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Transgender Warriors : Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman

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With a New Afterword by the Author

In this fascinating, personal journey through history, Leslie Feinberg uncovers persuasive evidence that there have always been people who crossed the cultural boundaries of gender. Transgender Warriors is an eye-opening jaunt through the history of gender expression and a powerful testament to the rebellious spirit.

240 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1996

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About the author

Leslie Feinberg

12 books592 followers
Leslie Feinberg was a transgender activist, speaker, and author. Feinberg was a high ranking member of the Workers World Party and a managing editor of Workers World newspaper.

Feinberg's writings on LGBT history, "Lavender & Red," frequently appeared in the Workers World newspaper. Feinberg's partner was the prominent lesbian poet-activist Minnie Bruce Pratt. Feinberg was also involved in Camp Trans and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Starr King School for the Ministry for transgender and social justice work.

Feinberg's novel Stone Butch Blues, which won the Stonewall Book Award, is a novel based around Jess Goldberg, a transgendered individual growing up in an unaccepting setting. Despite popular belief, the fictional work is not autobiographical. This book is frequently taught at colleges and universities and is widely considered a groundbreaking work about gender.

Leslie Feinberg was Jewish, and was born female. Feinberg preferred the gender-neutral pronouns "hir" and "ze". Feinberg wrote: "I have shaped myself surgically and hormonally twice in my life, and I reserve the right to do it again."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 133 reviews
21 reviews10 followers
June 10, 2014
I've read a few reviews of this and a lot seem to bash Feinberg for not presenting a thoroughly academic history of transgender identity. I do think this kind of critique misses the point: quite spectacularly.

It's definitely true that if you want a meticulous, detailed, jargony drudge through trans history then this is not the book: it neither has the style, content or length for that kinda project.

But this book from the beginning opens as a personal story of discovering oneself *through* history, rather than the more boring (in my view!) task of discovering history per se (though this is important in other contexts of course).

As someone who has always had an atypical gender expression, when you start discovering the possibility of gender variance the way the world neatly compartmentalizes into two - male and female - begins to smack you quite rudely in the face. And then you see it everywhere: in the way people talk, walk, their hairstyles, their mannerisms, their beliefs, their favourite colour, their partners, the way they have sex or who they want to have sex with. All neatly carved into a tidy dichotomy: male and female. Useful, as Feinberg argues, not for us as free people but for the ruling classes who need to mechanically restrict our gender expression for their own devices.

Trans identity has a history of being invisible. Which is strange because trans people also have a history of being loved, celebrated and respected across the globe and across times.

It's within this framework that "Transgender Warriors" operates: it attempts to find the invisible trans self in the rich and bountiful trans history that exists; bringing that self to light, through history. Hence, elucidating the history in the process.

From Joan of Arc to Two-Spirit people or from Aphrodite to Brandon Teena: trans people - and gender variance more generally - has a deeply rich history. And perhaps unexpectedly a rich history in working class resistance. This book is about Feinberg discovering that history in tandem with discovering hirself.

As someone who was repressed and oppressed on the basis of gender identity and exploited from the standpoint of class, Feinberg was attempting to locate hirself - through history - as part of a collective able to fight back and resist. Hir use of history is on the whole factual but as a result of hir form, somewhat biographical. This was supplemented by the picture gallery at the end which the author again used as a way of quite creatively melding history with the biographical stories of people's personal lives and struggles.

Perhaps the downside was the only argument Feinberg offered for why trans oppression exists is because it's yet another way of reinventing and enforcing class hierarchy. and of course she's not wrong, but hir argument was crude in places.

On the whole though, a fantastic book. Read it. If not, your loss.
Profile Image for Othy.
278 reviews21 followers
February 21, 2009
Though Feinberg starts off well, she shows herself to be an amateur historian, preferring the facts that support her argument to looking at history in its entirety. The problem with this book resides in the author's reliance on the horribly false and undermining ideas that both men and the Christian Church are naturally oppressive. Based on such falsities, how could any opinion (whether it be on history, politics, society, or anything else) lead even close to truth?
Profile Image for Bek MoonyReadsByStarlight.
243 reviews54 followers
March 22, 2023
There's a difference between learning history and politics and feeling like there's actually a possibility for change. This actually brings that inspiration while talking about this history.

