‘Who is, and is not, my family’

In autumn 2010, Knopf published a “transgender” themed young adult novel. The author, Catherine Ryan Hyde, is an estranged relative of mine.

The analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Hyde’s young adult fiction novel will come from those who are living the identities, and oppressions to which she has applied her imagination.

However, as part of the media coverage and publicity tour for the release of the young adult novel, Hyde claims much of her expertise and authority for writing her “transgender”-themed young adult novel as based on my life and identity.

The author is a relative with an axe to grind. When she claims me as kin in order to counter-narrate my life, I am forced to get up out of a sick bed in order to respond in writing.

Since I became acutely ill in October 2007, it has been very hard for me to write, or to speak. So it is opportunistic and unconscionable that a hostile relative would take this opportunity to re-tell my life in a way that changes my sex, mis-describes my gender expression, and closets my sexuality. Hyde also attempts to silence me politically as a revolutionary, reasserts the dominant legal control of the biological family, and ignores and disrespects my chosen family.

My verbal and written request for no further contact has been violated by my relatives numerous times over the last forty years. So I do not rely on them to respect my wishes. Instead, I have clarified and strengthened my legal papers, and I am making this statement public: My living biological relatives—Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde, and Catherine Ryan Hyde—are not my family. They do not speak for me.

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) defines “family” as: “The person(s) who plays a significant role in the individual’s [patient’s] life. This may include a person(s) not legally related to the individual.”

Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde, and Catherine Ryan Hyde have not played any significant role in my adult life. I have not seen or spoken to my parents in 40 years. Catherine Ryan Hyde was a child when I left home as a youth, and has only met me a handful of times in her adult lifetime.

Catherine Ryan Hyde’s narrations about my identity and early family life to audiences and media on her young adult novel book tour is not the first time that she or other relatives have narrated hostile accounts of my life–in person and in print.

Who is, and who is not, my ‘family’

My estranged biological relatives know very little about the decades of my adult life. They are strangers, by my choice, because of their history of bigotry and abusive behaviors toward me.

Yet the capitalist state often cedes legal power to blood relatives by default. So, I’ve had to struggle to assert legal independence from the white, patriarchal, heterosexually-modeled nuclear family into which I was born.

For four decades I have been forced to create and revise sets of legal forms for every state in the U.S. in which I’ve lived or sought medical care. These foundational documents state in clear language that I have been legally autonomous from my birth family since I reached the age of legal consent.

My documents state that Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde, and Catherine Ryan Hyde have no legal rights in my life.

My legal papers also spell out clearly who does have the right to speak for me if I am unable to speak for myself.

Minnie Bruce Pratt has been my family, legally and in life, since 1992. As lovers, we have shared a home, life and struggle—in sickness and in health. We are domestic partners. We are civil union’d. Yet the state and federal government discriminate against our same-sex economic family unit by denying more than a thousand of the benefits that recognition of same-sex rights as a civil “marriage” certificate would provide.

Because I am female, and in a same-sex relationship, I have to live and travel with legal documents that expressly state who is, and who is not, my family.

Even chosen family members who travel with their legal documents intact can find themselves barred from visiting their loved one in an emergency room, while vindictive relatives who are virtual strangers can proceed to the bedside to make life-and-death decisions.I carry a hospital visitation authorization, the new Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST), my domestic partnership and civil union papers, advanced directives, living will and last will & testament. In addition, I carry a copy of caregivers’ rights, and requests for secular-based care.

I have to legally state in paperwork that Minnie Bruce Pratt is my health care proxy, together with my attorney–who has taught issues of law and transgender. They have my powers of attorney. Based on legal documents that I’ve worked hard to prepare, my chosen family would speak for me if I were unable to advocate for myself.

Minnie Bruce and I both have to carry each other’s documents at all times, as well.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is attempting to undermine all my painstaking documentation of chosen family relationships, by claiming blood ties give her intimate knowledge of my life and identity, and the right to re-write them.

