Leslie Feinberg on why she transitioned

The following is a quote from Transgender Warriors by Leslie Feinberg, page 12–13

“When factories were humming with production during the war years – and many young men were being shipped to Vietnam – everyone was considered employable. But as the boom economy receded during the early 1970s, we stood in block-long lines just to get a job application. If I forgot for a moment just how “different” I was, the recession reminded me. I was considered far too masculine a woman to get a job in a store, or a restaurant, or an office.

I couldn’t survive without working. So one day I put on a femme friend’s wig and earrings and tried to apply for a job as a salesperson at a downtown retail store. On the bus ride to the interview, people stood rather than sit next to me. They whispered and pointed and stared. “Is that a man?” one woman asked her friend, loud enough for us all to hear.

The experience taught me an important lesson. The more I tried to wear clothing or styles considered appropriate for women, the more people believed I was a man trying to pass as a woman. I began to understand that I couldn’t conceal my gender expression.

So I tried another experiment. I called one of the older butches who I knew passed as a man on a construction gang. She lent me a pair of paste-on theatrical sideburns. After gluing them on, I drove to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. As I walked around, nobody seemed to stare. That was an unusual experience and a relief. I allowed my voice to drop to a comfortably low register and chatted with one of the guards about the job situation. He told me there was an opening for a guard and suggested I apply. An hour later, the supervisor who interviewed me told me I seemed like a “good man” and hired me on the spot. I was suddenly acceptable as a human being. The same gender expression that made me hated as a woman, made me seem like a good man.

My life changed dramatically the moment I began working as a man. I was free of the day-in, day-out harassment that had pursued me. But I also lived in constant terror as a gender outlaw. What punishments would I face when I was discovered? The fear moved me to make a complex decision: I decided to begin taking male hormones, prescribed to me by a local sex-reassignment program. Through this program, I also located a surgeon who would do a breast reduction. Shaping my body was something I had long wanted to do and I’ve never had any regrets. But I started taking hormones in order to pass. A year after beginning hormone shots, I sprouted a full, colorful beard that provided me with a greater sense of safety – on the job and off. With these changes, I explored yet another facet of my trans identity.”

What Feinberg is revealing through this quote is that she did not transition out of an authentic desire to transition on her part—she transitioned due to social coercion. The actual reasons for her transition are that she was having a hard time finding a job because people didn’t want to hire a masculine woman, and passing as a man made it easier to get hired and it made life easier in general because people treated her better.

Feinberg experienced oppression as a working class person, as a woman, as a gender nonconforming woman, and as a lesbian. The social institutions that oppressed her–capitalism, patriarchy, sexism–oppress all women.

In her activism she argued that transgender people have the right to choose a gender and to modify their bodies as they see fit. But I don’t think that what she needed was the right to “choose a gender” nor the right to modify her body. I think that what she needed was a stable job, to be treated well, to be respected for her differences, to be allowed to be herself with no negative repercussions. If she had always had a steady living and people didn’t harass her for being different (for being a masculine woman, for being a lesbian) then the reasons she states for transition wouldn’t have been there and I hypothesize that she wouldn’t have transitioned.

The problems with trans activism are the same as the problems with third wave “feminism.” People are looking at individuals instead of looking at society as a whole, they’re seeing people’s individual feelings and decisions but they’re not looking at the wider picture and the reason the individual starts feeling the way they do and the social forces that lead to them making certain decisions. People with these sorts of politics end up fighting for people’s right to engage in the defense mechanisms and strategies that people use to navigate oppressive systems without ever naming the oppressive system or challenging it.

I believe that what Leslie Feinberg’s story proves is that capitalism is a failed system that fails to provide for people and destroys lives, that patriarchy and sexism are very harmful to women, and that the path to liberation has to involve fighting sexism, homophobia, and the system of capitalist patriarchy. When we fight for women’s rights to modify their bodies in order to “fit in” to an oppressive system, we agree that the oppressive system is inevitable and that we just have to join it. This is a politics of defeat. I want better than this. I want the masculine women and feminine men of the world to be able to live safely as they are without having to conform.

