Mourning a Transgender Warrior on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Laurie and Debbie say:

Leslie Feinberg died five days ago, of complications of Lyme disease and related tick-borne illnesses. November 20 (still today on the West Coast of the U.S.) is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. While this somber day is about remembering trans people who have been murdered for being trans, it is also a most fitting day to remember Leslie Feinberg, who died not by murder but by the medical establishment’s bigotry .

Feinberg was a tireless fighter for revolutionary justice for all people, and identified as an “anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist.”

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Hir obituary describes hir autobiographical novel, Stone Butch Blues as “a groundbreaking work about the complexities of gender,” a near-perfect description. Both of us remember reading Stone Butch Blues when it was relatively new, and being struck by … so many things. How ze was not only a good writer, but also a clear thinker. How clearly ze delineates the working-class Buffalo gay culture where ze grew up, and how class is a central part of the story. How — in a time where being gay was more dangerous than it is now, being butch was flaunting the refusal to pass, and being trans or genderqueer was rarely acknowledged and given very little space even in queer culture — ze managed to examine the complexities of being butch and trans, being working class and queer, being stone and loving.

Shauna Miller, writing at The Atlantic, talks about the importance of Stone Butch Blues, and what she learned from it.

… the depth and beauty of Stone Butch Blues 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. Jess’s identity is so much more than her appearance. It’s more than her choice to work in a male-dominated factory world. It’s more than those simple and severely punished offenses against both womanhood and manhood. It’s more than the fistfights with other butches as a desperate attempt at intimacy, more than disappointing her great love, Theresa, with her emotional and intimate distance. By the end of this book, butch identity comes from letting love’s light trickle through a crack in the armor. But first the reader needs to understand where all the armor came from. “I felt as though I was rushing into a burning building to discover the ideas I needed for my own life,” Jess writes. That’s heavy gear to carry.

Feinberg believed that her death was directly attributable to “bigotry, prejudice and lack of science,” both because of the extra difficulties transgender people face in receiving good care, and the absolute failure of contemporary medicine to acknowledge and treat chronic Lyme disease and its related co-infections. Her multi-part essay, “Casualty of an Undeclared War” goes into substantial detail about this.

Feinberg was never one to let someone else have the last word. From hir obituary:

In a statement at the end of her life, she said she had “never been in search of a common umbrella identity, or even an umbrella term, that brings together people of oppressed sexes, gender expressions, and sexualities” and added that she believed in the right of self-determination of oppressed individuals, communities, groups, and nations.

HAES, Intersectionality, Inclusion, and Bravery

Debbie says:

Jessica Wilson is the most exciting HAES (health at every size) blogger I have come across in a long time. Blogging at My Kitchen Dietitian from my home town of Oakland, California, she identifies herself as a thin woman of color, not the most common description of a size-acceptance-friendly dietitian.

She doesn’t mince words and she doesn’t cut corners. Browsing through her blog, I find:

There is no limit to the number of people willing to tell us what our bodies need to be “healthier”. They are screaming it from daytime and prime time television, from books, from home shopping networks, from newspapers and magazines. They are offering up these shoulds and shouldn’ts, in a way that seems like they’re doing us a favor. As long as we follow their rules we’ll be so much better off!

Upon examination these people tend to have a few things in common. They are usually 1. White, 2. Cis gendered and heterosexual, 3. Higher SES [socio-economic status], 4. Have often self-appointed themselves the expert of everyone’s needs on the planet (Dr. Oz anyone?). 5. Have never met me.

Let me tell you, as a queer person of color, I am totally over straight white folks in self-appointed power telling me what I need to do in order to live my life, and be “healthy” as defined by the aforementioned stranger.

I think that this paternalism is just one aspect of the bigger issue here; as a nation our health literacy is in the toilet. With the constant barrage of “right” and “wrong” ways to do things—each of which contradict each other—we are completely without the knowledge to know that our body has individual needs and how to clue into them.

She also addresses the question how HAES intersects with racism. Responding to a list from Dr. Linda Bacon of the advantages of thin privileges (you can see the list at the link), she says:

I … wondered if there was another thin person of color, like me, in the room and how they felt about that list. Was there anyone in the room at the NAAFA conference who, like myself, has walked into a clothing store and been asked to leave their bag at the door only to find other white shoppers with their bags? Was there anyone in the room who has been followed around a store to ensure payment for desired items, as I have? I wondered how it would have felt to listen to that speech as a fat person of color, and reflect on the ability to find a loving and supportive partner in a culture of thin privilege and white supremacy. Was there anyone in the room who needed to buy two airplane tickets to travel and experience a public hair pat-down by TSA, as I have, because they wore their hair naturally? Did anyone in the room wonder about the way that thin privilege intersects with other identities? Thin privilege definitely makes life easier for me, for Dr. Bacon, and many others, I am not questioning that. To fully address fat oppression in our society, though, I believe the conversation needs be broadened from the one-dimensional topic I have found it to be.

She says she has been told by others that bringing in race is “muddying the waters.” On the contrary, any conversation about privilege that doesn’t bring in other kinds of privilege (such as a conversation about gender privilege that doesn’t address ability) is an incomplete conversation. Wilson is not muddying the waters, she is opening the floodgates in ways they need to be open. Without a commitment to intersectionality, we can’t even look at the real problems we face.

In November and December, she plans a series of blogs about the intersection between HAES policies and weight-loss surgery patients, and she is being very clear (while also being perfectly polite) that she doesn’t intend to sugarcoat or ignore any misuse or dismissal of these patients by the HAES community.

She’s the best resource I’ve come across in a long time, and a welcome addition to my blog reading. Watch for more links to her blog and posts about her in the months to come.

Thanks to Marcia for the pointer!