Self-expression of oppressions, Versus bashing counter-narrative

On her author promotional tour, Catherine Ryan Hyde is developing an embryonic biography of my life–fictionalized and unauthorized—to which I give no consent. Her assertions are all easily found on the web in a google search.

“This is totally my story to tell,” Catherine Ryan Hyde publicly maintains. She claims insider knowledge, because, she says, she grew up with a “transgender sibling.”

She also claims that because I have written and spoken publicly about my own   oppressions and life’s struggles, my life is now public domain for her imagination. This argument draws an equal sign between the right of oppressed individuals to self-expression, and the bigoted “voice-over” that contradicts and denies those oppressed identities and life experiences.

Hyde claims she learned acceptance from an early age because she “grew up” with a “transgender sibling.” However, she must admit she is either a virtual stranger to my life, or is maliciously re-writing my identity—or both.

Catherine Ryan Hyde appropriates the description of my life in order to contradict my identity. In her commentary, she co-opts my life’s journey, changes my sex, denies my pronoun(s) of choice, mis-describes my gender expression, and closets my declared sexuality.

I can say with certainty that if anyone claims “insider” knowledge of my life based on patriarchal blood relations–or claims to have been a long-lost “good friend,” or to have “dated” me long ago—in order to deny and obfuscate my life’s struggles, then I can guarantee you that the “love” is not mutual.

When a basher narrates my bio

The only authority any of my biological relatives, including Catherine Ryan Hyde, can muster to justify talking about my early life is that they were “there. “

But, those who take part in group beatings and gang rape of oppressed individuals are also “there” during assaults. That doesn’t give those bigots the right to “own” or re-write the biographies of those who survived their attacks.

Nor do bigots and bullies have the right to rewrite their violence against an oppressed individual as “loving” and “consensual.” Such actions are a continuation of the violent and prejudiced abuse; it’s trying to take over another person’s life; it’s attempting to control and define someone else, against their will.

“As some of you may know already, I grew up with a transgender sibling,” Hyde states–assigning a later 20th-century identity to my mid-20th-century birth.

“A transgender person is someone who is born with a type of birth defect, for lack of a better phrase,” she asserts.

Hyde makes this pronouncement as someone who is not self-identified as “transgender.”

Hyde narrowly defines her use of the term “transgender” for her young adult novel character when she says that he has “not transitioned yet.” [My emphasis]

My own life’s journey and oppressions are different than those of her protagonist. To state or imply that my life’s identity is the same as Hyde’s leading “transgender” character pits my life and identity and oppressions against those of others.

See my writings for how I’ve defined my life’s journey, my sex, gender expression, sexuality, and politics.

So in having based herself as an authority on my life, is Hyde proclaiming my sex, my gender expression or my sexuality as biological “birth defects?”

In any case, she wasn’t around for my birth. As the youngest of three daughters, I was already about 6 years old when she was born.

Hyde was only about 7 years old when I was 13, and I had to ask my parents to sign working papers, so that I could get a job after high school and not have to come home until it was time to go to bed.

Outside my parents’ home, and beyond high school corridors and classrooms, I was able to find wage work during the Vietnam War, and loving relationships. I found communities, struggle, my voice and pride.

What happened, in Hyde’s publicity-tour narrative of my life, to my out-and-proud butch lesbian life in communities and struggles in Buffalo, Albany, and Rochester, New York; Erie, Pennsylvania; St. Catherine’s and Toronto, Ontario—at a time when same-sex love was illegal and subject to raids by police and groups of bashers?

I later moved out of my parents’ home before the legal age of consent, despite the fact that I was still their legal ward. After years of living independently, I had to return shortly before my 21st birthday, in order to ask my parents to sign permission for me to begin taking hormones. I did not self-identify as transgender at that time.

Several years later, when I told my parents that I was going to stop taking hormones, my biological father ridiculed me and my biological mother sat silently in another room, her back towards me as I left. Catherine Ryan Hyde was nowhere to be seen.

My biological parents reportedly debated, for the second time in my young life, whether they should sign legal papers that would forcibly confine me to a psychiatric institution. I did not self-identify as transgender at that time in my life, either.

