Leslie Feinberg: Author, Political Activist, Transgender Pioneer

Leslie Feinberg on the cover of the Alyson Books edition of Stone Butch Blues.

Leslie Feinberg, who died Nov. 15 at the age of 65, did more than any other individual to transform the way that lesbian and bisexual feminists thought and talked about butch and femme identities and transsexual issues. Before the novel Stone Butch Blues appeared in 1993—at least in the communities I was part of in Washington, D.C., and Seattle—butch and femme were usually treated as outmoded holdovers from the unenlightened era before the women’s liberation movement. Stone Butch Blues changed that by telling the story of an unapologetically political butch/passing/trans character and by blowing apart stereotypical ideas about role-based romantic relationships. The fierce, “finally, I’m not alone” way that some readers connected with the novel was striking. On the rare occasions when people have unironically handed me a book and declared that it changed, or perhaps even saved, their life, it has almost always been a dog-eared copy of Stone Butch Blues.

Feinberg was a committed political activist, specifically a Marxist, union organizer, and member of the Workers World Party. In the obituary she wrote for the Advocate, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Feinberg’s partner of 22 years and a wonderful poet and nonfiction writer herself, stresses that legacy, reporting that Feinberg’s final words were, “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

For all its undisputed impact, Stone Butch Blues was no happy-clappy feelgood fest. The novel never shies away from portraying the anti-Semitism, classism, homophobia, anti-butch animus, and trans-phobia that protagonist Jess Goldberg faced on a daily basis—but it also shows the healing power of love and political activism.

Astonishingly, Stone Butch Blues is out of print (Pratt reports that a 20th-anniversary edition will soon be freely available online), but what better way to celebrate Feinberg’s legacy than to read the novel Drag King Dreams or nonfiction works Transgender Warriors and Trans Liberation.