5 Revolutionary Teachings Of Late Transgender Pioneer Leslie Feinberg

From trans liberation to love, we explore hir impact on human rights.

November 18, 2014

Author and pioneering trans activist Leslie Feinberg died November 15 at home in Syracuse, New York, due to complications from several tick-borne illnesses. Feinberg, who preferred being addressed with zie/hir pronouns, penned the 1993 underground classic Stone Butch Blues, a nearly first-of-its-kind depiction of lesbian and transgendered life which explored gender issues and those of the working class. It's considered a revolutionary work in gender studies, and widely used and referenced in academia. Feinberg is survived by hir wife, Minnie Bruce Pratt, who described Feinberg as "an anti-racist white, working class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist," in an obituary for The Advocate.

Feinberg's last words were "Remember me as a revolutionary communist." To that end, we explore five of hir most revolutionary teachings. Feinberg was 65.

1. "Trans Liberation."

Feinberg coined the term "trans liberation" in order to affix the endeavoring of transgendered rights to the larger conversation surrounding human rights. "Trans liberation is inextricably linked to other movements for equality and justice," Feinberg said in a 1997 speech, later included in hir book Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, published two years later. In other words, to achieve social equality, no one cause can be lifted over another in the struggle for human rights; all causes should be acknowledged as connected and championed as such.

2. Gender Expression and Identity.

Feinberg understood the complexities of gender, and said that zie had "never been in search of a common umbrella identity, or even an umbrella term, that brings together people of oppressed sexes, gender expressions, and sexualities." Rather, zie encouraged autarchy for all people and any larger bodies to whom they belong. "More exists among human beings than can be answered by the simplistic question I'm hit with every day of my life: 'Are you a man or a woman?'" Feinberg said. Individuals, Feinberg believed, had the right to self-determine their identity; the original "you do you."

3. Marxism.

Feinberg's idea of trans liberation is a direct expression of hir Marxist beliefs, dedicating a life of activism against racism, classism, and sexism, among other ideologies. Zie, born into and raised by a blue-collar family, supported hirself as a teenager with a series of low-wage jobs, unable to secure steady work due to discrimination. Feinberg fought avidly for pro-labor rights, joining the Workers World Party in hir twenties, a "socialist party that fights on all issues that face the working class and oppressed peoples." Zie would be instrumental in organizing many radical rallies in support of the working class, and believed in the eradication of class antagonism.

4. Healthcare.

Feinberg was inflicted with tick-borne diseases, including Lyme, in the 1970s, when not much was known about the illness. However, Feinberg wasn't diagnosed until 2008, and considered hir poor medical treatment and subsequent poor health due to "bigotry, prejudice and lack of science." It was hir trans identity, Feinberg believed, that impeded healthcare access. Zie would document hir struggle in hir online blog, titled "Casualty of an Undeclared War," which outlined the "medical politics holding back scientific understanding about Lyme," and brought awareness to "institutionalized racism, women's oppression and other barriers to health care." Feinberg also explored the struggles within Cuban healthcare in hir book, Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba, a look at the evolution of LGBT life in the socialist country, and fought for access to healthcare free of discrimination during the AIDS movement.

5. Love.

Feinberg chose to leave hir biological family, who didn't support hir sexuality or gender identity, during adolescence. It was hir belief that individuals do not have to subscribe to a kind of biological, lawful familial love if they do not receive it; family is chosen, not assigned. In "Casualty of an Undeclared War," Feinberg quotes Che Guevara: "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. ... We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force." Just before hir death, Feinberg quoted Karl Marx, saying that the exchange value of love is love.

5 Revolutionary Teachings Of Late Transgender Pioneer Leslie Feinberg