Gay Places with Dr. Jeff – 510 Tacoma Avenue

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Welcome to Gay Places with Dr. Jeffry Iovannone. PBN’s newest blog series is dedicated to celebrating and learning more about the historic LGBTQ landmarks of Western New York. With this space we will highlight the work of Dr. Iovannone and other guest writers to provide insight to the LGBTQ history associated with our existing historic built environment- narratives which are frequently forgotten, ignored, or purposely left out.

 

510 Tacoma Avenue, Buffalo, New York
By Dr. Jeffry Iovannone

510 Tacoma Avenue, on the north side of the street between Norwalk and Sterling Avenues.

510 Tacoma Avenue is located in North Buffalo between Norwalk and Sterling Avenues. Built in 1922 by Benjamin B. Lee, a prominent Buffalo contractor, the house is an example of a traditional “Buffalo double,” or two-flat residence,
with Prairie style influences. 510 Tacoma was also briefly home to one of Buffalo’s most well-known LGBTQ writers and activists: Leslie Feinberg. 

Buffalo double houses are examples of vernacular style: a standard type of housing used by middle-class workers. Most two floor, or two flat, Buffalo homes were built during the city’s industrial prime between approximately 1890 and 1929. The double house represented a step up from apartment buildings or boarding houses for workers, as families often lived in one flat and used the rent from the second to pay their mortgages. Many of the double houses in North Buffalo, particularly in the Hertel Avenue and North Park areas, were constructed by Jewish builders and realtors beginning in the 1920s. 

The vernacular double house was a common feature in architectural pattern books of the early-twentieth century, and the style was popular throughout the industrialized Great Lakes region. Representative of a double with Prairie influences, 510 Tacoma Avenue features a low-pitched, hipped roof, a hipped roof dormer, and an asymmetrical door. Prairie style originated in Chicago’s suburbs during the early-twentieth century. Most Prairie-style suburban homes were built between 1905 and 1915, and the style declined in popularity following World War I. 

A building permit for 510 Tacoma Avenue was issued to Benjamin B. Lee on March 8th of 1922 by the Buffalo Common Council. While Lee may have constructed the house based on a pattern, it is also possible that 510 Tacoma Avenue was designed by his daughter, Ethel Lee McBain, a noted Buffalo architect. Lee McBain is best known for designing the Paul Revere House, located at 46 Woodley Road in the Cleveland Hill neighborhood. Built in 1929, Lee McBain’s design was inspired by Revere’s 1768 home in old Boston and was constructed of Arkansas soft pine. The Buffalo Courier-Express reported that, on October 27th of 1929, nearly 10,000 people visited the opening and dedication of the house.

Irving D. Feinberg and his wife, Vance Hyde, purchased 510 Tacoma Avenue on September 25th of 1962. The couple’s acquisition of the property is representative of the upward mobility of Jewish Buffalonians. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the Hertel Avenue and North Park areas developed rapidly and became the locus of Buffalo’s working-class Jewish community. Indeed, the Feinbergs bought this classic Buffalo double so they could live in the downstairs flat while renting the upstairs to help pay down their mortgage.

Hyde, originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, attended the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University) in Pittsburgh where she studied child psychology and creative writing. Originally founded in 1869 as the Pennsylvania Female College, the PCW educated women such as noted biologist and environmentalist Rachel Carson, who graduated magna cum laude in 1929. 

Hyde moved to Washington, D.C., after graduation to work as a fashion coordinator for a store. There she met Buffalo native Irving D. Feinberg, who was completing his undergraduate education at George Washington University. They married in August of 1948 and relocated to Lockport, New York, where Irving worked for radio station WUSJ. Leslie, their first child, was born in 1949. Christine followed in 1951 and Linda in 1955. As the family expanded, Irving took a position as an external expeditor with the Sylvania Electric Company, and the Feinbergs moved to 203 Lovering Avenue in North Buffalo, just streets away from their eventual Tacoma residence. 

The Feinbergs were an especially artistic family. Irving was a musician and had a band that played music on the weekends. Though Vance studied creative writing at the PCW, she gave up her literary ambitions to be a wife and mother. In 1957, however, the bug to begin writing again bit her. Her first book, And Everything Nice, named after the popular nursery rhyme stating little girls should be “sugar and spice and everything nice,” was published in October of 1959 by the David McKay Company. The book, a guide to raising daughters, was based on Hyde’s own experiences coupled with her background in child psychology. Especially For Mother followed in 1960 and was published by the Thomas Y. Crowell Company. Hyde’s second publication was, according to Rita Smith of the Buffalo Courier-Express, “an affectionate anthology of poems, thoughts, bits of verse and short pieces about babies, home, husbands and rearing a family.” The inspiration for Especially For Mother came from Hyde’s personal scrapbooks, which she kept since high school.

Photo accompanying Rita Smith’s article “‘58 Mrs. Buffalo Writes Two Books” from the Buffalo Courier-Express, July 19th, 1959.

