Leslie Feinberg continues to break gender barriers

By Jillian A. Bogater
Originally printed 10/26/2006 (Issue 1443 - Between The Lines News)

"Trans Gender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come" by Leslie Feinberg
It was during the Stonewall riots of 1969 that acclaimed author and trans activist Leslie Feinberg came out.

During this time of war and unemployment, Feinberg began a long journey as a warrior in identity politics.

Some 36 years later, the country's political and economic climate is similar, and Feinberg is still on the front lines fighting for freedom of gender expression.

Feinberg straddles the lines of defined gender - preferring to use neutral pronouns such as hir and sie - and has dedicated hir life to challenging transgender bias.

Feinberg will talk about hir new novel "Drag King Dreams" and address the struggle for trans liberation in an era of war, racism and reaction tonight at Wayne State University.

At a recent talk at the Workers World Party office in Detroit, Feinberg spoke about gender as a class issue.

Using hir strong union background, Feinberg suggested the gay rights movement may be making a huge mistake by focusing only on marriage rights. Instead, Feinberg visualizes a collective bargaining approach, gathering a comprehensive list of LGBT community demands, then starting dialogue from that point.

Also, the marketplace move toward globalization has created working classes around the world that have the ability to unite for mass workers' rights.

"We are going to take over our economy and run it for working people," sie said. "That's what it means to be revolutionary. Every struggle is important. ... As revolutionaries we say we are not going to stop fighting until every battle is won."

Feinberg recently spoke with BTL Managing Editor Jillian A. Bogater about the past, present and future of the transgender movement.

Between The Lines: Years ago, a good portion of the lesbian scene was split into butch/femme roles. Do these dynamics still exist today, and if so, how are they the same or different?

Leslie Feinberg: The butch and femme lesbians and drag queens and their butch partners were the only visible tip of the population of what is today an LGBT movement. As communities oppressed for our gender, as well as our sexuality, it took great courage for us all to forge communities. Because we organized and fought back, we helped to win many rights for all LGBT people. I don't think the same kind of communities exist today. And there is a lot of gender-phobia towards butch/femme desire that we still need to confront. While at the same time, today many genders/sexes and sexualities are more out and more proud and offer more understanding of how many ways there are to be LGBT.

BTL: How has the trans movement changed in your lifetime?

LF: It's not the first time in history that people oppressed because of how they live in their sex or express their gender have fought back or led battles or organized. But I have lived to see this modern struggle emerge and it has done so in a period of deep political reaction. I look forward to seeing it grow and develop even more bonds of solidarity with other movements.

BTL: It seems the last 10 years have been pivotal in the trans revolution. What do you thing spurred this change?

LF: That, I can't say. I'm not sure there's just one easy answer. But wherever there is oppression, resistance will ultimately break out.

BTL: The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival has evolved into a flashpoint for modern-day debate on trans inclusion. What does the debate mean for trans rights?

LF: The owners of the land have put forward a theoretical formulation: Women born women. It's regressive and dangerous. It's a "biology determines destiny" approach that denies the reality of the existences of many trans communities and also does great harm to women's liberation as a whole. I wrote more about this in a chapter entitled "Sisterhood: Make It Real!" in "Transgender Warriors" (Beacon).

BTL: Some FTMs distance themselves from the trans movement after transitioning. Is this internalized transphobia?

LF: It's important to understand what he is saying. He is a man. That's a very clear statement. It's not internalized transphobia. It's the external transphobia that is trying to deny his manhood. We need to pay attention.

BTL: Is there a power tradeoff for MTF trans folk?

LF: Here I want to make very clear that I am transgender and I want to be the best fighter I can be in defense of my transsexual sisters and brothers. Transmen and transwomen are in the crosshairs of oppression. Let's start with that reality and find ways to build greater solidarity.

BTL: What do you think fuels transphobia?

LF: That very question - "what are the roots of transphobia and genderphobia?" - is what I went searching for my whole life. I can tell you that I have found gender diversity and sex reassignment and intersexuality on every continent in every historical period.

But it wasn't until the cleaving of human society into have and have-nots economic classes that I found the earliest patriarchal edicts separating the sexes, overturning the historic role of females, punishing or executing intersexual individuals, defining gender roles, policing the boundaries of gender expression, and making sexuality a matter of state repression.

That history is presented in the most accessible way I possibly could, with more than 100 photos and illustrations, in "Transgender Warriors." I invite you as the reader to explore this history because it has a big impact on how we find ourselves at this moment in time -- "how we got here" -- and which way forward to the future. I also invite you to read my series "Lavender & Red" which deals with the demand for an end to the oppression of people based on sexuality, gender and sex and the revolutionary movements of the last century and a half. That series is up on www.workers.org. Look for the Lavender & Red logo.

BTL: What do you see for the future of the trans movement?

LF: The future will depend on what we do today!

Jillian A. Bogater is managing editor of Between The Lines. You can reach her at jillianbogater@pridesource.com.

"Drag King Dreams"
By Leslie Feinberg
Carroll & Graf Publishers
303 pages
Now available at www.leftbooks.com
www.transgenderwarrior.org
Other books by Leslie Feinberg:
Stone Butch Blues: A Novel
Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue
TRANS GENDER WARRIORS

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