"Remember Me as a Revolutionary Communist"
Those were your last words.
Ok, I think. Of course. I will. You were.
But it's not the way that I am pulled to remember you. The first thing I remember about you is sitting, reading your words in what felt like a space only you and I had created. The way that reading 'fiction' often does. As others have testified, it was so much more than that. I get chills now, as I write. Very few books move me in the way that your novel did. Where I feel it all these years later: remember where I was when I read it---Kindred is one, Zami another. When I read Stone Butch Blues, I was transformed. In that moment and, forever. And not necessarily because I had recently come out and was drawn to your story/a story of butch 'blues' that I would later cherish in the women--the woman--I made home with. But, I was transformed because of the integrity with which you wrote, the love that you communicated, and the beauty that emanated from your words. It left me wanting in ways I couldn't articulate then, still cannot now, but carry with me, weighted.
It's true, at the time, that I was trying to figure out something about my identity, my desires for lesbians, Butch lesbians, who I love, so your words resonated in that way. Those words always do and will. But it was something more. Something I'm trying to figure out now, even as I type. Something about being working class, celebrating that, documenting what felt and feels so misrepresented, left out and grossly caricatured. I read Stone Butch Blues as I was coming out of college, a site that both liberated me and ripped me apart. I was liberated by figuring out, after sitting in a Black feminist professor's classroom, what I wanted to do with with my life--feeling seen and heard for the first time. Ripped apart because that experience moved me so far away from my working poor/working class roots. From my working class family, a family of railroad workers, transcriptionists, nurses, and factory workers. Most of whom were or have been ripped apart by a 'globalized economy' that has so little regard for (working) people.
All throughout college, I pushed myself further and further away from my family, from my "past." I couldn't reconcile working class, poor, and college. It didn't make sense to me. I was the first to finish college in my family, the first to really go and stay. I often think back and remember how few Black people were on my college campus, a small group of us, but they were from St. Louis and Kansas City, often, not from the small city I came from. But, I had enough connection and contact with Black folks that that wasn't what I longed for or wanted. And, I couldn't articulate it then because I wasn't supposed to. I wasn't supposed to want or remember my working class-ness. There wasn't a space for that in the upwardly mobile-become-middle-class-space that is college.
Your words brought me back to that. As soon as I read the opening pages. The letter to Theresa--I knew how I was supposed to read it and, how I did: a love letter to the woman you could tell everything to, and did. About the everyday violence and brutality, the heartbreak, the longing for her, the love between you and her. The beauty in the way you told us about this 'Butch/Femme' relationship. Love, I read that and understood it. But, I also picked up on every detail, every line about working class life. The things I missed. The things that haunted me. That comforted me. The things I longed for but couldn't communicate, couldn't discuss because there was no solidarity, no interest in blue collar life. But I missed it: the blandness of doing someone else's laundry (ring around the collar), of working as a steel worker or a waitress, the attention to clothing: boots, denim, jockeys. Maybe an outline for "Butch," but, also, such a beautiful rendition and honoring of working class people. Warriors, all.
And that's what I loved about you: how much love and integrity you had for working class people. And the love and integrity you had for all your people: your partner, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Transgender folks, lesbians, Jewish folks, females. I love how you loved your people, how you loved us all. That love. Or, as you once said, "exchange value of love, is love."
That's revolutionary communism. You are a revolutionary communist. You are love.
RIP Leslie Feinberg. May you be remembered as you wish.
|I include this photo because I. just. love. it.|
photo: Estate of Robert Giard