Hyde credited her confidence as an author in part to her 1958 crowning as “Mrs. Buffalo,” a local division of the national Mrs. America contest. A pageant for Buffalonian housewives, Mrs. Buffalo judged contestants on their cooking and homemaking abilities, poise, and personality. Contestants were also required to give a three-minute talk on the topic of “Why I Want to Be Mrs. America.” “I want to be Mrs. America because I’m angry,” the 35-year-old Hyde said in an interview with the Buffalo Courier-Express published on April 2nd of 1958. If victorious, Hyde said she would use the national crown “to rebuff all those people who say that being a housewife is an easy job, an unimportant, boring or unrewarding one… I love homemaking and I represent millions of women who think homemaking is the most exciting career a woman can choose.”

Despite her professed love of homemaking, Hyde was not the typical Buffalo housewife. She was college educated and a published author, which afforded her the opportunity to speak publicly, host book signings, and be written about in the press. In a July 1959 author profile published in the Buffalo Courier-Express, Hyde explained how her husband bought her a used dictating machine because she perpetually scorched shirts and burnt kettles when she abandoned her household chores to jot down a sudden idea or flow of words. 

“I’m probably the only housewife in Buffalo who has one of those gadgets on her kitchen table or cupboard,” Hyde said of her dictating machine. “Since I spend most of my time in the kitchen, we decided to plug the machine in there. Now, while I wash the dishes or prepare the dinner I can write at the same time. When an idea comes to me I just start talking as if I were writing it and the machine records it.” When Hyde did have time to sit down at her typewriter, usually when her children were asleep, she used a Turkish towel to muffle the busy clacking of the keys. In 1976, after her children were grown, she returned to the workforce as a manager for Adam, Meldrum & Anderson’s (AM&As) department store at the Olean Center Mall. Though she struggled to understand and accept Leslie’s gender nonconformity, Vance Hyde was not the most gender-conventional woman herself. 

The Feinberg siblings attended Bennett High School, a racially-diverse school located at 2885 Main Street in the University Heights section of Buffalo. Christine, the middle sibling, became involved in theater, sang in a folk group, and wrote poetry. In 1967, she starred in Bennett’s production of Antigone and aspired to study drama in college. Linda wanted to become a writer like her mother. 

But Leslie, despite artistic inclinations of her* own, did not thrive like her sisters. Growing up differently gendered in blue-collar Buffalo of the 1950s was not easy. As a butch lesbian, she was harassed simply for walking down the street. The Feinbergs were not particularly accepting of Leslie’s difference either. As a result, she dropped out of school at the age of fourteen and worked various low-wage jobs to support herself. Her first position was in the display sign shop of a local department store.

Around this time, Feinberg entered Buffalo’s gay social scene which, like many other mid-twentieth-century American cities, centered around bars. Buffalo’s gay bars were both a space of community and a source of fear. The harassment and physical violence gay and gender nonconforming Buffalonians faced at the hands of the Buffalo Police Department was little different from the conditions that precipitated the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco or the much-mythologized Stonewall Uprising of 1969.

Feinberg later described this period of her life, and her relationship with her biological family, as follows:

I had to ask my parents to sign working papers, so that I could get a job after high school and not have to come home until it was time to go to bed.

Outside my parents’ home, and beyond high school corridors and classrooms, I was able to find wage work during the Vietnam War, and loving relationships. I found communities, struggle, my voice and pride…

I later moved out of my parents’ home before the legal age of consent, despite the fact that I was still their legal ward. After years of living independently, I had to return shortly before my 21st birthday, in order to ask my parents to sign permission for me to begin taking hormones. I did not self-identify as transgender at that time.

Several years later, when I told my parents that I was going to stop taking hormones, my biological father ridiculed me and my biological mother sat silently in another room, her back towards me as I left…

My biological parents reportedly debated, for the second time in my young life, whether they should sign legal papers that would forcibly confine me to a psychiatric institution. I did not self-identify as transgender at that time in my life, either.

These early experiences shaped Feinberg’s first, and most celebrated, book, the novel Stone Butch Blues, published in 1993 by Firebrand Books. Stone Butch Blues recounts the story of Jess Goldberg, a so-called “he-she” from a working-class background who, like Feinberg herself, comes of age in Buffalo. Despite similarities to Feinberg’s own biography, she insisted the novel was a “work of fiction, written by an author who has lived the non-fiction.” In reality, Stone Butch Blues is a composite of queer experience, spanning the decades between 1950 and the early 1990s. Feinberg combined elements of her own biography, stories told to her by older butches and drag queens, and research into the history of gender nonconformity to create the narrative of her protagonist. 

In her cover letter to Firebrand founder Nancy K. Bereano, Feinberg described the inspiration and intentions behind her novel:

I grew up in Buffalo. As a working class Jewish lesbian I came of age in and worked at the factories until they closed. Like the other butch women Liz Kennedy’s oral histories document, I had few options. We were unwelcome in the post-Stonewall gay and lesbian movement and beaten, harassed and murdered on the streets. For some of us, the only alternative was to try and pass… 

My novel is the first to be written by a self-identified passing woman and because of that, I think it will make room for other lesbians who are also struggling to understand and represent their own gender struggles. And these experiences offer rich insight for all women into the ways race, sex and class impact on gender. 