By suddenly publicly claiming me as kin, and implying that familial knowledge is a foundation for her young adult novel, Hyde erases my chosen family, in order to return me, inaccurately, as her “brother,” back as a 20-year-old still under the legal control of the father-dominated, heterosexual, nuclear family.

I am not a daughter or a son to Irving David Feinberg and B. Vance Hyde; I am not a sister or a brother to Catherine Ryan Hyde. I could not be forced into those legal categories or those violent dynamics of group bigotry with these three relatives, even at gunpoint: metaphorically or literally.

Burying my life in fiction, while I’m still living the non-fiction

After 20 years of respecting my request for no contact, Catherine Ryan Hyde called me and asked to meet. At that time, I thought she accurately narrated the prejudices articulated through group scapegoating in the nuclear family of my birth.

But when I agreed to meet with her several times over the most recent two decades, she just delivered more “family” horror stories: an earlier account of parents debating whether to permanently institutionalize me when I was a young teen; family members actually speculating, as adults, whether I might have been possessed by an evil spirit at birth; the patriarch of the family disowning me in his will; the fear of a family member that I might kill her children if I knew of their existence.

If Catherine Ryan Hyde, the willing messenger, answered the bigotries, she did not relate that to me.

I last met Hyde when she came to my 60th birthday party. I had hoped to spend one-on-one time with many loved ones that weekend, on the eve of treatment for long-untreated Lyme plus serious co-infections.

Catherine Ryan Hyde dominated my weekend when she argued with me for hours that the story of the Tutsi people in Rwanda is hers to tell. Her statements about the peoples of Rwanda were so racist, so apologetic for colonialism and imperialism, that I informed Hyde at that time that she was no political kin to me.

She continued to press by e-mail argument. At that time, I restated my request for no further contact from these living biological relatives.

Now Catherine Ryan Hyde is appropriating my life and voice in order to try counter-narrate it. Hyde, a coward who is emboldened with Knopf’s power and money behind her, is trying to bury my life in fiction, while I’m still living my non-fiction journey and struggles.

‘Crossing the street to start trouble’

In a web interview traveling the Internet, Hyde writes that she created a “transgender” character because: “I was so outraged by the violence and abuse faced by transgender people. The way someone will cross over from the other side of the street to start trouble. To get in their faces, push them.”

The fact is, however, that’s exactly what this biological relative is doing to me.

Hyde’s counter-narration of my life attempts to silence my adult lifetime of revolutionary anti-capitalist political writing and activism. She replaces my message of collective struggle and liberation with her timid appeal for “tolerance.”

Catherine Ryan Hyde’s story of my life and her relationship to it omit this real-life fact: She and her parents are not welcome in her “transgender sibling’s” home.

The only way Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde, and Catherine Ryan Hyde can prove they’ve learned a lesson in acceptance is to respect my stated and written requests to stay out of my life–and the lives of my chosen family.

However, based on past experiences, I do not expect any of the three to respect my requests.  And in this case, the bully pulpit of the public relations speaking tour is paid for and promoted by a major industry publisher, with money and media power.

As public relations, repeated over and over in publicity, on the web, and before audiences, this co-optation of my own life’s narrative is a form of identity theft.

I can only write this public message one time. I have suffered a serious medical setback during the time and effort it took me to write and post this.

I thank each person who has asked me if there’s any way they could help lift a burden from me in time of illness. I ask your help in circulating this statement from me into the public record.

I ask for help in circulating this message from workers in the publishing, and other media industries–from media for LGBT communities to Publisher’s Weekly—from legal and library and medical workers, those who work as secretaries and researchers, bloggers and journalists, those who defend the rights of youth and elders, revolutionaries and all who fight for social and economic justice, my literary agency Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc., and my labor union–the National Writers’ Union, UAW Local 1981.

I ask you to aid delivery of this message—on flat typography and raised Braille, in signed languages and spoken languages. As an internationalist and anti-imperialist I am sorry to be posting a message that I hope will be read around the world, and yet, I am only able to post my statement in the English language—the lingua franca of imperialism.

