Tagged: Leslie Feinberg

Finding & Not Finding

I couldn’t find myself in history. No one like me seemed to have ever existed.

— Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors

There is a special violence in erasure. We have been edited out of everything. History forgets, religion abhors, culture ignores. We are a people with no path. We are a life with no story. We are a future with no past.

We chart a dangerous course, balanced on a tightrope over oblivion. One false move, and it’s not just death that awaits us. It’s invisibility. Buried in the wrong clothing. Jealous hands of relatives reaching, taking, possessing into nonexistence.

I am indebted to those who work to fill this gap. And yet, those who do find themselves in history find mostly convenient illusion.

Maybe there is also power in not finding. Maybe it is life itself that lies at this narrow intersection of void and multitude. Freedom emerges, a fragile vibrational chorus, produced in this tension of opposites.

I lost exactly nothing when I lost my first self. Havel havalim. A face, a name, memories–it all amounts to nothing, for I am more now, not less. Therefore there is addition in subtraction.

Transition is a spiritual discipline. We die many times before we die. Some spend their lives straitjacketed by path, past, story. Not I.

I couldn’t find myself anywhere. First I cried at the injustice. Then I smiled, and I opened this strange gift.

Butches, Trans Men, And Me

I am a man. I used be a stone butch. Sifting through my gender issues as a young adult, the stone butch was the model that first moved me.

Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues changed my life. For the first time, I saw a reflection I didn’t have to squint at too hard to recognize. I embraced the identity as fully as I could.

There came a time that model didn’t fit me anymore. I realized I am most comfortable moving the world as a man. I pursued medical, legal and social transition, and have been all the better for it.

I am grateful for the time I spent inhabiting a butch identity. It was butches, and the model of butchness, that taught me masculinity. I learned to be a gentleman. I learned that the truly strong, masculine person has the utmost respect for femininity, for all kinds of queerness, and for women. I learned that the truly strong, masculine person is a patient and attentive lover, an oasis of safety in a world full of violence. I am a much better man for having been a butch.

I wouldn’t use the language of butchness to describe myself today. But I still feel a deep sense of connection and affiliation with that experience. I still see myself reflected in my butch sister-brothers. I honor the beauty, strength, and courage of these proud beings, who have walked every corner of the earth, in every era of history. And I still see myself as part of the same tradition, the same spiritual lineage, as butch people.

My choice to transition was as affected by social norms, technology, and the accidents of history as it was by my deepest self. It is easy for me to imagine making different choices, were I living in a different time, with different options. Who would I be in a society that held places of honor for three or four genders? Who would I be before medical transition was an option?

I don’t know, and I don’t need to. What I know is that those of us who were made a little different have a lot in common. And we have a special role to play in the great, strange game of history.

Gender Theory, Gender Practice

Today, a great deal of “gender theory” is abstracted from human experience. But if theory is not the crystallized resin of experience, it ceases to be a guide to action.

— Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors

Who can explain us?

“Gender is biological,” they said. “You’re born a boy or girl, and that’s the end of it.”

They were wrong. Our bodies defy their rules. Our lives defy their prescriptions.

“Gender is socially constructed,” they said. “You’re made a man or woman, and that’s the end of it.”

They were wrong. We were told who we were. We were told through every possible channel. We were told by our parents, our teachers, and our televisions. We were told by our friends, our doctors and our governments.

They hadn’t figured on anyone telling back.

Therefore we are miracles. We are miracle workers. We are testament to the exact limits of the human mind.

What does the human know? Not grand Truths, nor the exact limits of every category. The human knows little truths, general trends, and meaningful exceptions.

The human, hopefully, knows him- or herself.