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24 thoughts on “Leslie Feinberg on why she transitioned

    • Though not easy, and though not accessible to all individuals due to different degrees of social submission taught by parents… I HAVE chosen to have less work, with the compromise of keeping me, me. I live a life of some desperation.
      But we MUST STOP being victims. We must take on the shit. Males are not going to give us a space. But such an attitude must be taught. People who value conformity over personal chaos are incapable of doing this. It must be taught at the earliest age, to little girls, to FIGHT.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is a good find. As radical feminists have been telling the world (for decades): do an analysis of the problem, find the root cause, then address that root cause. Reforms, rebranding and individual false choices never resolve the problem – it must be rooted out.

    Transgender IS social coercion, it IS gay eugenics, and it DOES serve to reinforce sex role stereotypes. And current sex discrimination laws and policies should be used to address this.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. It is so obvious, reading it, I don’t get why she herself doesn’t seem to realize she was coerced, that she was forced to take hormones by a society that wouldn’t give her a job.

    We used to be able to see this. History (and fantasy literature) is full of women who disguise as men to make a living or get their dream job. Everyone used to know that patriarchy provides a strong incentive for women to try and pass as male if they can hope to succeed in it.

    I thought we were now at a point where everyone realized that patriarchy needs to end.

    But instead, women now get the option of choosing to limit their lifespan and harm their health by taking testosterone, in the hopes of potentially getting some male privilege (if they look masculine enough to begin with.) While everything else remains the same.

    That’s not progress. And if all women opted out of womanhood this way, then this would be the end of mankind.
    (Not that I’d cry a single tear. If this is what the human species has come to, then good riddance.)

    It is not sustainable, and it is founded on the assumption that there’s some naturally subservient “cis women” who will be happy as slaves of patriarchy. If we assume (as I do) that all women want to be free, then the natural conclusion of all women accepting the premise of gender ideology would be that all women become transmen. And take testosterone, if that is needed to pass, becoming infertile as result.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I read somewhere that some transwomen are considering detransitioning to be safe during the Trump presidency. My first thought was so much for them being exactly the same as women. We don’t get to detransition into anything, but I guess we can just take hormones and become men?

      Liked by 3 people

      • If they’re gonna die if they don’t get to transition, as they claim, then they wouldn’t detransition no matter who is President. Also, if they are the same as other women, how would Trump or anyone else even know they are trans? I bet these guys are the ridiculous trans trenders who just do it for kicks and never pass.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Feinberg being forced to transition and able to pass as a man doesn’t mean ze was “really a man.”

        So would other women and enbies being forced to (de)transition and able to pass as men mean they are?

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      • yes Giuliaalexis, just like at the end of the movie Soul Man, when the principal speaks with the white dude in black face about what it’s like “to be a black man”… and the white dude answered: I DO NOT know what it’s like to be a black man, cuz I can opt out.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think Feinberg did know that she was being coerced. That’s the impression I got when I read Stone Butch Blues. She was an analytic thinker and writer, always questioning.

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      • Non coercion is non existent. Homo sapiens is the mammal with the longest infancy. The very essence of humanity is to emulate the parental traumas. Coercion is but another word for learning, we can conform to patriarchal society, or we can fight patriarchal society, both involve learning, and to some degree coercion. SJWs are also coerced into many mantras by their peers. Many environmentalists are coerced by peers. Life is a set of coercions… up to us to chose the path.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. This reminds me of an article I read celebrating a trans man’s transition. In the first paragraph of the article there was a direct quote from the trans man, Jaimie, where he talked about how his conservative family and peers bullied him because he (or rather she at this time) “dressed like a man.” Hurt, she decided she had issues with her presentation so she decided to just become a man. To me this is coercion, and in fact PTSD from abuse. I pointed this out in a comment, that we are celebrating what actually seems like a reaction to PTSD, and the comment was instantly erased. To make the situation worse, when I looked up the article again I found another article that stated he always felt like a man. It wasn’t a direct quote, nor was the past abuse mentioned in this article. In the first article, which interestingly I was never able to find again, there was no mention of him having always felt like a man. Just the DIRECT quote about abuse. It is so obvious to me that the media is suppressing stories of abuse and replacing them with supposedly positive narratives of feeling like a man or a woman. This is basically propaganda.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “People with these sorts of politics end up fighting for people’s right to engage in the defense mechanisms and strategies that people use to navigate oppressive systems without ever naming the oppressive system or challenging it.”