I ask help from some of the skilled and thoughtful translators I’ve worked with around the world in translating this statement.

Message to my chosen family:

I have had a very low quality of life since October 2007; however, I treasure the love in my life—the only riches I desire.

To my chosen family: I can feel the strength of your love and caring and support—even when there are so few words in the English-language that recognize the power of our bonds.

We are all unique. We don’t all share the same ideas. Instead, as chosen family, we are defined by our loving, mutually supportive relations. Our chosen family bonds are built on principles that aren’t for sale, including mutual respect, and a process of understanding through increasingly clear communication.

My caring circle extends across the U.S. and around the world, and each member of my chosen family can recognize a bashing, whether the verbal delivery is hard-knuckled or honey-smooth.

So I take this opportunity to publicly thank you for your support. And I’d like to also honor two of my relatives, who I do think of as family.

After rejecting mean-spirited family gossip about my sister Christie, I went to visit her in a nursing home on her birthday, shortly before her death. Because I will not co-opt her voice in life, or after death. I will only say that I talked to her about the way I felt that violent family dynamics pitted me against her. I learned a lot that day about how she felt about the role she’d been put in as a child, as well.

When we said our goodbyes, I hugged her as a sister.

I also want to honor one of my grandfathers; I never met either one.

I honor my grandfather who labored all winter long without a paycheck during the last Great Depression in order to stoke the furnace at the “poor house.” I’ve been told that when he later died, his funeral drew more people from the town than that of its mayor.

I have never taken off my hat for a cop, a boss or a foreman. But as my grandfather’s communist grandchild, I take my place in that gathering of respect–hat in my hands–to honor this worker, who demonstrated with his labor, his consciousness of the class truth that the union movement is built on: An injury to one is an injury to all!

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18 Responses to “While a Hostile Relative Re-writes My Life”

  1. […] – Leslie Feinberg speaks out about a story that gets it all wrong. […]

  2. 23 January 2011 at 4:28 AM #

    In the spirit of fairness please add Catherine Ryan Hyde’s response.

  3. […] http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/01/19/leslie-feinberg-catherine-hyde/ […]

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Saeed Jones, Ferocious Jones. Ferocious Jones said: Reading "While a Hostile Relative Re-writes My Life" by Leslie Feinberg: http://bit.ly/fvNL7O […]

  5. 23 January 2011 at 6:18 PM #

    Free to narrate novels, but not to
    counter-narrate my actual life in publicity tours

    I think kudos for fairness go to @Lambda Literary. A hostile biological relative—Catherine Ryan Hyde—has had a whole paid publicity book tour, funded by Knopf, in which she has counter-narrated my early identity to audiences in a way that contradicted my own self-definition, then and now. And she claimed me as “family.”

    I thank @Lambda Literary for posting my single message in response. And I thank the many hundreds of people who have formed a kind of protective cordon around me and my loving chosen family, at a time when my health is so frail, by reposting my message about who is, and who is not, my family:

    But by all means please read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s response to my statement. The blogs try to divert the issue from the question of who is and is not my family. Instead, Hyde tries to focus the attention on her young adult novel. (See links below)

    Hyde claims that I am attacking her right to write fiction, or to write about characters whose oppression she has never experienced. Hyde specifically asserts that I must be erroneously confusing her “transgender” character as being based on my own life. However, the issue is not her novel.

    As both a novelist, fiction and non-fiction writer, and political journalist, I have developed a powerful lifelong ethic in support of other peoples’ rights to express themselves in fiction. As an editor, over many decades I also honed my ethics about my relation of how best to support other peoples’ writing—fictional and non-fictional.

    So I offer this vignette to stress how important my ethic of supporting other peoples’ rights to express themselves in fiction is to me.

    Years ago, Hyde asked if she could stay with Minnie Bruce and I in our home for two days, despite the fact that I was very ill. When Hyde arrived, she brought an early manuscript of one of her novels that she asked me to read during her visit.

