Today was the (first) transgender visibility march. Seems like a great day to pull out a classic!
Leslie Feinberg is one of three OtherWise prophets that I honor around the edges of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation. Leslie Feinberg was talking about gender-benders and intersex folk long before most people were educated about those topics (recognizing that we still have a long way to go, even today).
Transgender Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue is Feinberg’s 1998 book. It is a collection of speeches, with a few individual profiles of transgender people woven in. It’s a great resource for thinking about how things were back in 1997 or 1998, during the “transgender spring.” While Feinberg is not writing from a Christian point of view, ze push on all of the edges of what organized back then.
What makes Feinberg especially prophetic is that zir writing is still timely today. The politicians are different, but the issues are very much the same. Feinberg coined the term “Transgender Liberation” and did important work connecting the dots with other kinds of liberation, making the case that broad based solidarity is important for our survival.
Our lives are proof that sex and gender are much more complex than a delivery room doctor’s glance at genitals can determine, more variegated than pink or blue birth caps. (page 5)
And if you do not identify as transgender or transsexual or intersexual, your life is diminished by our oppression as well. … So the defense of each individual’s right to control their own body, and to explore the path of self-expression, enhances your own freedom to discover more about yourself and your potentialities. (page 6)
To me, gender is the poetry each of us makes out of the language we are taught. (page 10)
We… don’t have to explain why we are the way we are. We have to explain who we are. How we see ourselves. (page 29)
The real burning question is: How did we ever find the courage? From what underground spring did we draw our pride? How did each of us make our way in life, without a single familiar star in the night sky to guide us, to this room where we have at last found others like ourselves? … I think we have the whole world to give back to each other. (page 34)
The way in which people express themselves is a very important part of who they are. It is not possible to force all people to live outside of femininity and masculinity. Only androgynous people live comfortably in that gender space. There’s no social compulsion strong enough to force anyone else to dwell there. Trans people are an example of the futility of this strategy. (page 53)
What is the bedrock on which all of our diverse trans populations can build solidarity? The commitment to be the best fighters against each other’s oppression. … Unity depends on respect for diversity, no matter what tools of language are ultimately used. (page 60)
I live proudly in a body of my own design. I defend my right to be complex. (page 70)
I recently put that question to Puerto Rican drag queen Sylvia Rivera–a combatant at Stonewall: “Were you fighting against police brutality? Were you fighting racism? Or for your right to be gay? Did you fight because so few of the queens could produce the military draft cards government agents demanded that night? Or because so many of you were homeless and hungry and embattled on the streets?”
Sylvia replied with quiet dignity, “We were fighting for our lives.” (pages 96-97)
What unites us is not a common sexuality or experience or identities or self-expressions. It’s that we are up against a common enemy. (page 102)
That’s why we must ask everyone who puts forward theory: Which side are you on? … History is recorded from the point of view of the hunter or the hunted. … So the question we must demand of historians is: Which side are you on? (pages 115, 119)
So perhaps the greatest contribution that any of us can make who excavate history, and who develop and clarify theory, is to ensure that our history and theory is relevant and accessible to all those who are ready and willing to take action. (page 124)
Leslie Feinberg also has a 1992 pamphlet, titled Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come, which is available as a free PDF from Workers World. Pieces of this pamphlet would make their way into Feinberg’s equally important Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman (1997).
Feinberg writes with a strong class analysis born of their involvement in Marxist and communist organizing. The 1992 pamphlet actually has a very nuanced assessment of the role of Christian tradition in gender oppression (incl. transgender as well as women’s rights).
Feinberg’s classic Stone Butch Blues is also available for free as a PDF (or at-cost through Lulu) at Feinberg’s website.
Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on September 26, 2019.
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