I was saddened to learn that on November 15, Leslie Feinberg passed away. Leslie's life and work was important to so many trans* activists, scholars, and people, including mine. Hearing of Leslie's passing, which is really the passing of an incredible trans* activist and icon, hit me hard. Leslie's writing (particularly Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue was hugely important to me when I was first coming out as trans*. Moreover, Leslie's utter defiance of normative gender in both scholarship and daily life was a relief for me as a gender non-conforming kid who constantly felt like I wasn't trans* enough if unless I decided to do hormone replacement therapy and/or gender confirmation surgery. Leslie was, and remains to this day, an incredibly important person in my own trans* history. And so I felt it only right to take some time to honor the life and work of someone who, to borrow some ball scene terminology, is a Legend.
Many of the experiences Leslie shared with us as an audience speak to the painful realities of how gender operates as a discourse to delimit and foreclose many basic human rights and needs. From not getting adequate healthcare to being unable to find employment, Feinberg knew well the realities of trans* oppression. Although these realities are still omnipresent for trans* people today, it was Leslie's work as a pioneer in the area of trans* rights that helped galvanize the trans* movement. Leslie did not start the movement, but there can be no denying that Leslie was an incredibly important part of furthering and expanding it.
In my mind, one of Leslie's most important contributions to ongoing trans* activism was the focus on intersectional praxis. Leslie's last words are a subtle reminder of this: "Remember me as a revolutionary Communist." Leslie fought for worker's right, resisted capitalistic notions of rugged individualism, and truly believed in being active in common causes that united the most marginalized people across identities. Leslie's life and work were not solely about being trans*, or about workers rights, or about anti-capitalism. Instead, Leslie showed me how to work across identities to build coalitions as a means to what Dean Spade (2011) has termed "trickle up activism." From this lens, by focusing on the most marginalized, and by building coalitions that unite rather than divide, we as activists and scholars (and activist-scholars) can seek justice and rights that invariably "trickle up" to other marginalized groups and populations. Yes, Leslie did not coin the notion of intersectionality, but Leslie lived it in a way that has provided a roadmap for how I, too, may do it throughout my life.
Leslie's legacy will undoubtedly live on. Future generations of trans* people will run into Leslie in a variety of ways, perhaps most notably through reading Stone Butch Blues. Among the moments I will most remember was a talk Leslie gave in which a reference was made about an old law that required people to wear three pieces of "gender-appropriate clothing" or else face the prospect of being hauled to jail. As someone who rarely passes this test (and has extreme issues with the notion that clothing is gendered in and of itself), I often find myself reflecting on this particular insight that Leslie shared while I get dressed in the mornings. I know I will not be hauled off to jail for my clothing, but still, there is much work to be done, and many assumptions to be deconstructed regarding how gender is mapped onto our bodies as well as the effects such gender mapping has for the livability of our lives as trans* people. In this sense, I find I spend a small portion of most of my mornings with Leslie, and in doing so, I am able to recommit myself continually to the project at hand: resisting genderism in all forms.
Thanks be to Leslie Feinberg, one of my fearless and defiant trans* kin, for providing a roadmap for truth, power, resilience, and intersectional praxis. Yours is a life I will not forget.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.