It catalogs parts of trans history, but it's about so much more than that. Feinberg talks about early trans history through Indigenous conceptions of gender and early European spiritual leaders that defied current concepts of gender, to figures like Joan of Arc and cross-dressed pesant resistance from the 1600s-1800s, and more. They explore the relationship of transphobia and misogyny, class-based oppression, and colonialism historically.

As they're talking about this history, they also talk about their own journey with gender and politics, how they learned and what impact this history had on them personally. They contextualize themself both in terms of where the writing is coming from and putting themself in this history. They also make clear that this history contextualizes the present and future. This can inform how we can act and demonstrates the necessity of trans liberation -- and how any liberation is not possible without liberation for all marginalized people.

I also love that even though the narrative only touched on so many parts of history, they included art and photographs with captions about so many different people and parts of trans history. It gives you places to look afterwards, but it also is just a small piece of the hugeness of transgender history.

I have so many more thoughts about this, but I'll leave it at that for now. This was incredible and if you haven't read any Leslie Feinberg, now is the time!!
Profile Image for Sarah Cavar.
Author 11 books128 followers
January 17, 2023
Feinberg is an excellent writer, theorist, and polemicist, but not a good historian. This rating reflects my enthusiasm for hir politics/style/insights, and my disappointment in the shoddy "history" work done in a book with "History" in the subtitle.
Profile Image for Jess Byiers.
10 reviews
October 17, 2022
It’s disheartening that so many reviews for this book (all written by cis men and TERFs) put this book down as ‘one sided history’ or ‘more marxist propaganda’ or even try to break down their criticism while misgendering the author.
Ready for the kicker cis men? All history you learned is one sided. The history you learned just happened to be only about you which is why I assume you have no qualms with it and are offended by another point of view. This book sheds light on the root of bigotry and hatred towards trans folk, a history that is still being fought to be kept out of the hands of trans youth.
The book also outlines quite well the correlation between feudalism/capitalism and the hate propaganda that has been targeted toward trans people for hundreds of years (Caliban and The Witch outlines this idea in a broader context if you’re looking for further reading).
As someone who is Trans I found this book extremely uplifting and informative of a history ( a history that I never got as a child and could have saved many mental struggles growing up) that is clearly too controversial for my straight white counterparts as they cannot see themselves in it, nor should they.
This is a piece of our history, of so many peoples history that is shut away. The book was written in the 90s so yes, it still has some work to do, but for a book of its time there is still an intersectionality present and Leslie does not skip over those who have fought and still fight for the way of their life against the measures brought upon by colonialism.
So in the end, my review is mostly criticizing the reviews left here as it just boils my blood that STILL so many straight cis white men/woman, even after having read the book, still don’t get it, and still rally for a text that is about them and only for them. Perhaps next time you read a book that isn’t about you, you can just leave your comments to yourself.
Profile Image for Dan.
44 reviews5 followers
April 26, 2008
A ridiculous radical Marxist personal account of one trans-man's journey of historical self-discovery. Too bad the presentation was 99% ahistorical. I'm sorry, but you can draw a straight line from transgender Hindu deities to Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. It just doesn't work.
Profile Image for Carey Hanlin.
23 reviews9 followers
February 3, 2017
My only real qualm with this book is that Feinberg could have used a greater diversity of primary and secondary sources, as well as counterarguments and rebuttals to counterarguments, in order to better fortify some of the claims they make, especially about historical figures like Joan of Arc.

That being said, as an exploration of transgender, gender noncomforming, and gender bending expression throughout history and across cultures, the book is wonderful and encouraging, especially in its continual suggestion that rigid gender binary systems and oppressive gender norms are indeed products of patriarchal control, and haven't been implicit to every society throughout history.

I also appreciated Feinberg's candor in insisting that true freedom of gender expression requires a social shift back to communalism and a socioeconomic shift toward socialism. At the very least, I believe they're right in suggesting that true freedom of gender and sexuality can't be attained as long as cishet white men control the majority of wealth, legislation, and means of production.

