Today I have been mostly reading…
November 23, 2010 § 2 Comments
Okay, that’s a lie – I was reading this three weeks ago. But a few recent articles in which members of the trans community went after their own in really quite horrible ways, and the ongoing controversy about the use of the word t**** (can it ever be reclaimed? If so, who gets to reclaim it? Under what conditions?) made me think of this book, and long for Leslie Feinberg’s compassionate spirit and quiet wisdom.
Many will be familiar with Feinberg’s seminal work Stone Butch Blues
Drag King Dreams, published in 2006, hasn’t received the same level of attention but is, I think, essential reading for anyone involved in the fight for trans liberation. The brief synopsis: Max Rabinowitz, a New York drag king struggling with the hatred of the world around him, rediscovers his activism after a series of brutal attacks made against the people he loves. But, as usual with Feinberg’s writing, it is the journey, the depths beneath the events, that make up much of the work.
Feinberg’s prose inevitably reminds me of the writer hirself – lean and sinewy – the hard rock of muscle gentled over by a feather-light sweetness. And the message of Feinberg’s activism is something we desperately need to remember: that every single one of us is different – but that without each other we could not keep going. That gender is something so complex and unique and strange and bone-deep and shallow and changing and contradictory that we should never seek to impose our definitions on others – but that we can know each other, and love each other, if we can find the humility needed to listen. And, trite as it may sound here, if we can recognise our common humanity then our shared strength can move mountains.
If I may, I’d like to quote from the book (and hopefully give you the push to go out and read it). Max is speaking at the memorial of his friend Vickie/Vic – a person who lived a dual-gendered life, murdered for their transgression of gender norms. I think it says it all, really.
“I loved her as a friend. But deep down, I never felt a connection with her as a cross-dresser.
“Which you might think would be the most obvious.” I look down at my own suit and tie, “because so am I.
“But Vickie and I weren’t the same kind of cross-dressers. She was fluent in two gendered languages. That’s how she conveyed who she was. But this is the only way I can articulate who I am.”
“…I thought that she could just take off her wig and her dress and move through the world another way – a way I thought of as closeted. But it takes two pronouns to even approximate Vickie’s life. And she wasn’t just half and half of anything. She was trying to be understood for the whole of who she was.
“Now I wish that Vickie could ask me again, once more, where I live. I would tell her: I live at the intersection of oppression. And you and I were neighbors. The same sky above us. The same earth. The same red blood, metallic tasting on our tongues. You lived under the sun. I live under the moon. I was sometimes envious that you could walk in the daylight, welcomed by smiling strangers. And I wasn’t a very good neighbor sometimes. For that, I am truly sorry, Vickie.
“My aunt Raisa taught me an old Sephardic Jewish proverb: Dime con quien conoscas, te dire quien sois – Tell me who you know; I’ll tell you who you are.”
My voice cracks. “I knew Vickie.”