In Memoriam: Leslie Feinberg

On November 15th, we lost another pioneer. Leslie Feinberg, trans/activist, theorist, mass culture changer, gender explorer and warrior, died at the age of 65, succumbing to multiple tick-borne infections that zie’d been battling for years, and zie saw all too well how the healthcare system denies access to millions of people through institutionalized discrimination and bias. If you know Feinberg’s work and impact, that shouldn’t surprise you. If you don’t, zie was a rare visionary activist who drew on myriad threads from myriad approaches and contexts that continue to resonate.

Leslie Feinberg. Self-portrait in setting sun.
Leslie Feinberg. Self-portrait in setting sun.
From Autostraddlel
From Autostraddle

For those of us who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s, Feinberg was an integral part of the LGBT activist nexus, and a trailblazing pioneer in transactivism and radicalism. We were schooled by 1993’s Stone Butch Blues, which tells the story of a butch named Jess Goldberg who grows up prior to the Stonewall Riots. SBB entered the LGBT literary canon worldwide in several languages as a groundbreaking work on gender, and remains one of the best-known books in that canon. Hir theoretical approaches to gender — including the first Marxist analysis of transgender liberation — have been taught for decades. Hir work has impacted political organizing, academic research, and popular culture.

Feinberg’s 1996 pivotal Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman was one of those works. Laurie Miles at the Socialist Review noted the book’s profound effect on her, in that it adopted “an accessible international and class perspective on the universality of gender variant individuals, groups and roles. The book identified a defining moment in the drive for LGBT unity in the last decade of the 20th century. It became a rallying cry for transgender rights and for trans people to recognise and reclaim our history and understand the nature and causes of our oppression.” transgender warriors

Feinberg’s work and activism is best described in hir own words from the bio on hir website:

S/he is well-known in the U.S. and many other parts of the world as an activist who works to help forge a strong bond between the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities. As a trade unionist, anti-racist and socialist, Feinberg also organizes to build strong bonds of unity between these struggles and those of movements in defense of oppressed nationalities, women, disabled, and the working-class movement as a whole. Feinberg has worked for more than three decades in defense of the sovereignty, self-determination and treaty rights of Native nations and for freedom of political prisoners in the U.S. Ze is an internationalist and has been part of the anti-Pentagon movement since the U.S. war against Vietnam. Feinberg has toured the country, speaking at Pride rallies and protest marches, and at scores of colleges and universities.

Hir spouse, poet Minnie Bruce Pratt, includes more about Feinberg’s work in the obituary she wrote for the Advocate:

In her early twenties Feinberg met Workers World Party at a demonstration for Palestinian land rights and self-determination. She soon joined WWP through its founding Buffalo branch.

After moving to New York City, she participated in numerous mass organizing campaigns by the Party over the years, including many anti-war, pro-labor rallies. In 1983-1984 she embarked on a national tour about AIDS as a denied epidemic. She was a key organizer in the December 1974 March Against Racism in Boston, a campaign against white supremacist attacks on African-American adults and schoolchildren in the city. Feinberg led a group of ten lesbian-identified people, including several from South Boston, on an all-night “paste up” of South Boston, covering every visible racist epithet.

Feinberg was one of the organizers of the 1988 mobilization in Atlanta that re-routed the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan as they tried to march down Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave., on MLK Day. When anti-abortion groups descended on Buffalo in 1992 and again in 1998-1999 with the murder there of Dr. Barnard Slepian, Feinberg returned to work with Buffalo United for Choice and its Rainbow Peacekeepers, which organized community self-defense for local LGBTQ+ bars and clubs as well as the women’s clinic.

Zie was a transvisionary, as zie strove to forge links between communities facing oppressions in many manifestations, and zie was a throwback in some ways to the old-school labor rights activists of the 1930s and 40s, and that’s how I’ve always thought of hir: A beautiful and powerful melding of generations of thought and action — some from the past, and some that zie was pulling from the future. Feinberg never wanted to develop some kind of “umbrella” identity or term for everybody to get underneath. Rather, zie believed in the right of self-determination for oppressed communities, individuals, nations, and groups, and in coalitions between them.

Feinberg’s last words were, “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”

I will. And as a warrior, philosopher, writer, and pathbreaker.

