I learned today that Leslie Feinberg passed away. I mentioned Feinberg, the author of Stone Butch Blues, in a previous blog post.
Stone Butch Blues is a novel written by transgender activist Leslie Feinberg. The novel won the 1994 Stonewall Book Award. It tells the story of a butch named Jess Goldberg, and the trials and tribulations she faces growing up in the United States before the Stonewall riots. Published in 1993, the novel became an underground hit before surfacing into mainstream literature. It is generally regarded as a groundbreaking work on the subject of gender, and it is one of the best-known pieces of LGBT literature. The novel is a prominent portrait of butch and femme–culture in the late 1960s, as well as a coming-of-age story of the character Jess: a Jewish, working-class butch who runs from home as a teenager and becomes a part of gay subculture.
I had the great good fortune of meeting Feinberg in person when she spoke in Baltimore in ~1994. I was on the cusp of deciding to transition from female to male, but was still wearing my black t-short with bold white block letters declaring Butch Bottom. The t-shirt looked a bit like this, except the colors were reversed and the font was the block lettering:
I had bought the t-shirt at the old Lambda Rising gay bookstore in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, now defunct. Thrilled to meet Feinberg, I lingered in the audience after her talk, and she came up to me and gave me a big bear hug. So learning of her death marks another milestone in my life’s journey.
With Feinberg’s death, I began to reminisce about my dear old friend, Maureen “Mo” Linehan who I met somewhere around the same time period. Mo is in the first photograph, above, as she looked as a sergeant at West Point.
Here is how Mo looked when I met her:
The story of Mo was the following… She was born in New York in 1959, and graduated from West Point. I do not know what troubles caused her to gain so much weight after the rigors of West Point training (rejection by her family?). What I do know is that I was close to deciding I needed to transition, and Mo definitely wanted to transition from female to male, but her weight precluded any surgery, so she was stuck with her female body and hence continued to use female pronouns.
Mo had met Kay and was very happy. Mo and Kay both lived separately in North Carolina, and when I met Kim (my previous partner), the four of us took a trip to Nags Head, the first time I’d set eyes on an ocean, and as I wrote in a past post, I was accused of “squealing like a girl” as the waves sloshed me like a helpless buoy.
As I made my decision to transition, Mo was not jealous. She was very supportive of me. My nickname in the dinosaur era of IRC and the Internet was Spykie. I had gotten a tattoo on my left arm that proudly proclaimed, “Spykie.”
In celebrating my decision to transition, Mo hand-made me a necklace with leather string and metal cubes that said SPYKIEBOY, a very touching gesture:
Kim moved to the DC area to be with me, and Mo was involved in her relationship with Kay. Busy in our own lives and separated by distance, we lost touch. One day, Kim and I made an outing to King’s Dominion in Virginia and ran into Mo and Kay. Imagine the odds….
Mo and Kay were very sad. Kay was going through a bitter divorce from her husband. The last time I’d communicated with Mo, she told me how she’d been chatting with Kay via computer in their separate homes in North Carolina. Suddenly, Kay vanished from the conversation, and knowing the circumstances, Mo called the police.
When the police arrived at Kay’s house where she and her children lived, they found that her husband had broken in, had cut the telephone lines, and was wielding a knife. Kay’s husband was sent to prison.
So when Kim and I serendipitous crossed paths with Mo and Kay at King’s Dominion, they explained how the divorce had gone forward, but the backwoods yahoo judge had awarded custody of Kay’s children to her ex-husband despite his history of violence and time in prison. Why? Because they were living openly together as lesbians.
After that, I didn’t hear from Mo any more, and could not find her. But once I fully transitioned, I found a mutual friend on Facebook and asked her how to reach Mo. The friend wrote back something along the lines of “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Mo committed suicide.” She died December 15, 2000. I do not know if she lost hope because she couldn’t transition, or if she felt guilty because Kay was wrongly denied her children, or if it was the impending Christmas holiday and lack of family, or if things had gone wrong under the strain of all Mo and Kay had gone through. Another gentle heart departed….
One more picture of Mo at West Point:
So this is for my old friend Mo, and for Leslie Feinberg, with thanks to my friend, L, for helping me research West Point photographs of Mo:
If there are any FTM or transmasculine-identified folks out there who have stumbled across my blog, are on Facebook, and if you have been a victim of domestic violence, rape, or abuse, and if you are seeking support from survivors who’ve been there, please go to my “About” link and shoot me an email. I’ll tell you how to find a supportive resource. For starters, you can go to the Trans-Masculine Abuse Project page, but we have a secret group where you can seek peer support and be assured that your privacy is respected.
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