Pioneering transgender rights activist Leslie Feinberg, who also wrote the seminal novel Stone Butch Blues, died earlier this week after a years-long battle with several infections, including Lyme Disease. The Advocate reports that Feinberg self-identified as “an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist” whose final words were a request to be remembered as the latter.
Born into a working-class family, Feinberg was raised in Buffalo and left home as a teenager, creating a new family along the way with the poet Minne Bruce Pratt. Zie (along with hir, the pronoun Feinberg preferred to use) took on a series of factory and manual labor jobs and became politically active, demonstrating against racism, homophobia and other social ills, and championing Palestinian rights, reproductive freedoms, and other causes.
In 1993, Feinberg published Stone Butch Blues, a semi-autobiographical account that follows the life of a butch lesbian in the years before 1969, when gay rights gained greater prominence with the Stonewall Riots in New York’s Greenwich Village. The novel “changed queer history. It changed trans history. It changed dyke history. And how it did that was by honestly telling a brutally real, beautifully vulnerable and messy personal story of a butch lesbian,” Shauna Miller wrote in a moving remembrance in the Atlantic. Its “depth and beauty,” she continued, “comes from the way Feinberg takes the reader down the path of realizing what butch identity means—and what safety and self-acceptance inside that identity means—with her.”
In addition to Stone Butch Blues, Feinberg wrote several other works and was the subject of Outlaw, a 1994 documentary. Feinberg was 65 years old.