Feinberg Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Leslie Feinberg’s pamphlet inspired transgender politics and activism by placing transgender oppression within a historical context and by calling for an inclusive community of gender-variant people. The pamphlet is the first publication to use the word “transgender” to represent all gender-variant people.

Summary of Event

In June of 1992, World View Forum published Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come, a twenty-two-page pamphlet written by transgender activist Leslie Feinberg. In the opening paragraph, Feinberg wrote, “This pamphlet is an attempt to trace the historic rise of an oppression that, as yet, has no commonly agreed name. Gender identity;terms for We are talking here about people who defy the ’man’-made boundaries of gender.” Thus, the focus of the pamphlet is twofold: It is a historical account of gender variance, and it is an attempt to give a name to the transgender community. [kw]Feinberg Publishes Transgender Liberation (June, 1992) [kw]Publishes Transgender Liberation, Feinberg (June, 1992) [kw]Transgender Liberation, Feinberg Publishes (June, 1992) Transgender Liberation (Feinberg, 1992) Transgender/transsexuality[Transgender transsexuality];political rights Political activism;and transgender/transsexual rights[transgender transsexual rights] [c]Publications;June, 1992: Feinberg Publishes Transgender Liberation[2190] [c]Transgender/transsexuality;June, 1992: Feinberg Publishes Transgender Liberation[2190] [c]Civil rights;June, 1992: Feinberg Publishes Transgender Liberation[2190] Feinberg, Leslie

Leslie Feinberg.

(Courtesy, Beacon Press)

Feinberg posited that, historically, “Transgender is a very ancient form of human expression that pre-dates oppression,” and she outlines its existence as early as 25,000 b.c.e. As a Marxist, Feinberg used this historical account to illustrate that “when societies were not ruled by exploiting classes that rely on divide-and-conquer tactics, ’cross-gendered’ youths, women and men on all continents were respected members of their communities.” She then shows how both societal laws and religious doctrines were introduced to transform the natural existence of transgender individuals into a seemingly unnatural and even reviled existence.

Transgender Liberation used the word “transgender” to represent all gender-variant people, the first time the term was used in publication as a term of inclusiveness. Feinberg outlined the importance of a shared language that honors transgender people, that is, of a language of pride that validates those who face this oppression. Feinberg argued also for the importance of connecting the gender-variant and sex-minority communities so that together people can work to battle bigotry, hatred, and brutality.

For Feinberg, connecting the communities also means recognizing that not all lesbians and gays are “cross”-gendered and that not all transgender Transgender people and sexuality people are lesbian or gay. Feinberg states that, “In reality the two huge communities are like circles that only partially overlap. While the oppressions within these two powerful communities are not the same, we face a common enemy. Gender-phobia—like racism, sexism and bigotry against lesbians and gays men—is meant to keep us divided. Unity can only increase our strength.” Within a historical context, this call to action paralleled the emergence of the AIDS crisis, which mandated a reorientation of sexual-identity politics in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, consequently requiring alliances among different social groups affected by the epidemic. Creating these alliances required these groups to address systemic social problems, including poverty, racism, and sexism. It was through these alliances that transgender issues entered broader struggles for social justice and equal treatment.


The coupling of transgender concerns with a Marxist perspective has not lived on as the pamphlet’s legacy, but what has lived on is the work’s locating of transgender issues within a social justice agenda. Forming shortly after its publication was a San Francisco-based activist group called Transgender Nation, part of the gay and lesbian activist group Queer Nation. Transgender Nation was the first group to express a newly militant political movement using the term “transgender.” The group got the attention of the media in 1993 by organizing a protest at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, focusing on the APA’s classifying of transgenderism and “gender identity disorder” as pathologies. Transgender Nation paved the way for other groups, such as Transgender Menace and It’s Time, America, to continue its mandate and play larger roles in national politics.