    I’ll drink to that! I think this is the reason why radical feminism spoke to me so deeply on my journey out of abuse. It cuts past all the bullshit and names the perpetrators: capitalism, patriarchy, misogyny. It targets the problem at the root and says,”fuck society! fuck the status-quo! fuck patriarchy!” It is not we who need to conform, it is the system that needs to change and we can be a part of that. One of the biggest and most important steps in bringing down the patriarchy is naming the problem.

    I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: I view the abusive family as a microcosm of these oppressive systems. The same dynamics are at work, but in an oppressive system, you have millions of targets, millions of abusers, and millions complicit in the abuse. Gaslighting and denial play HUGE roles in maintaining oppression and just the same way the abused woman or the abused child believes the abuse is their fault, that they are the ones who are damaged, that they are the ones who must remain hypervigilant in order to remain safe and “valued,” so too do members fo targeted groups in an oppressive society. And when we nod our heads and don’t question what is prompting people to take such extreme measures to feel as though they belong, we are complicit. It is ALWAYS okay to question the dynamics of our society, ESPECIALLY when certain groups seem to carry an undue burden. Never acquiesce, never roll over, never turn your head.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. “What Feinberg is revealing through this quote is that she did not transition out of an authentic desire to transition on her part—she transitioned due to social coercion.”

    Her job-seeking does seem to be the proximate trigger, but in the last paragraph that you quote Feinberg says that she wanted to do this beforehand: “Shaping my body was something I had long wanted to do and I’ve never had any regrets.” This suggests that if Feinberg had not encountered discrimination on the job market, Feinberg still would have transitioned. It might have been later, but Feinberg still would have chosen a different gender and engaged in body modification.

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    • Nearly all us women “want to” modify our bodies! I have wanted breast reduction my entire life. I’d sure as hell like less fat thighs, longer legs, longer nail beds. NO woman is happy with her body. Wanting to change one’s body is not a “trans” domain, it is a reaction to women under patriarchy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Wanting to change one’s body is not a “trans” domain, it is a reaction to women under patriarchy.”

        Even wanting to change your body to transition to a different gender?

        Feinberg says in the quoted section that the economic pressures were unwelcome, but that it just hastened a transition she had wanted to make beforehand. It goes without saying that Feinberg should not have been subjected to those pressures, but it also seems clear that this transition to male is something Feinberg had wanted to do for some time.

        (What other passages in _Transgender Warriors_ describe Feinberg’s account of what led up to transition?)

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    • Okay, I finally have time to get back to you on this comment. I’m not sure who you are or why you ended up on my blog making a comment, but I doubt you have read Feinberg’s work or you wouldn’t be concluding that transition was inevitable for her. Even before her unemployment in the 70s, her reasons for wanting to shape her body were already social reasons. She never claimed to have been born a man or even born with dysphoria. She was born a masculine girl and she was harassed for it from day one. She did identify as a lesbian as well as a trans person. Her character in Stone Butch Blues, who transitioned for the same reason she did, insisted to her partner that she would still be a butch even on hormones. This shows her attitude toward the situation—she was a lesbian who identified as a lesbian, and took hormones to survive. Jobs were already hard for her right from the beginning since she was so masculine-looking and people had a problem with that.

      I don’t like your framing of the situation as “choosing a different gender.” Feinberg didn’t choose her gender at all, she was born with it. Her gender is butch and her sex is female. She was born with both of these and couldn’t change them or hide them. Her shaping her body was not “choosing a gender” but hiding her sex, so that it would be easier to live in a world where people don’t accept someone having the female sex with a masculine gender. If people could have accepted her as she was then she would never have had a reason to take hormones.

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  6. Shockingly fascist society portrayed her. Achieve the hyperfemme appearance or drop out of the sisterhood. No wonder girls anxiety is spiralling out of control. The only resolution to this is a hangs in the media and a greater value on substance over surface appearance. What a shallow cartoonish world we live in. Jennifer Rabbit was a cartoon but seems now that is the acceptable face of femaleness.

    Liked by 1 person

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