Leslie Feinberg: comrade, mentor, friend

I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There’s nothing more to say.
The poem ends,
Soft as it began –
I loved my friend.

~ Langston Hughes

LeiLani Dowell and Leslie Feinberg in 2004. Photo: Bill Hackwell

LeiLani Dowell and Leslie Feinberg in 2004.
Photo: Bill Hackwell

This is for my comrade, mentor, and friend Leslie Feinberg. The person who took me under hir wing when I showed up in New York City from the other side of the country, feeling more than a little lost. At a time when the Workers World editorial staff was beginning to work from home, Leslie and I made our way to the office in Manhattan every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so we could work together, learn from each other (because Leslie was always clear that ze could learn as much from me – a young, revolutionary, queer hapa woman – as I could from hir), build a friendship. I owe so much of my skills as an editor, journalist and thinker to Leslie’s patient work with me in those early years.

I have this picture of the day that I first met Leslie, before I had even moved to NYC. We held a meeting in San Francisco around the LGBTQ struggle for Pride, and we were both speaking at the event. There I am, trying not to look all nervous that I was meeting the Leslie Feinberg, author of “Stone Butch Blues,” transgender warrior and solidarity activist. And ze’s facing the camera but inclined toward me, with the warmest smile on hir face. I would see that smile duplicated on Leslie’s face so many times after I moved to New York — a gesture of respect and love to anyone dedicated to living their lives in defiance of the daily onslaught of capitalism and imperialism.

The picture, taken in front of the Women’s Building, blazes with color — the vibrant hues of the mural we are standing in front of, the deep red of the fancy femme shirt I wore for the occasion. And every time I see it the warmth of the colors and the warmth of that smile transport me; I may as well be standing in the sun, ten or twelve years younger, head tilted upward to catch the rays on my face.

I want to write about just how fierce an anti-racist, pro-worker, revolutionary fighter Leslie was, in every moment, even as ze slowly succumbed to sickness. I want this to convey the belligerent fury I am feeling at the heteronormative, heterosexist structures of U.S. society, at the exhausting, constant attacks on our bodies, identities, souls that Leslie fought against for as long as I knew hir and that contributed to hir health complications over many years. I want to say, fist held high, Black and queer and proud, that I and my comrades will forever continue the struggle in Leslie’s name.

But maybe I don’t have to do this work today; I know and am heartened that so many others can tell these stories. What I really need to say is:

Thank you.

I cannot write this without also expressing my love, appreciation and condolences to Minnie Bruce Pratt, Leslie’s partner and another comrade, mentor and friend.

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