    It was an uncomfortable situation in which for me to sort out my role as a reader of the novel. In the manuscript, a young woman’s sister commits suicide, and she journeys to save her lost brother who has become as unsocialized as a non-human animal. I certainly had many observations about her imagination, but it was her fiction—it wasn’t necessary or my place to voice them.

    I did report that I was shocked when the “animalistic” brother carried out an act of sudden bloody violence. I said I didn’t think that violence flowed from the character development. Hyde responded furiously in our home, saying angry things about me as a writer and editor. She claimed I had no right to comment on her manuscript. Later, she let drop one line in a message, that her editor had said the same thing to her and she had revised the ending.

    Years later, when Hyde again asked to visit, she brought her manuscript of a young adult novel with a transgender character. She asked me to read it and comment on it.

    I refused to read the book in any stage. I truthfully explained to her that my decision was, in part, a defense of her right to her own fictional imagination on this subject.

    However, when Hyde told me she was writing a young adult novel with a “transgender” theme, I asked her this one question: Could she put forward her young adult novel as her own work of fiction, without bringing in my life and identity—named or unnamed–or claiming me as her family?

    If she did, I explained, it would put me in the position of having to enter the battle of ideas, and to explain the bigotry I have experienced from her and her parents. Hyde assured me she would never bring my life—named or unnamed—into the book publicity.

    Hyde states that in that last visit with me, I also attacked her freedom to write young adult fiction about the conflict in Rwanda. It is true that I would not agree with her repeated assertions that the “story” of Rwanda was “hers to tell.”

    But the issue was not freedom to write fiction, it was the virulent racism and pro-imperialist arguments she was articulating. As I told Hyde then, her assertions about the character of the Hutu and other African peoples in the course of her arguments were strongly reminiscent of white-supremacist apologists for the antebellum slavocracy.

    I explained at that time, and later in response to her follow-up email arguments, that the barricades of class wars, and other civil wars, often run between biological relatives, demanding of each of them: Which side are you on?

    Even on Hyde’s blog posts, where she tries to redirect the argument towards her right to pen a “transgender” themed young adult novel, activist individuals challenge Hyde’s assertion that I am her “family.”

    I express deep gratitude for the many, many hundreds of individuals who read my message and are circulating it into the public record. Thank you for supporting my large, loving, extended chosen family at a time when I’m struggling for health at a time of serious setback.

    Thank you, each and all!

    Solidarity in struggle,
    Leslie Feinberg


    Catherine Ryan Hyde’s blog posts:

    ‘In response to a recent issue,’ http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/blog/2011/1/14/in-response-to-a-recent-issue.html

    ‘Nowhere to be seen’

    ‘Both sides of a specific’

  6. 28 January 2011 at 2:35 PM #

    Please consider the whole story. Allowing Feinberg to use your site to promote hir attack on Hyde is irresponsible and unfair.


    • 28 January 2011 at 4:59 PM #

      I’d like to see Hyde’s response on this website as well. Seems only fair.

      • 28 January 2011 at 6:07 PM #

        Dear “Anonymous”

        I’ve listed all three of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s blog sites above, did you miss them?


  7. 28 January 2011 at 3:21 PM #

    Only two people—a UUA Christian reverend and someone close to him (both on this page) are waging a public counter-offensive to my statement of who is, and is not, my family. They called into question my credibility of reports of my life-long legal, social and political battle against bigoted group scapegoating by three living biological relatives: Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde, and Catherine Ryan Hyde.

    For the purpose of their counter-narrative, the Reverend and his associate leaves out the experiences of my chosen family with these hostile relatives. Instead, they only focus on Catherine Ryan Hyde to make it appear to be a “sibling” problem—not the group dynamics of scapegoating by all three biological relatives. Their argument dismisses a 40-year legal battle for legal, social and political independence from a hostile patriarchal nuclear biological unit as merely a “family squabble.”

    In their counter-narrative, Minnie Bruce Pratt my life partner of almost 19 years—who is my family—is disrespected by the Reverend by being ignored, without a mention, along with my children, grandchildren, comrades, loved ones, care circle, support circle, and the rest of my extended, loving chosen family.