In Transgender Liberation, Feinberg wrote that the transgender community has “also given careful thought to our use of pronouns, Gender pronouns striving for both clarity and sensitivity in a language that only allows for two sexes.” While the issue of language-use is not addressed in depth in the pamphlet, Feinberg has challenged gender-binary language in other forums to incorporate alternate pronouns such as “hir” rather than “her” and “his” and “ze” or “sie” rather than “he” or “she.”

Feinberg has published additional nonfiction works about transgender issues, including Transgender Warriors Transgender Warriors (Feinberg) (1996) and Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue Trans Liberation (Feinberg, 1998) (1998). She also wrote a novel called Stone Butch Blues Stone Butch Blues (Feinberg) (1993). Feinberg also is a leader in the Workers World Party, a cofounder of Rainbow Flags for Mumia, an organizer with the International Action Center, and is at the forefront of the movement bringing transgender health issues to the attention of the medical community. Feinberg’s activism and writings continue to examine oppression against transgender people and how it intersects with capitalism and with racism, sexism, and other oppressions.

Some individuals have criticized both Feinberg’s definition of transgender and the connections she draws between transgender persons and gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Furthermore, there are concerns about the implicitly lesbian and gay framework of transgender writing and political action, in general, within Anglo-American contexts. As queer theory Queer studies;and transgender studies[transgender studies] has entered academia, many have embraced its inclusion of transgender issues. Some, however, have pushed for transgender studies that are not tied to gay, lesbian, and bisexual studies, because many transgender people do not embrace GLB identities and politics. Regarding the definition of the word “transgender,” some contend that its umbrella-like usage and universalizing potential obscures meaningful differences within the community itself. Opponents of the seemingly “all-inclusive” term argue that it fails to recognize the differences among transsexuals, drag kings and queens, cross-dressers, those who are gender-ambiguous, and other gender-variant people.

Nonetheless, since the publication of Transgender Liberation, the term “transgender,” and transgender as a concept, has become well-established within the academy, politics, and public-health arenas. Moreover, it has been recognized by mainstream media and popular culture (for example, the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry, about the rape and murder of transgender man Brandon Teena in 1993, garnered a Best Actress Oscar for actor Hilary Swank and a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Chloe Sevigny). As a result of the current wave of transgender activism that started in part because of Feinberg’s publication, transgender issues have been brought closer to the forefront of social movements and political action, resulting in the passage of transgender civil rights legislation and policies in several municipalities, states, and businesses around the United States. Transgender Liberation (Feinberg, 1992) Transgender/transsexuality[Transgender transsexuality];political rights Political activism;and transgender/transsexual rights[transgender transsexual rights]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bornstein, Kate. Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York: Routledge, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues. Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1993.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come.” In Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women’s Lives , edited by Rosemary Hennessey and Chrys Ingraham. New York: Routledge, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to RuPaul. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gilbert, Michael, ed. International Journal of Transgenderism 4, no. 3 (July/September, 2000). Special issue, “What Is Transgender?” http://www .symposion.com/ijt/index.htm.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

September 24, 1951: George Jorgensen Becomes Christine Jorgensen

August, 1966: Queer Youth Fight Police Harassment at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco

November 21, 1966: First Gender Identity Clinic Opens and Provides Gender Reassignment Surgery

July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed

December 15, 1973: Homosexuality Is Delisted by the APA

1978: Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association Is Founded

March 20, 1990: Queer Nation Is Founded

1992: Transgender Nation Holds Its First Protest

1993: Intersex Society of North America Is Founded

June 17, 1995: International Bill of Gender Rights Is First Circulated

1996: Hart Recognized as a Transgender Man

1998: Transgender Scholarship Proliferates

April 30, 2002: Transgender Rights Added to New York City Law

March, 2003-December, 2004: Transsexuals Protest Academic Exploitation

November 20, 2003: Transgender Day of Remembrance and Remembering Our Dead Project

March 5, 2006: Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and Transamerica Receive Oscars

Categories: History