It should be noted that since this book was written in the mid 90s, the language used has evolved substantially since then. Now, words like queer and genderqueer are commonplace, and trasgendered is considered more of a slur, so take the language with a grain of salt.

It was also interesting how Feinberg included the entire spectrum of gender noncomforming identities and behaviors in her analysis, including cross dressers, drag queens and kings, etc... as a united group transgressing gender norms and oppressive gender binary systems.
Profile Image for Devann.
2,433 reviews131 followers
May 9, 2021
If you're going into this expecting a detailed and extensively researched look at transgender history then you're probably going to be disappointed, but I thought it did an excellent job of presenting Feinberg's personal journey with learning about different gender presentations throughout history and relating it in a more personal way. Definitely interesting and I thought it dealt well with gender as a fluid thing because I feel like a lot of people today try to put these things into neat little boxes that don't really work for many people.
Profile Image for Devin.
184 reviews32 followers
February 20, 2019
Leslie Feinberg's magnum opus -- a groundbreaking work in which Leslie finally gives a concrete history of our lives as transgender and gender-variant people.

I've seen reviews of this book from other readers in this decade or in the last 10 or so years say that this book "isn't well researched"; it's important and necessary to understand that this book was written at a time where any research on gender variance was extremely difficult to find and the modern works on trans history...well, didn't exist. Leslie is truly walking down a dark pathway armed with very little besides a flashlight, so to speak, and uncovering the history we have been denied access to.

Of course the language is outdated, that's to be expected from a book written nearly 25 years ago, and also it's to be expected from the book that serves as the jumping-off point for studying transgender history critically. If you're not ready to confront the realities of evolutionary linguistics, especially as it pertains to queer/trans studies, then this book probably isn't for you. Leslie hirself knew that this was just the beginning of us learning about the history of ourselves, and that the right words perhaps had not even been discovered yet, had not even been created yet. Or if they had been created, they were seldom-used or even took on a different definition than what we know them to mean today.

This book is also groundbreaking in that it openly and blatantly disrupts the early notions of "passing" and challenges just what it means to be transgender. Before this, in the early days of trans history, transgender (then called transvestite or transsexual) typically referred to someone who sought out medical procedures to match up their bodies with their gender (male or female) -- this of course invoked the Western binary, which is a product of colonialism, imperialism, racism, etc. However, Leslie challenges this, asserting that transgender is a wide umbrella term that encompasses gender expression that is queer, or non-normative. Additionally, Leslie also asserts that not every single trans person needs to have or even wants to have surgery of any kind. That gender and "biological sex" are not as rigid as Western society teaches us, that they are both fluid and socially constructed.

It also calls for a bridge to be made between the Transgender Liberation Movement and the Women's Liberation Movement, noting that the oppression of both transgender people and cisgender women are bound up together and can only succeed through reliance and unity with one another. This was a critical turning point in Feminist Studies because this was published at the end of Second Wave Feminism and at the genesis of Third Wave Feminism, when "biology is destiny" was becoming more and more obsolete (thankfully) and intersectionality began to take a firm grasp on the Women's Liberation Movement. This book doesn't necessarily "call out", but "calls in" the tying together of the oppression of transgender people and the oppression of women, and shows the undeniable bond between the two, the need to recognize that, and the need to united around that in order to fight back against capitalism, sexism, etc.

The last 100 or so pages consist largely of a portrait gallery of transgender and gender-variant people, and it is beautiful. It's times like this, when I was reading through this section, that I'm overwhelmed at the reminder of how vast and beautiful gender and gender expression are, that there are millions of trans people out there whose stories may not and probably are not the same whatsoever. It's overwhelming in such a great way. If reading theory and gender studies isn't really your thing, at least get this book for the portrait gallery in the back -- it tells a story all on its own.

