Minnie Bruce Pratt

Leslie Feinberg

I shared life and home with Leslie Feinberg, the novelist, historian, and trans activist, for over 22 blissfully happy years.  

In 1992 I met Leslie at hir slideshow/lecture in Washington, D.C., where ze spoke on the historical basis for unity among people who experience different oppressions—and where ze read, looking up at me, from hir classic “Letter to a Fifties Femme.” Not long after, ze became my “one and only,” my beloved. 

Leslie died in 2014, with these last words: “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.” Hir obituary, which ze dictated to me before ze died, can be read here

I fell in love with Leslie because of hir voice, hir vision and hir revolutionary optimism. If you don’t yet know hir work, rush to hir WEB sites lesliefeinberg.net and transgenderwarrior.org

Minnie Bruce Pratt and Leslie Feinberg at CampTrans in 1994
Minnie Bruce Pratt and Leslie Feinberg
Camp Trans, Michigan, 1994.
portrait of Leslie Feinberg and Minnie Bruce Pratt
Minnie Bruce and Leslie, Boston.
Photo: Marilyn Humphries © 2003

My adult life has been an exhilarating struggle to resist, militantly, the oppressive categories that the ruling status quo places on us–and to live, triumphantly, the identities and complexities that we feel to be true for ourselves. As my life and Leslie’s flowed together, I gained immeasurably in my understanding of that struggle—in my understanding of how we live all our sexualities, sex identities and gender expressions.

The stories in my book S/HE are about these complexities in our daily life—and many of them are also love tributes to Leslie. I could write a book about how much I love hir—and I have. Below is one of the stories—my “Kisses” for Leslie.

Picture of Minnie Bruce Pratt and Leslie Feinberg set next to an image of the cover of S/HE
Minnie Bruce and Leslie, New York City.
Photo: Bill Hackwell © 2000.

Kisses

We climb down the stairs to your gym, a basement of grey gun-metal machines lined up in rows, each array of equipment designed to augment a specific segment of the body, the deltoids, the pectorals. It looks like the inside of a factory, a body factory. You say you work out early in the morning because then you can take your time. No men waiting in line for their turn while you wrestle with yourself to sweat on the weights as long as you need to. The bulletin board has a magazine picture up, a row of women with defined and staring muscles. You point to the woman who is most sculpted, whose muscles are most precise, and say she lost the body-building competition because she had gone too far toward masculinity. The judges preferred more blur in a woman’s body. You say you want me to come with you one day as you work out, to spot you, my hand out to break and balance a slip as you lift. I say that I’ll murmur, “You can do one more, baby, one more for me,” while I kiss the back of your sweaty neck. But you demur: No kissing here. 
 
It’s a gay gym, but a few heterosexual couples insist they can do it anywhere they please, the man and woman who rolled writhing on the mats, while the infrequent men caught at it with each other in the bathroom are always kicked out. Though we are two women, here we’d be seen as heterosexual, and resented. No, no kissing here.
 
In the Tastee Diner we’ve had our french fries and cole slaw and a shared chocolate milkshake. Full of comfort, I put down the tip, you go pay the check. When you come back to the red plastic booth, some old 60s song is playing. You take me in your arms and begin to dance with me in the aisle between the booths and the coat racks. At the next table two women are scandalized, their eyebrows in O’s of astonishment. Later you joke that they wanted to hold you responsible, to say, “Young man, this is not a dance hall.” But I was moving with you far beyond  boyfriend and girlfriend, beyond a lingering kiss taken over lunch. I was giving myself to you in the way I have perfected over the years since the summer night I stood by another butch lover, drinking beer outside the hidden back door of a small town gay bar. Since the moment a drunk white man staggered out past us, and began to taunt me with his invitation, “What are you doing with her? Come with me. I can give it to you.” Bewildered, I turned my back on him, moved closer to her, put my hand on her bare muscled forearm. Whoever she was, she was not a man, and I was not the woman he thought I was. But in daylight, in public, in a parked car near her job, she wouldn’t let me kiss her.
 
I have waited years for you who wants to flaunt me on her arm, my face radiant with desire, as if I’d put my face deep into a lily, heavy with pollen, and raised it to you, smeared and smelly with butter yellow, sated but not yet satisfied, our meal not yet finished as I cling to you in the aisle of the dilapidated diner.

Minnie Bruce Pratt
From S/HE
(Firebrand Books, 1995)

More from S/HE

Perfume

House party, lesbian porn videos in the basement, and the butch I stand next to, watching, says, “Why does every woman in these videos have long finger nails?” All the women fucking femme to femme on the TV video are white, but the party is thoroughly mixed, the dance floor rocking with the sway of African-American, Latina, and white girl hips. Upstairs there’s birthday cake with purple sugar roses, and a game being played. A cluster of femmes rate candidates 1 to 10 on a butch scale. One butch who professes ignorance about “roles” is pulled protesting into our circle in her tight white undershirt and her jeans, the keys at her belt jangling. She’s awarded a 10 and wanders away, bemused. A femme explains to me about pedicures, stretching out her polished nails, hand and foot, like a luxurious cat. She and I look down and note that all the femmes have shed our shoes and are walking around barefoot, while the butches are still neatly shod in loafers, boots, or sneakers. My date gets a lower rating than she thinks she deserves and demands to be upgraded; she’s granted a 10 for butch arrogance. One woman throws her shoulders back, swaggers her breasts, and proclaims that she is a femme “with butch attitude.”

