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WW editor in Taiwan

'Sex, gender, sexuality & socialism'

By Minnie Bruce Pratt
Taipei, Taiwan

Transgender lesbian author and activist Leslie Feinberg recently spoke in Taiwan on the interconnections between issues of gender, sex, sexuality and socialism. Feinberg is also a managing editor of Workers World newspaper.

The Center for the Study of Sexualities of the National Central University organized a series of events featuring Feinberg. They ran from Dec. 11 to Dec. 14 at the university in the town of Jungli and in the capital, Taipei.

Feinberg's appearance coincided with the center's publication of "Trans," the first Chinese-language anthology on transgender. Two chapters from her non-fiction Marxist analysis of the roots of gender and sex oppression, "Transgender Warriors" (Beacon), were part of the anthology.

Feinberg's novel "Stone Butch Blues"--a ground-breaking look at working-class lesbian, gay, bi and trans oppression--is known by many on the island because it was serialized three years ago in Chinese in a leading Taiwanese daily newspaper. Subsequently, it was published as a book, was required as summer reading for all high school students, and was selected as one of the 25 books of the year in Taiwan.

Feinberg wrote a special preface for the Taiwanese edition of "Stone Butch Blues" for Chinese readers, with comments on how the McCarthy-era anti-communist witch hunts, which stepped up attacks on gay and trans people, were linked in part to U.S. ruling class rage at the successful revolution in China.

Breaking the taboo

In Jungli Feinberg keynoted the fifth inte rnational conference on the Politics of Gender/Sexuality: The Age of Transgender. Her talk was titled: "Sex and Gender Oppression: Finding the Path to Liberation."

Conference organizers had hoped for 150 participants. Instead, the auditorium was packed with almost double that number of students, faculty, activists from anti-war, labor, feminist and other struggles, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities. Many had traveled on two standing-room-only buses from Taipei, an hour north. Participants also came from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Feinberg opened her speech urging strong support for center director Dr. Jose phine Ho, who is currently under attack by right-wing forces in Taiwan for her consistent support and educational efforts around issues of gender and sexuality. (To sign a petition in support of Dr. Ho, go to http://www.gsrat.org/eng/eindex.html.)

She then described how the momentous revolution of Chinese workers and peasants had impacted on the United States in the 1950s. She showed how the anti-communist, anti-worker witch hunts of the Cold War period were linked to anti-gay and anti-trans persecution.

Feinberg explained how she later based her research about the origins of sex and gender oppression, including transgender issues, on the analysis of women's oppression begun by Karl Marx's closest collaborator, Frederick Engels, and on the Marxist analysis of lesbian and gay oppression developed by Bob McCubbin, a leader in Workers World Party.

She discussed how diversity of sex, gender and sexuality was part of the earliest communal societies, but that oppression became institutionally codified with the division of society into classes.

Feinberg's thesis is that liberation from oppression based on sex, gender and sexuality can come through transformation of the economic basis of society. Her work reinforces the historical materialist position that different forms of economic organ ization have produced very different social relations; therefore, prejudices and oppression are not intrinsic to human nature.

She pointed out that oppression based on sex, gender and sexuality, which has been built into the structures of class societies for centuries, continues today in divisiveness perpetuated by capitalism. Fein berg linked this to other forms of oppression generated by the capitalist drive for profit.

She also focused on the racist U.S. war drive in the Middle East, emphasizing that U.S. imperialism is attacking and threatening those nations that since World War II have tried to break free of imperialist rule--the reason Iran and Syria are now in the cross-hairs of U.S. military threats.

She called for support for the revolutions in China, North Korea and Cuba. She stressed, "It is no secret that U.S. finance capital is hungry to re-enslave one-fifth of the world's population--the Chinese people."

'Socialism--the word we're not even supposed to whisper'

Feinberg then said to the audience, "I'm talking about supporting socialism--a word I know I'm not supposed to even whisper here. So let's talk about it loudly. We have to take our destinies into our own hands."

She urged everyone to stand up against red-baiting, even those who are not socialists, "because if you don't, every time you ask for a nickel raise or new books for your school, you'll be accused of being a communist and be pushed back."

Feinberg pointed out that the argument that "socialism isn't perfect and therefore doesn't work" is actually the message that Wall Street wants people to believe. Imperialism has militarily surrounded, financially penetrated and economically undermined every country attempting to build socialism. Nevertheless, revolutions in these formerly poor countries have done what the richest capitalist countries have not done: fed, clothed, housed and provided free education and health care for their populations.