The afterword of the book made me emotional. It was written by Leslie on hir 47th birthday, and ze acknowledges the illnesses that have plagued her over the years, and how it is getting worse. Fortunately, we would be lucky enough to have Leslie with us for another 18 years, but unfortunately, that 18 years has come and gone -- Leslie Feinberg is dead and this is all we have to remember her by. But what a vast legacy by which to remember someone. Hir legacy is opening the door to trans history, a door previously shut to all of us -- Leslie forced it open and began dragging it out of the proverbial closet and into the sunlight; ze began to make the connections through Marxist theory, between transgender people and the overarching class struggle against oppression. And ze does it in an accessible language! There's not a lot of academic jargon (and a lot of it IS jargon, speaking as someone previously in the academic world) and breaks it down for the working class audience it is directed to.

I am overwhelmed reading this book nearly 25 years after its publication, at a time where, although we still suffer from transphobia and other oppression, we have greater flexibility in being ourselves and being able to live as the gender (or lack thereof) that we so choose. Being someone who is agender, or doesn't identify with or feel any connection to any gender, I can't imagine what this would have been like to read back in 1996 -- I think I probably would've just spent my days sobbing that someone finally, FINALLY understood me. Or that someone finally made a call to all of us who understood each other, but had never met, never had the words to express ourselves.

What a treasure this book is. It makes me long for Leslie Feinberg, a transgender communist revolutionary, who died far too soon, and whose legacy is only lifted higher and higher as the struggle for liberation continues.
557 reviews8 followers
May 11, 2017
I really enjoyed this book, and yet I'm not sure I can really recommend it to people, or at least to most people. I liked Feinberg's idea of combining of socialism and trans rights into a single manifesto, and the book certainly did a good job of making me like the author.

The sections that discuss Feinberg's life story and gender experiences are quite interesting, if depressing. (Though not directly related to gender, I'm a bit horrified that other students kept them from using the playground at school when they were a kid, because one of those students' parents told them to do so because "Jews killed our god.")

The problem with the book is that much of it is devoted to an attempted history of transgender and gender-variant people in history that is more mythology than responsible history. I'm not a real historian, and I'm not familiar with all the time periods Feinberg discusses, but their account of periods I am familiar with---particularly Medieval and Early Modern Europe is full---of deep confusion and inaccuracy. Things that particularly bothered me included the claim that "gentiles," as used by Medieval Catholic officials, meant "people in the countryside who were matriarchal communists" and the fact that Feinberg appears to misunderstand a condemnation of Cathars as a description of transgender people.

As far as I can tell, Feinberg's confused history is based in large part on Marxist and Second Wave Feminist folk-history, which they've attempted to synthesize into a history of gender variance. Their writing gave me the impression that they were a fairly neat person, who was unfortunately fucked over by class things that denied them access to better historical training.
Profile Image for Nathan.
30 reviews5 followers
June 16, 2013
This book begins almost as a memoir, but quickly delves into how gender subversion has been a part of radical revolutionary movements for centuries.

Although it is rather short, this book is full of stories and information that are sure to lead to further reading -- naturally Joan d'Arc is mentioned, but also many other cases of gender-bending revolutionaries that helped shape the world.

This is a must read for anyone who is interested in gender politics, revolution, progressive politics, or just anyone that wants some really super-nifty facts to spout off!

