Kitty Chrystal is a Melbourne poet, artist and intersectional feminist. She is also our resident artist for April! Her illustrations are inspired by a mix of anime, early 2000s pop music, 90s sci-fi novels and films. Her poems are a jumble of dreams and things her friends have said. She blogs at kittychrystal.blogspot.com.au.
My friends and I often discuss our feminism in terms of ‘relearning’.
Relearning how to treat each other without the instilled jealousies and insecurities bred in our teenage years. Relearning to engage and challenge our space in institutions and workplaces. Relearning our understanding of our own bodies without the insidious framework of societal gender and beauty standards.
Relearning to be aware of our own privilege, and of how our actions and decisions affect others with less social and political power.
The journey has its ups and downs—with the unlearning comes new understandings of one’s self and the external world. It’s empowering, but it can often feel like walking blind.
Leslie Feinberg knew that feeling, and Transgender Warriors is a personal journey through hir own relearning.
In a society that offered slim to no representation for those with Feinberg’s gender identity, the space that ze occupied was tentative, often dangerous, and mostly invisible. Feinberg’s personal and political journey as one of the most prominent and pioneering transgender activists sees the carving of a space in which transgender individuals may stand, in openness, honesty and confidence.
In order to carve this space, and understand what that space can look like, Feinberg sought to uncover what spaces and identities had previously existed, and understand why their history was not known. As Kate Bornstein, author of Gender Outlaw says, ‘Men and women have had their histories. This is the history book for the rest of us’.
Fienberg pieces together a rich tapestry of evidence that there have always been individuals that challenged, and existed outside of, the gender binary. What is so inviting, enriching and personal about the way Feinberg relays the historical information is hir account of how ze came to find it.
Feinberg’s writing is far from abstracted from human experience, like some gender theory can be; ze takes the reader step by step, from library to library, detailing phone call and letter, through hir own experience of discovering the history of trans identities in a diverse range of societies. Ze builds a little world, between reader and writer, in which the discoveries and the attached emotions are shared with confidence and empathy.
For me, finding a space socially where my values were shared, and this relearning was encouraged, helped enormously. I count my lucky stars every day for the community I’m a part of, because being an individual and targeted for a facet of one’s identity such as race, sexuality or gender, without a rad little army of femmos to back you up, is pretty bloody rough.
It’s that individual, or that feeling of walking blind, that Leslie Feinberg seeks to address with Transgender Warriors. It’s the history book I wish we had in classrooms. It’s Feinberg’s attempt to give visibility and representation to an intersection of identities. As ze states in the introduction:
“I grew up thinking that the hatred I faced because of my gender expression was simply a bi-product of human nature, and that it must be my fault that I was target for such outrage. I don’t want any young person to ever believe that’s true again, and so I wrote this book to lay bare the roots and tendrils of sex and gender oppression.”