Tue, Dec 16, 2003 - Page 16 News List

A transgender warrior spreads the word to Taiwan

Leslie Feinberg, a pioneer in the gay, lesbian and transgender liberation movement, is in Taiwan to meet fans and sign copies of her translated book

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Leslie Feinberg, an icon of transgender culture, is in Taiwan for the first time to attend a conference and meet local fans.

PHOTO: BRADLEY WINTERTON

Leslie Feinberg made her name in 1993 with her lesbian novel Stone Butch Blues (Firebrand Books, Ithaca, New York). The book described how in the 1950s and 1960s lesbians in the US were sent to psychiatric hospitals by their parents, beaten and raped over and over again by the police after raids on their bars, and routinely discriminated against, often violently, at work and in public places.

Feinberg is currently in Taiwan for the first time, addressing audiences, meeting people, and signing translated copies of her novel. On Saturday she gave the keynote address at a one-day conference organized by the Center for the Study of Sexualities at the National Central University in Chungli, Taipei County.

We met on Sunday afternoon in Taipei where she and others were answering questions at the main Eslite Bookstore on Dunhua South Road. I began by asking her to what degree the character Jess in her novel was herself.

"What I always say is that you have to have lived the reality to write the fiction," she said, suavely dressed in a smart black suit and blue-grey tie. She pointed out that she was essentially a working-class activist, and the way she went on to answer questions from the floor suggested a familiarity with addressing rallies and large gatherings, with all the energy they characteristically require.

"I have been waiting three years to meet Leslie," said a fashionably-dressed male Taiwanese journalist. "Her book had a great influence on me when I read it three years ago."

"I'm here to meet my idol," said a female worker in the finance sector, probably in common with 100 or so others who later stood in line to get their books signed.

Feinberg has had a brutally hard life if the experiences of Jess in the novel are anything to go by. Today, however, she exhibits a confidence and a determination bred of long experience of oppression.

"I am now getting a little of the recognition and respect that in reality all people deserve," she said. "I was in an Iowa gas station in a snow storm when someone said: `Didn't you write that book?' And in a supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey, where I live, a mother came up to me and said: `Can my little girl shake your hand? Then when she's older she'll understand whose hand it was she shook.'"

From an existence that was formerly alienated and marginalized, she now has interaction with people all over the US, and worldwide via e-mail. She marveled at how she could sit in her apartment in Jersey City -- a place she said was a little bit like Chungli -- and see words that she had written in English printed in Chinese. This would be just another proof that everything had been worthwhile. There were still problems to be overcome, however.

"I come from an old tradition of butch lesbians who can't use either the men's or the women's bathroom safely," Feinberg said. "And even now I have to get a passport stating that I'm a man in order to avoid trouble at the airport when I get home."

She went on to point out that progress is not automatic. The gay, lesbian and transgender movement of the 1920s in Germany was wiped out by the Nazis. Everything that's been achieved could still be swept away, she said, and she and others were working hard to see this didn't happen.

Someone asked whether her books shouldn't be accessible for free on the Internet. "I'm a captive of capitalism just like everyone else," Feinberg replied. "Until I'm freed I'm still a captive. My novel was issued by a small publishing operation run by one woman. But what I do promise you is that when I get home I'm going to put some pages in Chinese on my Web site."

This story has been viewed 13468 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top