For more:
Leslie Feinberg’s website
National Center for Transgender Equality on Feinberg
HRC on Feinberg
Liberation News on Feinberg following hir death
The Atlantic
How Leslie Feinberg saved my life
Books on Amazon
1996 interview with Feinberg
Fall 1996 review of Transgender Warriors

NOTE: From Minnie Bruce Pratt’s obituary: “She preferred to use the pronouns she/zie and her/hir for herself, but also said: “I care which pronoun is used, but people have been disrespectful to me with the wrong pronoun and respectful with the right one. It matters whether someone is using the pronoun as a bigot, or if they are trying to demonstrate respect.”

In Memoriam: Cate Culpepper

I haven’t wanted to write this post, because I didn’t want to believe that Cate was no longer with us on this mortal coil as of October 25. But Cate herself let us all know, in her own “Cate-ness” way, that it’s true. Cate Culpepper

I was not so fortunate to have met her in person, but I corresponded a bit with her via email. We e-chatted a bit about writing and our shared love of New Mexico.

I was born in Albuquerque, just north of the state’s center. Cate was from southern New Mexico, the Las Cruces area. We talked a bit about the magic of “place” in those few emails and the people who come to populate it, whether literal or metaphorical. We talked about New Mexico folklore and how stories come and go, and the ways they settle in the psyche.

I remember even through email, she gave me a sly Nuevomexicana wink, because we both knew what it was to come from desert and to take it with us always, no matter where we ended up.

Cate left us a marvelous legacy in the books we will still read, in the memories we all have of her, and the work she did outside of writing: teaching, working with homeless, inspiring others to live to their fullest potential with grace, humor both ribald and gentle, her saucy irreverence, and neverending kindness.

Cate, I wish you could see the evidence of the lives you touched and continue to touch. Or perhaps you did know. I’d like to think you did. I’d like to think that maybe, in some way, you still do.

For those of you who would like to see some of that evidence for yourselves, take a few moments to read the shared remembrances below of others who knew and loved her personally and/or knew and loved her work.

Bold Strokes Books tributes
Lee Lynch, “Cheeseburgers in Paradise: Cate Culpepper, 1957-2014”
Victoria Brownworth at Lambda Literary
Jove Belle, “A Brief Ode to the Amazon Queen”
D. Jackson Leigh, “O Captain, My Captain”

She is deeply missed, but we will all carry her forward in some way. Vaya con dios, Cate. Viajes seguros.

A dog’s life

Hi, all.

Today is the two-year anniversary of the death of my best canine buddy, Taylor.

taylor in the doorway

I grew up in a household where there were always dogs, and those dogs were always part of the family. They lived primarily indoors with us. I know there are people out there who just don’t “get” the animals in the house thing for whatever reasons. That’s fine. But I’m not one of those people. Taylor was my constant companion for over 14 years, and my guru in many ways. She was a rescue dog, but not from a shelter. I found her sitting on the side of a New Mexico highway one July day after I’d been camping at Mt. Taylor (hence her name).


I pulled over because most dogs out there — Rez dogs — tend to look like they know where they’re going and what they’re doing. And they’re certainly not sitting on the side of the road. I got out of my car and she watched me, but she didn’t bolt. I got within about twenty feet of her and I crouched down and said: “C’mere. Come on.” And I beckoned at myself with my hand. She got up and very slowly came toward me, kind of slinking, ears back (she had HUGE ears — they earned her the nickname “Batdog”) and tail between her legs. I held my hand out so she could sniff my fingers and she did. She sniffed for a few seconds and then decided I must’ve been okay, because she got closer and literally climbed up into my lap and licked my face.

I took her to the vet the next day for vaccinations. She was in bad shape. Twenty pounds underweight, tapeworm, and dull, icky fur. I told the vet I was hoping to find a home for her because I didn’t have a place where I could keep her. I was living in a second-floor apartment in a historic building in Albuquerque at the time. The vet looked at me and smiled. “She already found a home.” She told me that when Taylor had put on some weight, in a few weeks, to bring her back for checking. Damn that vet. She could tell that Taylor was already settling in.
T sleeping