In this book, Feinberg argues how people that transgress the gender boundaries (for whatever reason) become revolutionaries, and subtly aims at the idea that gender expression can be political in itself.
Profile Image for Caty.
Author 1 book58 followers
December 30, 2008
Okay, let's just say this now--this book is not a well researched, thourough, copmprehensive historical document--more like a broadsheet.
However, it introduces fascinating possibilities for further self-directed historical research about this mostly silenced population's history. & the connection made between transgendered people's history & revolutionary movements in the next to last chapter--from crossdressing peasant tollbooth rioters in 1700s England to Stonewall--is particularly compelling. And the insertion of Feinberg's personal history, while pretty simplistically written, is very moving.
Profile Image for Kiki Tapiero.
68 reviews
February 17, 2023
This was such a great book. History written so accessibly, i loved the pictures and embedded stories throughout. I learned so much and it put into words some things i had been thinking about but wasnt sure how to exactly frame. I wish there was a bit more about sexuality too and making that a more complex narrative, but i get the focus is gender and this book did a great job at analyzing this from a very broad perspective.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
344 reviews5 followers
March 6, 2021
Outstanding book. Published in 1996, the issues written about here are still ones that Trans people are dealing with today. This book shows how Trans people have always been with us, and in certain societies were/are regarded as special people (the indigenous people of North America for one example). Leslie makes a compelling argument that the separation of people into different classes in ancient civilizations is what started the backlash against Trans people. I learned so much reading this and if you are looking to learn more about Trans people, and their history I cannot recommend this enough. Trans rights are human rights.
March 27, 2018
Great primer on cross-dressing and transgender in moments of history, especially with concern to lower class groups and certain indigenous populations. Easy to read without the imposition of unnecessary academic jargon.
Profile Image for Bryn.
153 reviews26 followers
January 28, 2008
Oddly culturally imperialistic from the self-professed king of anti-imperialism.
Profile Image for warren.
99 reviews5 followers
September 9, 2021
incredible !! right from the foreword you can tell you're in for a treat — their writing style (trans rebel history blended with personal memoir), approach to studying historical trans ppl (ppl r basically included if they're an outlaw of the western gender system that we know now and/or that systems still-developing iterations,, bc ofc we dont know how they identified), and approach to writing about non-european cultures' gender traditions as a white person (Feinberg basically shuts up and lets interviews with their trans/queer comrades who are of that culture cover it) are all splendid. especially considering they wrote this in the 90s. and it follows through!

i will share a few of the most influential takeaways i had, but you should really just read this, a lot of value comes from just reading the historical anecdotes and seeing all the pictures & captions:

— in the communal/cooperative and matrilineal societies that were common before feudalism, the wide majority of societies, in great numbers and in every corner of the globe, had third gender traditions, "genderfluid" people/deities, and/or had specific honored or welcomed roles for people who were "male to female" or "female to male" trans people. it was extremely common for these 'trans' people to hold roles as shamans, healers, or priests (this continues in many communities today ofc). this was transcendent to learn,, and the way these practices were so common across SO many different places and peoples makes the western imposition of cis-hetero-patriarchy even more sinister and enraging to me ..... it targets some of the most creative, spiritual, and nurturing tendencies that humans have ,, tendencies that were centered in COOPERATIVE and far less hierarchical societies.

— it took a LONG time for the west's ruling classes to create/implement the gender system we know today, because it faced stiff and consistent resistance,, even within europe. Feinberg's analysis shows how western rulers began imposing cis-hetero-patriarchy when class divisions were beginning under feudalism, usually through the church or the state. Feinberg then shows how, over centuries, the peasant/working classes' defense of their cooperative economic & living systems from the exploitation of feudalism and later capitalism, went hand in hand with the defense of trans life from the authorities bent on their destruction (often through persecution of traditional faiths that had honored and centered transness). there is also a stunningly long history of public, loud, ferocious trans leadership of mass peasant and worker rebellions.

— okay,, i know that history taught in amerika is largely straight up propaganda, but its nuts how much focused erasure of transness that generations of western historians have accomplished. because this shit is everywhere and very public. it wasn't just the oppressed classes (who always get under-taught and under-studies) of course,, there were many literal kings and queens across the world who were fully trans. Feinberg's reexamination of the one and only joan of arc is the perfect example - you read what joan wrote about themself and there are no questions. this is someone who is DEEPLY trans (whatever that means in the medieval context). the church knew it,, it was the very explicit reasoning they gave for why they BURNED joan at the STAKE. and the peasants joan was leading into battle and living amongst knew it damn well too. and they worshipped them as the holiest saint (not canonized ofc) second to mary !! AND YET when its taught in history joan gets taught as just a girl who wanted to fight and wore mens clothes just bc that was the uniform. they are presented very femininely in paintings when thats not how they looked. anyways im clearly just mad about this so i'll stop typing. but its this intentional erasure and lying that conceals the transness that is consistently EVERYWHERE in human society ,, and that false history naturalizes the gender binary that is killing us today.

anyways yes great book - written to be SO easy to read (memoirs/autobiographies r my one true love i guess) and formatted beautifully with tons of great pictures + captions and a whole PORTRAIT GALLERY at the back. read it
Profile Image for Stef Rozitis.
1,444 reviews69 followers
January 12, 2022
A really useful book that I wish I had read when I was younger.

