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Isabell Moore
Date Published: 
September 01, 2006

Leslie Feinberg’s latest novel Drag King Dreams tells the story of Max, a genderqueer lesbian post 9/11 nightclub worker and hir multi-racial, largely working class crew of drag performers, bartenders, bouncers, activists, neighbors, cross dressers, and friends. Max is a former activist who has pulled back from organizing due to a mix of burnout, transphobia and homophobia. The beginning of the Iraq War and the murder of Vickie/Victor, a cross-dressing immigrant right’s lawyer, both spark Max’s transition from loneliness, isolation and disillusionment to connection, action and hope. The weeks before and after the US invasion of Iraq weave in and out of Max's personal struggles in an engaging, emotional, and politically-charged tale.

Without ramming it down our throats, Feinberg manages to show that the liberation of all oppressed people is bound up together. Race, class, gender, sexuality, militarism and capitalism intersect and re-intersect throughout the story. For example, at Vickie/Victor’s funeral, Jorge, one of Vic's clients, discusses his surprise about his friend's crossdressing and repeat’s Vic’s partner’s words: "They killed your brother for crossing the [US-Mexico] border. And they killed Victor for crossing a border that shouldn't be there."

But Feinberg doesn't only put it on straight folks of color to understand how their oppression is connected to that of white Queer folks like Max and Vic. Ze also implies that Queer folks need to hang in movements where they may be misunderstood. Ruby, Max's drag queen-transwoman-best friend calls out Max's lack of involvement. "'You don't leave the movement because some people don't want you in it. If you’re still waitin' for the welcome wagon ladies, you may as well give it up." A lot of us Queer, especially white folks need to hear this. We need to build solidarity now by supporting other people’s struggles, getting our hands dirty, building relationships and having hard conversations, while finding spaces to have our identities affirmed and challenging homo and transphobia in activist spaces. Dropping out is not effective.

Other highlights of the novel are Feinberg's nuanced depiction of Jewish identity through Max, hir cousin Heshie, and the voice of hir dead leftist aunt, Raisa, hir subtle inclusion of ability issues, and hir tackling issues of burnout, issues of substance addiction, sex, questions of sexuality and the roles of hope and community.

Queer agenda

At times the beautiful connection of characters from all walks of life seemed a little too perfectly set up. Once Max decided to get active and rejoin "the" movement, the only barrier seemed to be societal oppression, rather than internal divisions and conflicts in movements. The crescendo of the novel is the Queer positive, multi-racial, anti-racist protest and fight with the police organized by "The Fight Back Network." It seems that just a few flyers were handed out, yet hundreds of folks magically appeared at the rally and were able to quickly unite in face of police oppression. Setting the climax of the story at a street battle with the police also reinforces the romance of un-permitted street actions over slow steady organizing and movement building.

I have long been inspired by the writing of Feinberg and hir partner, Minnie Bruce Pratt. Through their non-fiction works, poetry and fiction, they show us a Queer agenda that is about much more than just gaining a few civil rights for the most privileged LGBTQQ folks. At the same time, I am confused about these hiros’ allegiance to the Worker’s World Party. I wonder if I should question the common critiques of the WWP, or rather if I should question their involvement in a party that is accused of having undermined and destabilized the kind of movements and changes they seem to stand for.

Regardless, this book was a refreshing change from "The L Word," campaigns for Gay marriage, and the single-issue orientation of most mainstream LGBTQQ activism. Despite some lingering questions and critiques, I recommend this novel as enlightening political fiction with a strong anti-oppressive analysis.

Carroll & Graf, 2006