2014 is not ending on a good note. The deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of law enforcement have brought into sharp relief an epidemic of police brutality against populations of color in this country–as well as a creeping white apathy, or outright denial that racism is indeed, still a problem.
Adding cosmic insult to injury is the fact that we lost a pioneer and icon of the social justice movement, Leslie Feinberg, in November. Feinberg’s legacy is prolific and includes speaking at the 1969 Stonewall rally and penning the beloved novel Stone Butch Blues. Personally, I know Feinberg best through her* 1998 opus Transliberation: Beyond Pink and Blue, which I read in preparation to interview my good friend Darby on her own experience living outside of the established gender binary in July of 2006. Admittedly, at that time, I was slow to accept the legitimacy of identifying as transgender. I thought it was something radical folks did to prove a point. Of course, I look back on that as my own ignorance and I’m relieved to know now that living as a transgender person is hardly “a point” to be made; it’s a coming to terms with the true nature of one’s self, and we should all support that. Transliberation was instrumental in helping me find that enlightenment.
In this moment, where the focus seems to be squarely on race, you might think it dated or beside the point to talk about Leslie’s passing, but we could really use her guidance right now and I lament that she is not able to speak on these matters. Feinberg was known mostly as a spokesperson for transgender rights, but she was equally invested in labor rights and really, all rights for all people. The fight for any group, Feinberg was quick to point out, is the fight for every group. I stand in awe of Feinberg’s ability to take an anecdote about the Stonewall riots and segue it seamlessly into a discussion about the plight of Afghani women after the US invasion. Feinberg was able to succinctly and compassionately illuminate the web of social justice that connects us all. If transgender issues threaten you, if people of color threaten you, if their expressed hurt and anger threaten you, then I truly lament your cynicism, paranoia, and clear lack of empathy. For those people, let me propose two simple resolutions for 2015: less talking, more listening.
*Ideally I should use one of the new pronoun constructs like ze or hir for Feinberg, but I’m going to use the pronoun she/her, in accordance with this passage from Transliberation: “Outside the trans communities, many people refer to me as ‘she,’ which is also correct. Using that pronoun to describe me challenges generalizations about how “all women” act and express themselves. In a non-trans setting, calling me “he” renders my transgender invisible.”