Interestingly I chose Joan of Arc as my "confirmation saint" not knowing she(?) was gender non-conforming in the same way I yearned to be (I don't want to go to war, hand out with nobility or get burnt at the stake tho). I found that chapter so close to home it almost made me cry.

Feinberg expertly turns trans rights back to race equity and the class struggle again and again. They are not just someone with an "identity" they are someone who deeply cares about all the inequities and exploitations in society and make a strong point that queer and trans rights are meshed with all the other rights and equity issues. This was also the strongest and most explicit (and deeply understanding) analysis of WHY trans rights and women's rights are both connected and anyone fighting for one ought to fight for the other. This calm, compassionate logic blows any TERFs right out of the water.

Strong without being a polemic, rigorous without being hard to read. I really liked this. It's part-memoir (autoethnography perhaps) and it paves the way for someone doing this in a more academic fancy way if they want. I'm going to keep this one.
Profile Image for Dana.
163 reviews49 followers
December 14, 2017
I like it when the author speaks about her life as a trans jewish child in the USA in the 50s. I also like that she decided explore trans people in the history, but I just can't really finish the book. As I've read scholarly books on the creation of patriarchy, and on history in general, I just cannot stand how sure she is about stuff that is not even her field of expertise. For example, Leslie Feinberg seems pretty sure what brought about the patriarchal system, while scholars who study the subject rigorously only present us with assumptions. Also, in terms of history, there are some other weirdnesses - like calling the French monarchy in the 15th century a French nation state. So, nah, thanks.

Anyway, if you'd like to read the book, I got it from Karloveska kniznica :)
Profile Image for Kelbaenor (Dan).
156 reviews39 followers
October 8, 2021
An excellent examination of the history of the struggle against Trans oppression, the origin of bigotry, and a powerful call to action. Feinberg provides both a personal narrative and a materialist examination of the history of views of sex and gender across the globe, smashing myths along the way. Dismantles the common narratives rolled out by TERFs today from any angle, biological essentialist or otherwise. Also, the design of the book, full of great visual media, really helps illustrate the breadth of trans expression in different cultures and eras. Essential reading.
Profile Image for meilin.
7 reviews10 followers
January 10, 2023
definitely a book that I think any trans person should read. more thoughts to come but I really liked it. (leslie feinberg is so based)
Profile Image for Paula.
132 reviews11 followers
January 21, 2019
Profile Image for Rose Kali.
6 reviews
October 11, 2022
I'm in floods of tears. Zi was such an inspiring writer, bursting with passion and emotion. As a transgender woman of colour, this book serves as a reminder that it was colonialism that destroyed my ability to express myself. I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Julian .
95 reviews
September 20, 2021
I loved this book! It is inspirational to be able to see yourself in history, when that is so seldom the case. This book gave me so many leads that I want to follow up on. I also think the approach of interviewing 2 spirit people and asking them to describe their identities was a great methodology. I do have to say though that this book is not particularly historically accurate or rigorous regarding ancient history and prehistory which are the areas of history that I am more familiar with. The idea that Leslie reiterates over and over that prehistory was a utopian matriarchal commune basically has no evidence to support it at all. I would call this speculative fiction rather than a history. I can't really blame Leslie too much though, since this idea of a mother-goddess worshipping prehistoric matriarchal society was kind of an academic fad in the 70's. Also this book contained actually factually inaccurate information about Hatshepsut, namely that she was succeeded by her husband rather than her stepson, which is just not true. Leslie cites a medical journal from the 1950's for that. So, while I feel like this book does not have the standards of historical rigor that one would expect from a history book, I am still so glad it exists and that we have it. We deserve to see ourselves in history. And there is a lot of valid information contained here too!!
Profile Image for HeavyReader.
2,247 reviews14 followers
June 29, 2007
This book is well-researched and sources are documented. It is packed full of information on transgender people throughout history.

It's a must read. Highly Recommended
Profile Image for Scott.
357 reviews
March 28, 2008
Too culturally appropriative for my liking, but informative nonetheless.
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