I have transferred this from the comments to a post as I felt Leslie Feinberg merits being read rather than be buried in the comments section of a post from days ago.
“Free to narrate novels, but not to
counter-narrate my actual life in publicity tours”
I thank Women Born Transsexual. A hostile biological relative—Catherine Ryan Hyde—has had a whole paid publicity book tour, funded by Knopf, in which she has counter-narrated my early identity to audiences in a way that contradicted my own self-definition, then and now. And she claimed me as “family.”
I thank Women Born Transsexual for posting my single message in response. And I thank the many hundreds of people who have formed a kind of protective cordon around me and my loving chosen family, at a time when my health is so frail, by reposting my message about who is, and who is not, my family: http://leslie-feinberg.tumblr.com/
But by all means please do read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s responses to my statement. The blogs try to divert the issue from the question of who is and is not my family. Instead, Hyde tries to focus the attention on her young adult novel. (See links below)
Hyde claims that I am attacking her right to write fiction, or to write about characters whose oppression she has never experienced. Hyde specifically asserts that I must be erroneously confusing her “transgender” character as being based on my own life. However, the issue is not her novel.
As both a novelist, fiction and non-fiction writer, and political journalist, I have developed a powerful lifelong ethic in support of other peoples’ rights to express themselves in fiction. As an editor, over many decades I also honed my ethics about my relation of how best to support other peoples’ writing—fictional and non-fictional.
So I offer this vignette to stress how important my ethic of supporting other peoples’ rights to express themselves in fiction is to me.
Years ago, Hyde asked if she could stay with Minnie Bruce and I in our home for two days, despite the fact that I was very ill. When Hyde arrived, she brought an early manuscript of one of her novels that she asked me to read during her visit.
It was an uncomfortable situation in which for me to sort out my role as a reader of the novel. In the manuscript, a young woman’s sister commits suicide, and she journeys to save her lost brother who has become as unsocialized as a non-human animal. I certainly had many observations about her imagination, but it was her fiction—it wasn’t necessary or my place to voice them.
I did report that I was shocked when the “animalistic” brother carried out an act of sudden bloody violence. I said I didn’t think that violence flowed from the character development. Hyde responded furiously in our home, saying angry things about me as a writer and editor. She claimed I had no right to comment on her manuscript. Later, she let drop one line in a message, that her editor had said the same thing to her and she had revised the ending.
Years later, when Hyde again asked to visit, she brought her manuscript of a young adult novel with a transgender character. She asked me to read it and comment on it.
I refused to read the book in any stage. I truthfully explained to her that my decision was, in part, a defense of her right to her own fictional imagination on this subject.
However, when Hyde told me she was writing a young adult novel with a “transgender” theme, I asked her this one question: Could she put forward her young adult novel as her own work of fiction, without bringing in my life and identity—named or unnamed–or claiming me as her family?
If she did, I explained, it would put me in the position of having to enter the battle of ideas, and to explain the bigotry I have experienced from her and her parents. Hyde assured me she would never bring my life—named or unnamed—into the book publicity.
Hyde states that in that last visit with me, I also attacked her freedom to write young adult fiction about the conflict in Rwanda. It is true that I would not agree with her repeated assertions that the “story” of Rwanda was “hers to tell.”
But the issue was not freedom to write fiction, it was the virulent racism and pro-imperialist arguments she was articulating. As I told Hyde then, her assertions about the character of the Hutu and other African peoples in the course of her arguments were strongly reminiscent of white-supremacist apologists for the antebellum slavocracy.
I explained at that time, and later in response to her follow-up email arguments, that the barricades of class wars, and other civil wars, often run between biological relatives, demanding of each of them: Which side are you on?
Even on Hyde’s blog posts, where she tries to redirect the argument towards her right to pen a “transgender” themed young adult novel, activist individuals challenge Hyde’s assertion that I am her “family.”
I express deep gratitude for the many, many hundreds of individuals who read my message and are circulating it into the public record. Thank you for supporting my large, loving, extended chosen family at a time when I’m struggling for health at a time of serious setback.
Thank you, each and all!
Solidarity in struggle,
Catherine Ryan Hyde’s blog posts:
‘In response to a recent issue,’ http://www.catherineryanhyde.com/blog/2011/1/14/in-response-to-a-recent-issue.html
‘Nowhere to be seen’
‘Both sides of a specific’