    These two counter-narrators, like Catherine Ryan Hyde, try to divert my statement about who is who is my family into a focus on Hyde’s book of fiction. Hyde’s novel is not the issue. For my response, see below.

    At this stage of illness, only a statement of great importance is worth losing ground in the struggle for health. However, I am so ill, that writing and posting the statement online has cost me 10 pounds of wasting, and I was already at a critical weight.

    So I am especially grateful for all the individuals who have had the courage to answer reactionary attempts to negate the violent bigotry I’ve experienced at the hands of three chosen relatives, to defend my demand that Catherine Ryan Hyde stop defining my early identity in a way that denies the way I defined myself—then or now.

    And most importantly, thank you for defending my chosen family, including my 19-year-relationship with Minnie Bruce Pratt that the state does not recognize—so that my loved ones aren’t confronted with legal claims by three estranged biological relatives that they are my “real family”

    The only way that Irving David Feinberg, Betty Vance Hyde and Catherine Ryan Hyde can demonstrate acceptance is to stop claiming me as “family” and to leave me, Minnie Bruce and my chosen family alone.

    Minnie Bruce and I have commented that the repostings of my statement about who is, and who is not, my family, feel like a protective peoples’ cordon of safety around us so that we can turn inward as a chosen family towards health and love.

  8. 28 January 2011 at 6:52 PM #

    I’m confused by your accusation that anything I have said calls into question your right to determine who is and is not your family, since I have not mentioned the topic at all. Not a single word.

    I support the right of all people to determine for themselves who is and is not considered their family, in any configuration and by whatever means they can. I, like you, believe that privileging the patriarchal nuclear family continues to ensure an inequitable distribution of power, wealth, and other vital resources.

    You have made clear who is your family and who is not. I have not argued the point, nor would I. Your family is yours. I honor your life partnership with Minnie Bruce Pratt and the fierce love you have shown for each other for so long.

    That said, I wish you would respond to the actual points I’ve been making. Why do you continue to misquote Hyde and string out-of-context quotes together to create your own meaning? Why do you state “a hostile biological relative—Catherine Ryan Hyde—has had a whole paid publicity book tour, funded by Knopf” when you know it is not true? Why do you insist on labeling me a “Christian” minister?

    Frankly, these all seems like tactics meant to discredit people by either twisting what they have said, or when you cannot, associating them with things–Christendom and capitalism, to be specific–that you know trigger negative responses in many of your audience. This “guilt by association” is not much of an argument, though it is sadly effective.

    Sean Dennison


  9. 28 January 2011 at 9:13 PM #

    Hey Leslie, have you even read JUMPSTART THE WORLD? Oh, you haven’t? Then how do you know it’s based on your life, if you haven’t read it?

    I love Catherine Ryan Hyde. Always have, and always will!

  10. 29 January 2011 at 12:59 AM #

    Isn’t the author you write as “an estranged relative” your sister?
    WTF? Political correctness be damned. Anyone has the right to write.

    Its too bad that you are so ill and filled with anger and bitterness. Try and get over yourself and write something positive and creative and maybe healing on some lever. Why dwell on shit you have no control over and spew such verbose piss and vinegar?

  11. 29 January 2011 at 2:33 PM #

    Did you miss this post, above, Brent?
    “Free to narrate novels, but not to
    counter-narrate my actual life, family in publicity tours”

  12. 31 January 2011 at 11:00 PM #

    Respectfully, I do think it was a mistake to publish the Feinberg piece. A news story about the conflict would have been appropriate. As it is the piece is a denunciation of one author by another, complicated by blood ties and illness.

    The stuff of novels, actually…

    • 1 February 2011 at 11:01 AM #

      Hi Quentin, thanks for your comment.

  13. […] and social rights that a friend does not. For queer folks this is particularly important when unsupportive biological family can legally trump chosen family. Our legal system actively limits who we can call on which reflects and exacerbates social beliefs […]

  14. […] Essay by Leslie Feinberg, a transgender writer (Feinberg is the estranged sibling of the author and this essay discusses how the novel is an attempt to tell hir story by a hostile relative>) […]

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