And sure enough, at the end of the summer, I’d moved to a place where I could have Taylor. She’d put on weight (she was 55-60 pounds most of her life), we’d gotten rid of the tapeworm, and she was starting to be okay around me and other people. She and I spent most of the summer at a friend’s house, where there was a fenced yard, until I found another place. And that fall, we went to doggie training school. I worked with her every day on the things we learned in class. Taylor was part shepherd, and shepherds are working dogs. So she liked having tasks and things to do. After graduation (Taylor was summa cum laude), we spent another few weeks on “distraction training,” which involved large groups of people and dogs and putting your dog through his or her paces. The object was to get the dog used to being around groups like that and focused on you and you only.
t in the snow

I continued distraction training for weeks afterward. I’d take her to Albuquerque’s Old Town and put her through her paces amidst tourists. She went to work with me on campus several times, and would sprawl out and snooze under my desk. She’d also go with me late nights to the public radio station where I volunteered and hang out with me while I did a world music show. She went to the airport (this was before 9/11) to get used to escalators and a whole other slew of people. I traveled with her all the time in the car, and she was very good at that, too.

t on porch
And slowly, Taylor blossomed into her funny, wise, diva self. She was a joy to have around, and we got to know each other so well that all I had to do was look at her and raise an eyebrow and she knew it was time to go for a walk and she’d jump up and go to the door and wait. As she aged, she became more talkative (I think she had some husky in her) and would yowl and carry on to let me know when she was excited or pissed about something.

Other times if she was pissed at me, she’d give me doggie “stink eye” until I was appropriately contrite. Or, if she was REALLY pissed, she’d do what I call “stink back.” She would sit and make sure I was looking at her and then she would deliberately turn her back to me and ignore me for a few seconds. Then she’d look back over her shoulder to see if she had my attention. If I hadn’t asked for her forgiveness, she’d do more stink back. So I’d have to say, “Oh, T! I’m sorry!” And then she’d relent.

And she loved it when I noodled on my harmonica. When I got it out, she’d get excited and she’d sit up and stare and start “warming up.” Kind of a “rowr rowr rowr” thing. I’d play a few notes and she’d do some more “rowr rowr rowr” and then I’d start just playing whatever and she would burst into howls interspersed with “rowr rowr rowr.” It was hilarious.

She used her paws for attention, too. She’d come up and put her paw on your foot or, if you were sitting, your thigh, and she’d pull at you to pet her. She’d also put her paw right across a newspaper or magazine if you were sitting reading it. And she’d do a “Bambi eyes” expression so you couldn’t be mad at her. She was also a practical joker. Once, when we were hanging out with someone who had a shih tzu, Taylor figured out which toy was the other dog’s fave. It was this fuzzy squeaky toy that the dog carried everywhere. So Taylor waited until the dog went into the kitchen with the squeaky toy. Taylor followed. The other dog had put the toy down and was trying to convince its owner to give it a treat. The dog was not paying attention to the toy, and like a freaking fox pouncing on prey, Taylor jumped on the toy and raced out of the kitchen. The other dog just stared after her, stunned. I followed Taylor into the living room, and Taylor had hidden the toy behind a pillow on the couch. She looked at me and I kid you not, she SMILED. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. Eventually, I gave the toy back to the other dog, when Taylor wasn’t looking.

I’ve been thinking about all of those things today. I still really miss her and no, another dog has not entered my life. I did become a regular donor to another no-kill animal shelter, and at a recent event in New Mexico, I donated all proceeds from sales of my books to a local no-kill shelter. I’m a believer in rescue animals, and in rescuing animals. So yeah, I’m a softie. But Taylor changed my life for the better, and I try to help other animals when and where I can. I don’t have any interest in bringing another dog into my life at the moment, but I suspect that eventually, Taylor will send a dog because I still have things to learn.

So to all of you who knew Taylor, I’m glad you got to meet her. For those who didn’t, I hope sharing these tidbits about a remarkable dog who gave me more than I ever thought possible lets you see a bit about who she was and why I miss her so much.
T in jail

Thanks for hanging out with me a bit today. Happy Saturday.

In Memoriam: Granite Mountain Hotshots

Hi, all. I was going to post a bit about the recent GCLS conference I attended in Dallas, but events over the weekend have taken precedence over that. I’ll do that later on.

I was traveling on Sunday, and didn’t find out about the tragedy that unfolded near Yarnell, Arizona, until early Monday morning. I heard “Hotshots” and “deaths” on NPR and rushed into the other room to listen to the whole story because like every westerner, fire season puts me on edge. When a firefighter is lost, we all grieve. Nineteen, said the NPR host. Nineteen firefighters dead, the most in a single event since 9/11. Find their names and a bit about them at the Washington Post.

