glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy






Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

Feinberg, Leslie (1949-2014)  

Political organizer, grassroots historian, and writer Leslie Feinberg was a pioneer of activism and culture. Long a part of the struggle for queer liberation, Feinberg openly identified as transgendered and was outspoken about "hir" experiences living outside of the gender binary. ("Ze" has expressed the need for our language to incorporate alternate pronouns such as "hir" rather than "her" or "his," and "ze" or "sie" as opposed to "he" or "she.")

Feinberg was born in Kansas City, Missouri on September 1, 1949, and reared in Buffalo, New York, in a working-class Jewish family. At age 14, ze began supporting hirself by working in the display sign shop of a local department store, and eventually stopped going to hir high school classes, though officially ze received her diploma. It was during this time that ze entered the social life of the Buffalo gay bars.

Facing blatant discrimination as a transgender person, ze found it difficult to attain steady work. For most of hir life, ze earned her living through a series of low-wage temporary jobs, including working in a PVC pipe factory and a book bindery, cleaning out ship cargo holds and washing dishes, serving an ASL interpreter, and inputting medical data.

Feinberg is perhaps best known as the author of the widely acclaimed novel Stone Butch Blues (Firebrand Books, 1993). In response to the common assumption that the novel is semi-autobiographical, ze insisted that the book is a work of fiction. Ze went on to explain that ze chose to write from a first-person point of view in light of the limitations using third-person pronouns would have imposed upon the narrative.

Still, many readers have recognized aspects of Feinberg's own life in the story of protagonist Jess Goldberg, a Jewish "he-she" growing up in 1950s Buffalo and struggling around being differently gendered.

Like Feinberg, Jess identified as a butch lesbian before fully coming to terms with hir gender identity, which falls outside the norm. Jess is unable to find a sense of home and self until ze discovers a community of gender/sexual minorities and then later becomes politically active as an organizer.

The deeply moving novel is already regarded as a classic, and rightly so. It has won both an American Library Association Award for Gay and Lesbian Literature and a 1994 Lambda Literary Award.

In addition to Stone Butch Blues, Feinberg has published two nonfiction books: Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul (Beacon Press, 1996), which won a Firecracker Alternative Book Award for Nonfiction in 1996, and Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue (Beacon, 1998). In addition, a second novel, Drag King Dreams appeared in 2006.

Feinberg was especially vigilant in hir writings about documenting the otherwise ignored contributions to history various oppressed groups have made. Hir nonfiction works explore not only transgender issues, but the crucial relationships and parallels among the women's, people of color's, and queer rights movements.

In addition to hir writing career, Feinberg was also a leader of the Workers World Party, an independent Marxist organization, and a managing editor of its newspaper. Ze co-founded Rainbow Flags for Mumia--a coalition of GLBTQ people calling for a new trial for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal--and organizes with the International Action Center, an activist group that resists war, corporate greed, and oppression.

Feinberg spoke publicly about a serious illness ze survived in the 1990s, during which ze nearly died due to the discriminatory treatment ze received from doctors. Feinberg has shared the experience to illustrate the dire need for better understanding of trans health issues and needs among the medical establishment.

Feinberg lectured widely at colleges and universities, spoke at Pride marches, and gave numerous keynote speeches at various transgender events.

Ze was the first theorist to advance a Marxist concept of "transgender liberation." Hir work influenced popular culture, academic research, and political organizing.

Feinberg died on November 15, 2014 in Syracuse, New York, where she succumbed to complications of multiple tick-borne infections after decades of illness. Ze died at home, with hir partner and spouse of 22 years, poet Minnie Bruce Pratt, at her side.

Feinberg and Pratt met in 1992 when Feinberg presented a slideshow on hir transgender research in Washington, D.C. After a long-distance courtship, they made their home for many years in Jersey City, New Jersey. They entered into a domestic partnership in 2004, a civil union in 2006, and were married in Massachusetts in 2006 and in New York State in 2011.

Teresa Theophano


zoom in
Leslie Feinberg.
Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Literature
Popular Topics:

The Arts

Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators
Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall
Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall

Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male
Erotic and Pornographic Art: Gay Male

New Queer Cinema

White, Minor

Halston (Roy Halston Frowick)


Winfield, Paul

McDowall, Roddy
McDowall, Roddy

Cadinot, Jean-Daniel
Cadinot, Jean-Daniel


   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall various political agendas have dominated American lesbian literature.

literature >> Overview:  Autobiography, Transsexual

Transgendered individuals have published autobiographies not only to tell or to clarify the stories of their lives, but also to educate others in an effort to gain greater acceptance for transgender people.

literature >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

In literature, the gay male cross-dresser and the lesbian cross-dresser are depicted quite differently.

social sciences >> Overview:  Intersexuality

Intersexuality (formerly referred to as hermaphroditism) is a congenital anomaly in which an individual's external genitalia or internal reproductive systems fall outside the norms for either male or female bodies.

literature >> Overview:  Jewish-American Literature

Jewish-American gay and lesbian literature is marked by its rich heritage, diverse subject matter, and thriving vitality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Passing

Generally defined as seeking or allowing oneself to be identified with a race, class, or other social group to which one does not genuinely belong, passing is a complex and layered issue in queer culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender

"Transgender" has become an umbrella term representing a political alliance between all gender variant people who do not conform to social norms for typical men and women and who suffer political oppression as a result.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender Activism

Since the late nineteenth century, transgendered people have advocated legal and social reforms that would ameliorate the kinds of oppression and discrimination they suffer.

social sciences >> Bornstein, Kate

One of the best-known transgender activists, Kate Bornstein, in works that are accessible and frequently humorous, challenges audiences to buck the gender system.

social sciences >> Joan of Arc

Although condemned to death by the Inquisition for her cross-dressing, almost five hundred years later Joan of Arc was canonized by the Church as a saint.

literature >> Pratt, Minnie Bruce

Award-winning author Minnie Bruce Pratt has written moving and erotic poems and stories that explore sex and gender issues, as well as powerful essays that decry bigotry in its many forms.

arts >> RuPaul (RuPaul Andre Charles)

A six-foot five-inch tall African-American drag queen who usually performs in a blonde wig, RuPaul has given drag a new visibility by infusing it with gentleness and warmth.


Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues. Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1993.

green, karen. "Mouth to Mouth: karen green Talks to Leslie Feinberg." Pucker Up 1.4 (Fall/Winter 1996): 34-35.

Lee, Gretchen. "Pink and Blue." Curve 8.5 (November, 1998): 28-31.

"Transgender Pioneer and Stone Butch Blues Author Leslie Feinberg Has Died." The Advocate (November 17, 2014):


    Citation Information
    Author: Theophano, Teresa  
    Entry Title: Feinberg, Leslie  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2003  
    Date Last Updated November 18, 2014  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2003, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2003, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.