Losing our Hero, Rest in Power Leslie Feinberg
Author: Sassafras Lowrey
November 18, 2014
Yesterday, while the NYC sky was dark and stormy and filled with tears, I learned that Leslie Feinberg had passed away. I was on the N train, dazed and crying, surrounded by tourists and commuters. I was unable to find the right words to describe Leslie’s influence and what hir passing means to me, personally, but also to our entire community. Yesterday, I emailed/texted/posted on social media with queer family, strangers and acquaintances, all of us united in this sudden and profound grief and loss. Facebook even tells me that news of Leslie Feinberg is “trending,” whatever that means. I think all of us are struggling with what it means to lose a hero. I don’t know anyone of my generation who doesn’t remember reading Stone Butch Blues for the first time, who doesn’t remember being saved by that book.
I read Stone Butch Blues for the first time the month after I turned 18. I read it on an airplane from Portland, Oregon to Jacksonville, Florida and on a long layover in the Dallas airport. All my belongings fit into a duffle bag. I was in my first relationship and I was in love for the first time. Hy was a stone butch who told me I had to buy Stone Butch Blues and read it before I came to live with hym. Hy said it would tell me everything I needed to know about being butch, and about loving a butch. I steadied my ace bandage constricted breath and read, for the first time, about my people. I hadn’t known that books like that existed before opening those pages.
As a baby butch reading Stone Butch Blues for the first time, I found solidarity. Later, years later, long after the end of that first relationship and after having come into a femme identity, I fell in love with Leslie’s writing in a new way. A couple of years ago, I had the privilege of having a brief written exchange with hir about the work zie was doing on the 20th anniversary re-release of Stone Butch Blues, and its new dedication to CeCe McDonald. At the time, Leslie was too sick to do the interview I had approached hir about, but much to my surprise, zie responded about my work, calling me a warrior and praising my Kicked Out anthology. I told only my closest friends about the exchange, but printed out those private Facebook messages and have re-read them whenever I felt discouraged. I don’t feel worthy of hir praise, hir warrior shoes feel far too big to fill, but all of us must try. We must, in Leslie’s memory, continue the fight where zie left off. We must recommit ourselves to the work, to writing the books our community needs, to speaking out against injustice, and to standing in solidarity with other oppressed communities.
As queer folk, so many of us have been rejected and abandoned that we’ve had to build our own worlds. So many of us have found ourselves so alone when we come out. We grow ourselves up. We build our own families and in a way queer books become our parents, our grandparents, our best friends and families. We curl up with them on cold nights on borrowed couches uncertain of where we will sleep tomorrow, or in bathtubs, our ears ringing with the sound of a lovers footsteps walking out the door a final time. We turn to books to prove that we exist. Books keep us company, raise us up, and give us hope that survival is possible. In a way, through queer books we build a relationship to that book’s author as well. For so many of us, Leslie is more than a beloved author. Zie has been part of our family. Now, as we mourn hir loss, we’re left trying to understand a world that is much darker and colder without hir to fight for us and protect us.
In the coming days, there is so much that must be done about the lack of information that exists about Lyme disease, and the fight for appropriate and adequate medical care. In particular, we must talk about and the ways in which queer and trans people are routinely misdiagnosed and all too frequently failed by medical systems and professionals who supposedly have sworn to first do no harm.
Leslie’s long term partner the incredible femme author Minnie Bruce-Pratt wrote a beautiful obituary that ran on The Advocate yesterday, which was how most of us learned the unbelievably sad news of Leslie’s passing. Read it. She tells us that Leslie’s last words before passing away in their home in Syracuse were “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.” We owe hir that, and so much more. We must never let Leslie’s memory die. Leslie’s passing has broken hearts across the community, and I think especially among those of us who call the queer intersection of writing and activism home.
Generations of queers have grown up reading Leslie’s work and finding themselves in hir pages. Losing Leslie is losing one of our greatest hero’s, one of our most passionate and committed warriors. Our loss is so profound, I don’t’ think we can possibly yet understand the magnitude of it. We must remember Leslie, we must hand hir books to the next generations of queers. Most of all, we must continue writing and fighting in hir memory. Losing Leslie Feinberg is so much deeper than knowing there will never be another book. I’m not ready to have lost my hero. I don’t think any of us are. All I know for certain is, “I’ll never get these [tear] stains out.” (Feinberg 1993, 10)