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The Queer Community Mourns ‘Warrior’ Leslie Feinberg

The author of <i>Stone Butch Blues</i>, one of the only depictions of masculine lesbian life to cross over into mainstream popularity, succumbed to Lyme disease on November 15.

When the novel Stone Butch Blues was first published in 1993, it quickly became one of the only depictions of masculine lesbian life to ever cross over into mainstream popularity, finding its way onto bookshelves and college syllabi everywhere.

The book's award-winning author, Leslie Feinberg, died at home in Syracuse, New York, on November 15 from complications resulting from a variety of tick-borne diseases including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica.

Feinberg's longtime partner, Minnie Bruce Pratt, wrote a detailed obituary that appeared in LGBT news magazine The Advocate this morning. According to Pratt, Feinberg's last words were, "Remember me as a revolutionary communist."

But Feinberg will be best remembered for books like Transgender Warriors: Making History and Stone Butch Blues, which won the American Library Association's Gay & Lesbian Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award.

"[Stone Butch Blues] was really one of the first books that talked about FTM issues and the intersection between lesbian and transgender men as well as the indefinable step in between, where Leslie lived," author Diane Anderson-Minshall told VICE today. "It was so pivotal for lesbian readers and for trans identity. It was legendary and groundbreaking."

Anderson-Minshall, editor of The Advocate, said she met Feinberg shortly after the publishing of Stone Butch Blues. Her own book, the 2014 memoir Queerly Beloved, documents her husband's gender transition from female to male. Anderson-Minshall said that Stone Butch Blues was "pivotal" for both her husband and herself.

According to Feinberg's partner Pratt, Feinberg preferred female pronouns or transgender pronouns like "ze" and "hir." But in recent years, Feinberg publicly identified as transgender, and didn't feel it was necessary to correct reporters who referred to her as "he."

"It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect," the obituary quotes Feinberg as saying.

"Leslie taught me that there is beauty and strength in being gender-queer and that being an activist is about transcending the boundaries of your primary cause and standing up to be present for the Revolution," said musician ​JD Samson in a statement emailed to VICE.

Born to a working-class Jewish family, Feinberg became involved with the socialist Workers World Party at a young age and was made managing editor of the Workers World newspaper in 1995.

From 2004-2008 Feinberg wrote the 'Lavender & Red' column for Worker's World, chronicling LGBT history in international communist and socialist culture.

"Leslie Feinberg had a massive impact on the way we speak about interlocking oppressions under capitalism," said author and academic J. Jack Halberstam. Halberstam's 1998 book Female Masculinity stands next to Feinberg's work in the canon of lesbian history and explorations of butch gender identities.

"Stone Butch Blues is by now a classic novel that uses the rhetoric of class war and worker solidarity to situate transgender identity firmly within an unfolding narrative of late capitalism," Halberstam said, "Feinberg was an uncompromising idealist, a staunch defender of the dispossessed, a model of queer radicalism, and a revolutionary to the end. RIP."

Often on the front lines of protest, Feinberg was arrested most recently in June 2012 for protesting the sentencing of CeCe McDonald, a transgender woman jailed in Minneapolis after a homophobic Neo-Nazi attacked her.

Though best known for her contributions to the LGBT literature canon, Feinberg spent the last years of her life organizing within the labor movement—as a committee member of LGBT coalitions within both the AFL-CIO and the National Writers Union.

Feinberg was also working on a series about the medical politics surrounding Lyme disease, suggesting on her blog that Lyme was connected to biological warfare.

"A lot of who I am depended on Leslie existing in the world. She was a warrior when I never could be," gender theorist Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaws, told VICE. "She reminds us all that it's our duty to fight in whatever way we can, and that we all have the ability to fight well, and that gender is worth fighting for."

"The world of transgender is a whole lot less safe without her," said Bornstein, "She was our leader, she was our warrior, she was Dad and I was Mom."

Read the full obituary for Leslie Feinberg on The Advocate.

Follow Mary Emily O'Hara on ​Twitter.