Source: Granite Mountain Hotshots

The Granite Mountain Hotshots — like every Hotshot team — are an elite firefighting unit, trained to go in on foot and clear brush and create firebreaks. Hotshots are kind of like the SEALs of firefighting. They’re in top physical condition, able to carry up to 50 pounds of gear on their backs as they’re racing up and down mountainsides in temperatures often over a hundred degrees, digging, pulling, clearing. They are infantry forces, engaged in a battle against raging wildfires, humping their gear in and out, gauging the strategy of the opponent, creating defenses, surveilling, plotting retreat and advance lines. Until Sunday, the Granite Mountain Hotshots were a 20-member team.

Outside Magazine has a photo gallery of Hotshots in action, as well as other wildfire fighting tools. This is part of what Hotshots do, and it’s part of why they are so revered to westerners like me. In this high-tech world, these people go to battle with muscle, pickaxes, and shovels. They’re like archetypal Viking warriors or something, reeking of smoke, spattered with dirt, grime, soot, and sometimes blood. They embody the mythos of the West, the “hunker-down-and-get-‘er-done” pioneer spirit we all like to pretend we still have.

So when the Hotshots show up in town, it’s like the cavalry riding in. It’s like a military force arriving to help you out when you’re under attack. When you see the slurry bombers overhead, dropping their loads across smoking ridgelines, every westerner thinks about the Hotshots on the ground, carrying their gear, dressed in heavy, hot fire-retardant clothing, doing battle. And we all hope for the best for them, and we all hope they’ll come home safely. Logically, we can imagine the risks they’re taking, to battle those fires. Or rather, we think we can imagine. But we really can’t, unless we’ve been there. We can’t really imagine the heat, the flames, the dirt, the exhaustion, the aches and pains that come with brutally hard physical labor against a raging wildfire. So we try to imagine, and we hope that they’ll come home okay, that their friends and family will see them again, and that they’ll make it through this fire season for the next one.

When they don’t come home, we grieve. We mourn. We may not be immediate friends or family, but we are community, and every summer — every fire season — they become part of our community families. When they don’t come home, they become part of our community remembrance, and part of our collective history. They are dear to us, these Hotshots. They are everything we should aspire to be, in community service, hard work, and the sheer, fierce joy they take in this huge responsibility with which we’ve entrusted them.

To the Granite Mountain Hotshots, thank you for your service. You will be remembered. To their friends and families, our thoughts are with you, and your loved ones will not be forgotten.

And to all emergency service personnel, thank you for all you do.

To contribute to memorial funds for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, click here.

For more information about Hotshots and what they do, see the following links.

Kyle Dickman is a former Tahoe Hotshot who is now an associate editor at Outside Magazine. Here’s his recent story about spending some time with his old Hotshot crew, “In the Line of Wildfire.”

Here’s Dickman on the Yarnell Hill Fire, in which the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died. “Examining the Arizona Wildfire Deaths.”

Here’s the link for the Granite Mountain Hotshots, based in Prescott, Arizona. You can get a sense of who they were and what they were looking for in team members.

And here’s a photo gallery from Outside Magazine. These photos were taken last year. These are members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. Some of the men pictured here died in Sunday’s fire.

In Memoriam: Sally Ride

I was one of thousands of Gen X girls who thought that Sally Ride hung the moon. Scientist, astronaut, professor, writer, and mentor/cheerleader to get young people and kids interested in science — especially girls — Ride was an inspiration to the adventurous spirit in all of us.

On June 18, 1983, she was granted the mantle of instant icon when she became the first American woman in space, aboard the shuttle Challenger (at 32, she was also the youngest American in space). Here’s a news report from June 24, the day Challenger landed in California (bad weather in Florida precluded it landing there).


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In Memoriam: Nora Ephron

Once again, I’m left trying to sum up in a few words the legacy a woman with great reach, humor, wisdom and talent has left.

