on my plate!?" But as most apparent curses from our true selves turn out, transitioning has been an absolute gift. It is the best thing God has given me, after recovery from addiction; it is a remarkable journey that continues to bless me with amazing people and opportunities. Transitioning has given me a deeper connection to my spiritual being because I’m no longer afraid.
Leslie Feinberg seemed unafraid all the time. Ze (see footnote) was always the first on the front-lines, an early AIDS activist, pro-worker, racial justice pioneer, who seemed to recharge by fighting systems of oppression. The Lyme disease that slowly, painfully, took hir energy and life, went undiagnosed, and then poorly treated as doctors and nurses found hir gender-presentation confronting. Feinberg wrote often of systems that worked against hir, using hir own horrific stories of the anti-LGBTQ institutional cruelty and ignorance ze endured to educate and restore humanity for the rest of us.
On this Transgender Day of Remembrance I want to honor my sister-brothers. I want to carry the work that Leslie did, the work that our saint Pauli Murray does, for dignity and integrity for all souls, forward. I’ve been given a whole lot of grace on my own journey! My feelings have been hurt too many times to count as a transguy, but I bore more violence as a woman and a lesbian than I have as a transgender man. For this relatively easy transition I am deeply grateful. For others, the violence and neglect continues or worsens. Most of my friends agree: transitioning has made our lives exponentially better. But it does not make the world so.
To be transgender can mean being loving, lively, creative, and connected. To be transgender in situations that diminish our worth is painful, depressing, and soul-destroying. All of us know this—as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*gender, as intersex and as queer people we’ve all experienced some flavor of the diminishment of who and what we are. On this day of gravitas and difficult reality, I’m going to remember those who came before me, who made my new life possible through their lives and work. I renew my commitment as a transgender spiritual human—a Transgender Warrior, in the language of Feinberg--to speak up and out, and to share the love that was so generously given to me. Our strength comes from that absolute understanding: we are a part of God, and therefore magnificent and holy beyond human reckoning. As are you. God bless our trans* family.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that you lay down your life for your friends…You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
This I command you, to love one another."John 15:12-17
Sam Peterson is the Development Director at Integrity USA.
+Leslie Feinberg adopted the gender-neutral pronouns ze (instead of he or she) and hir (instead of his or her) during much of her journey, reverting to she/her in her last years. I've used ze/hir to emphasis the elasticity and expansiveness of our journey.