Downstairs, to “Real Love,” I dance with a friend in a see-through slinky blouse that shows off her breasts. We move loosely, eyes accepting eyes, not looking to the side or down, but knowing who we dance with. She shows me how to work my skirts, stirring heat up around us. She tells me she’s got a new perfume, spicy lemon, “So that when I sweat, I’ll smell irresistible as fresh-baked poundcake.” She urges me to buy the gardenia oil I’ve been considering. Our dates are sitting this one out, two square-shouldered women in slacks and loafers side-by-side on the dilapidated plaid sofa. I begin to flirt with my friend, wordlessly, letting my eyes linger on her silk-stocking ankles, on her powerful hips clearing a space around us, on the profusion of her coiled dredlocks and pendant earrings. I glance at some bit of her womanliness, then glance at her eyes, a visual kiss of appreciation. Soon we begin to laugh so hard that I say, “They are going to come over in a minute to see what we’re up to.” And just then our dates begin to squeeze through the crowd toward us, slightly anxious looks on their faces, as we dance call-and-response with each other, just beyond the reach of their hands.

 

Husband

At the March on Washington, the man sitting next to me on the grass asks “Is he your husband?” as I return from kissing you, as you step down from the microphone. On stage Peggy DuPont in beaded white chiffon is ferociously lipsynching and tailswitching a drag queen’s answer to the introduction you have given her, praise from a drag king resplendent in your black-on-black suit. In the audience I hesitate over my answer. Do I change the pronoun and the designation of “husband”? Finally I reply, “Yes, she is.” He hesitates in his turn: “He hasn’t gone through the operation?” The complexity of your history crowds around me as I mentally juggle your female birth sex, male gender expression. I say, “She’s transgendered, not transsexual.” Up on stage Miss Liberty is reading, with sexy histrionics and flourishes of her enormous torch, a proclamation from a woman who is a U.S. Senator, a speech that trumpets and drums with the cadences of civil rights. The man blinks his eyelashes flirtatiously, leans toward me, whiskey on his breath, waves his hand at his companions, “We’re up from North Carolina.” Then, femme to femme, he begins to talk of your beauty: “He is perfect. If I ever wanted a woman it would be someone just like her.” With innuendo and arch look he gives truthful ambiguity to what he sees in me, in you, something not simply about “gay rights.” The queen whispers in my ear with his sharp steaming breath, “Don’t let her get away. Hang onto him.”

 

Mimosa

I can see a smear of rose dawn through the tent window when you kneel between my legs and slide your cock inside me. For a second I feel cool inside and out, cool breeze on my arms, cool silicone dildo sliding over labia, vulva, vaginal muscles and skin. You press deep, resting your full length on mine, surrounding and penetrating me with love. I begin to cry, to be so filled by you, without the cringing and fear that once rode inside me at this moment. You have come inside me because I have asked you to; you begin rocking inside me.

The birds are chattering, a mocking bird is floating the doublets and triplets of song over us. The sun begins to heat the air of our domed tent, sweat slides from your chest over my breasts. You heighten my desire with your stroking, stroking, and after a long ecstatic journey, after what you later tell me is perhaps an hour, I come to orgasm from your fullness, from your glancing against my clit. Again I begin to cry, wrenchingly, as you rest on me.

In ten years of marriage to a man, I never came to this from the pleasure of him inside me. There was always elaborate manipulation of me by him, contortions of fingers, penis, always the fear of possible pregnancy, always his fear of me. But you are excited by my desire, close to orgasm yourself. The birds have subsided into whispers. A sudden rain shower rocks the tent in the sun, and I lie safe in your arms.

You are a woman who has been accused of betraying womanhood. In my groans of pleasure from your cock, perhaps some would say I have betrayed womanhood with you, that we are traitors to our sex. You refusing to allow the gestures of what is called masculinity to be preempted by men. Me refusing to relinquish the ecstasies of surrender to women who can only call it subservience. Traitors to our sex, or spies and explorers across the boundaries of what is man, what is woman? My body yawns open greedily for what you are not afraid to give me.

We dress and unzip ourselves from the tent. Walking down the red dirt road muddy from the rain, in the sharp morning light, we pause to caress the mimosas of the sensitive plant, to draw our fingers along the tiny ferny leaves to see them fold up instantly, a spasm of motion at our touch.

Minnie Bruce Pratt
From S/HE
(Firebrand Books, 1995)