Nora Ephron died this past week after a long battle with leukemia. She was 71, and had become “one of her era’s most successful screenwriters and filmmakers,” according to Charles McGrath, writing in the New York Times. McGrath notes that she was “a journalist, a blogger, an essayist, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a movie director — a rarity in a film industry whose directorial ranks were and continue to be dominated by men.”

source: Huffington Post (re-sized here)


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In Memoriam: Donna Summer

Some of you may know that I am a huge music fan. All kinds, across genres, across nations and eras. Like our sense of smell, music evokes all kinds of emotions in us. Certain songs can take us back to situations in our lives that were happy, sad, painful, or joyful. They may remind us of people we used to know or perhaps people we’ve lost. Music is evocative, and we imbue it with significance based on our own experiences and contexts, which we often shared with others.

Donna Summer’s music does that for me, and it always will. Upon hearing of her death May 17th, I immediately got out her “Bad Girls” album and listened to it, and went right back to the late 1970s, when I was a young teenager trying to find ways to cope with being different in the rural area where I grew up. Music became a conduit for me to an outside world. The internet wasn’t around yet. Neither were cell phones. I got my music info from pop magazines, TV, the radio, and snail mail penpals. Through music, I could access whole cultures and scenes without leaving my own community.

Source: Bossip (re-sized here)

Please continue…

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In Memoriam: Sarah Dreher

I just heard of the death of Sarah Dreher via one of my Twitter-mates. I suppose Twitter can be useful in that sense, though bad news is bad news regardless of the medium through which you receive it.

Dreher was a playwright and author, and also a practicing psychologist. She died April 2 of this year, a week after celebrating her 75th birthday. You can find an obituary for her here. She was a Lambda Literary Award winner, as well as an Alice B. Readers’ medalist.

I remember her best for her Stoner McTavish mystery series. I read the first one soon after I finished Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness, and it was a breath of fresh air after the sadness and tragedy embedded in Hall’s work. In Dreher’s work, I found a lesbian character who didn’t die in the end and who managed to get into a realistic relationship. Dreher’s McTavish series was probably the first genre lesbian fiction I read, and in a way, it was revolutionary and showed me what was possible in terms of writing LGBT characters and, more importantly, writing human characters.

Dreher never let a reader off easy, but her gentle humor and empathy for her characters — all of them, whether damaged, suffering, or searching — created nuanced and layered mysteries that were as much an exploration of the human condition as they were about lesbian and women’s identity against a variety of backdrops. Life is complicated. People are complicated. And Dreher knew that and gracefully wove it into her stories.

In 1997, she published Solitaire and Brahms, a novel about being a lesbian in the 1950s, and the ever-present tensions between public and private lives, a theme that seems to echo in some of her other work.

She contributed essays and writings to a number of projects, including Off the Rag: Lesbians Writing about Menopause, ed. by Lee Lynch and Akia Woods. “Waiting for Stonewall” appears in Sexual Practice/Textual Theory: Lesbian Cultural Criticism, ed. by Susan J. Wolfe and Julia Penelope. You’ll also find a contributed chapter to They Wrote the Book: Thirteen Women Mystery Writers Tell All, ed. by Helen Windrath.

You can find a collection of her plays here (published 1988), for a sense of how she brought her characters from page to stage and into the hearts and minds of audiences.

Dreher was busy in her non-writing life, as well. She was the co-founder (and, for the past seven years, president and clinical director) of Sunrise Amanacer, Inc., a non-profit organization concerned with the mental and physical health of underserved and non-English-speaking people. I like to think that the different facets of her life fed her creative mind, and allowed us a glimpse of who she may have been and the many possibilities there are for seeing each other and for those we don’t know. The prism of shared humanity offers many different views. I think Dreher’s was wide, encompassing, and always compassionate.

You can find her mysteries, plays, and novel at New Victoria Publishers here.

If you’d like to leave a comment in her memorial register, go here.
NOTE: you may have to cut and paste the link. Here it is:
If that doesn’t work, go to and type Dreher into their search function, upper right. My apologies; the site may require that you clear your cache or refresh your browser to get to her page.

In Memoriam: Adrienne Rich

“It’s exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful.” — Adrienne Rich

source: Jezebel (re-sized here)

When I heard that Adrienne Rich had died (March 27), I immediately re-read some of her poetry, which I hadn’t done in a while. And after I’d read it, I thought about words I would use to describe her and what she wrote. I came up with several: fierce, brave, uncompromising, intellect, passion, visionary, unrelenting, inspiring. There are many others, but because of her work as a poet, it’s not necessarily about how many words you place on a page. It’s the words you choose and how you place them.

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