These actions lay the basis for reducing social tensions, she said, but left-wing elements must deepen the revolutionary pro cess, including addressing issues of sex, gender and sexuality. "Unweaving the strands of prejudice from the tapestry of social relations is painstaking work," she explained, "and this is made more difficult when a country trying to build socialism is surrounded by the cannons of imperialism.

"But revolutionaries don't sweep problems under the rug. We study the problems--not to help imperialism tear down socialism but to build socialism even stronger," she concluded.

According to local activists, such a public discussion of socialism and defense of the mainland Chinese revolution has been virtually taboo since the Feb. 28, 1947, massacre of up to 30,000 people by the U.S.-supported dictator Chiang Kai-shek, which crushed an uprising by communists and other progressives in Taiwan.

One student commented that, in his entire life in Taiwan, he had never before heard anyone defend socialism.

Feinberg later spoke on a panel about sex and gender diversity together with Dr. Junko Mitsuhashi, a Japanese transgender activist from the Institute of Social Sciences of Chuo University.

Feinberg also met with a range of people during her visit, including taking tea with the president of National Central University, Dr. Chuang Shen Liu; addressing a class of English majors; and reading at Jing Jing Bookstore. Taipei's only LGBT bookstore, it was recently raided by police, who confiscated over 500 gay journals.

At Eslite bookstore, the most famous mainstream bookstore in Taiwan, Fein berg spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of almost 200. Many shoppers passing the event at the indoor courtyard stopped to listen. Feinberg stressed that repression sparks resistance, pointing out that the liberation movements in the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S. rose in part as a response to repressive 1950s anti-communist witch hunts.

During the long question-and-answer period, Feinberg responded to one query by emphasizing the importance of the ties between women's liberation and transgender liberation. "We need all sexes, genders and sexualities--we need everyone--to make these movements strong."

Movements supporting each other

The solidarity that Feinberg referred to was in evidence at a twilight party given in her honor at the TG Butterfly Garden in Taipei. One of the many eloquent performances was a dramatic skit with original music that highlighted social problems confronting transgender people in Tai wan, such as sex classification on documents and access to bathrooms.

Performers and attendees included local transgender activists, staff from AIDS organizations and the Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual Hotline, and members of a local lesbian writers' group. Also present were representatives from the independent labor movement organizations, the Information Center for Labor Education, the Solidarity Front of Women Workers, and the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS).

Hosting the event was GSRAT (Gender/ Sexuality Rights Alliance, Taiwan), which has organized in support of COSWAS, participated in demonstrations in Taiwan against the U.S. war in Iraq, protested anti-gay policies at Taiwanese military installations, organized self-defense response to police raids on gay bars, and regularly done educational work on the situation of gays and lesbians in Taiwan, including participation in a local Lesbian Girls' Camp.

As part of the evening's performances, Feinberg narrated the events of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York City that set in motion the modern LGBT mass movement. She related the fighting presence there of lesbian, gay and transgender people, sex workers, homeless people and draft resisters, emphasizing the leadership of young African Americans and Latinas. She concluded that it was their unity that enabled these oppressed people to make history.

The following day Feinberg met with COSWAS sex workers and other labor activists at a former government-licensed brothel, now converted to an organizing and re-training center. When government licensing was abolished by the current ruling party of Taiwan, the women organized more than 300 militant demonstrations to protest this re-criminalization of their live li hood. These women, who had worked in this brothel for most of their lives, are now part of the independent labor movement of Taiwan, which defended them on the frontlines at the protests and supports them with organizing staff.

All the mainstream daily newspapers of Taiwan gave prominent coverage to Feinberg's appearances.

The China Times Sunday book review ran a front-page profile of Feinberg's literary and activist work. The Taipei Times devoted an entire page to Feinberg's visit, featuring it above the masthead on the front page.

"I was heartened by the many conversations I had with workers, activists, students and faculty during my visit," Feinberg said at the end of the trip. "My visit coincided with stepped-up political attacks on China and an announcement of an 'independence from China' referendum by President Chen Shui-bian.

"I came here as a revolutionary from the United States--the imperialist power that has kept China divided and is the greatest enemy of workers and oppressed peoples of the world. I spoke out as a communist. And in response, many individuals thanked me for doing so, said my support for China and for socialism as a whole strengthened them, and called me comrade."

Pratt participated as a panelist in the conference and spoke at Eslite Bookstore. The introduction to her creative non-fiction work on gender boundary crossing, "S/HE," appears in "TRANS," the first Chinese-language anthology on transgender.

Reprinted from the Jan. 8, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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