Jess, who initially identifies as a butch, faces hostility from straight society and within the gay community. After uncomfortably straddling the gender binary for most of her life, she transitions to live full time as a man, Jesse, and takes testosterone. Some lesbian feminists, however, accuse Jess of masculinizing herself as a way to escape the oppression of living as a woman. Jess feels that although “passing” as a man allows her to be seen as a person and not a “freak,” it also erases the complexity of her history. “Believe me… you’re not alone in feeling that you’re not a man or a woman,” Edna, one of Jess’s femme lovers, tells her. “You’re more than just neither, honey. There’s other ways to be than either-or. It’s not so simple. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many people who don’t fit.”

After Jess moves to New York City, she becomes involved in political activism and realizes she can live outside conventional boundaries of gender with legitimacy. Feinberg, like her character, also left Buffalo to live in New York City for a time. And like Jess, she came back to Buffalo to make peace with her community and her past. 

Flyer from the book launch event for Stone Butch Blues. Courtesy of Carol Speser.

In April of 1992, Feinberg returned to Buffalo as a featured speaker at “Passing Fancy,” a tribute to women who have “passed” as men throughout history. The event, held at M.C. Compton’s bar on Niagara Street, featured an introduction and talk by Feinberg and a drag king performance staged by a diverse cast of Buffalo lesbians. Buffalo was also the logical place to launch Stone Butch Blues. The book’s release party was held at the Ascension Church Hall, located at 16 Linwood Avenue, on February 20th of 1993 and was sponsored by noted Buffalo activists such as Madeline Davis, Bernadette Hoppe, Marge Maloney, Dottie McGavern, and Carol Speser and organizations like ACT UP WNY, the Buffalo Gay and Lesbian Community Network, Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, and Workers World.

In addition to Stone Butch Blues, Feinberg wrote several works of non-fiction that brought knowledge of transgender people, issues, and language to mainstream awareness. In Transgender Warriors, an historical study of gender nonconformity, she expansively defined “transgender” as: “all people who cross the cultural boundaries of gender.” Feinberg came to describe herself as transgender as well. “I am transgendered,” she explained. “I was born female, but my masculine gender expression is seen as male. It’s not my sex that defines me, and it’s not my gender expression. It’s the fact that my gender expression appears to be at odds with my sex.”

Feinberg was also a leader of the Workers World Party (WWP), an independent Marxist-Leninist political party, and served as the managing editor of its newsletter. An avowed anti-racist, she was always attentive to the ways gay and trans liberation intersected with the liberation struggles of other oppressed peoples. As part of her work with the WWP, Feinberg took on America’s racist criminal justice system by co-founding Rainbow Flags for Mumia, a coalition of LGBTQ organizers who, on April 19th of 1999, marched in support of a new trial for death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal. In 1981, Jamal had been wrongfully sentenced to death for his alleged shooting of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Jamal maintained his innocence, and in 2011, his sentence was commuted to life in prison with no chance of parole.

Beginning around 2007, Feinberg discovered the health issues she struggled with since the 1990s were the result of Lyme disease. The illness had long gone undiagnosed due to the discrimination she faced from the medical community. Despite being critically ill, she continued her revolutionary work. Feinberg agitated for the release of CeCe McDonald, a black transgender woman from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who stabbed and killed Dean Schmitz, a white man, in self defense after he attacked her at a bar in 2012. McDonald was the only person arrested following the altercation.

Portrait of Feinberg. Source: Beacon Press.

Feinberg passed away on November 15th of 2014 from complications related to late-stage Lyme disease. However, as transgender activist Camille S. Hopkins concisely explains: “Lyme disease did not kill Leslie Feinberg; transphobia killed Leslie Feinberg.”

510 Tacoma Avenue was not a happy place for young Leslie Feinberg—but it was a formative one, as were the corridors and classrooms of Bennett High and Buffalo’s factories and bars. The history of 510 Tacoma reveals the Buffalo Feinberg came of age in: the place of her becoming. A place—because of the marks it made and the community she found there—she never fully left behind, but returned to time and again. It was here she found, and regained, in her own words, “communities, struggle, my voice and pride.”

 

*Though Feinberg used the pronouns “she” and “her,” as well as the gender-expansive pronouns “zie” and “hir,” I intentionally use she/her throughout this piece for purposes of readability. Additionally, in interviews I have conducted with persons who knew Leslie during her lifetime, all interviewees referred to her using “she” and “her.” As I, regretfully, never knew Leslie in person, I defer to the perspectives of those who did. 

 

 

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Dr. Jeff Iovannone is an historian, writer, educator, and third-generation Buffalonian who holds a Ph.D. in American Studies, specializing in gender and LGBTQ studies. He is currently at work on a book about Buffalo’s gay liberation movement from the late 1960s to the early 1980s and is an avid collector of LGBTQ historical materials. He is the coordinator of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at SUNY Fredonia and a board member of the Buffalo-Niagara LGBTQ History Project. You can find more of his writing on Medium and other platforms at https://linktr.ee/drjeffgenderprof

 

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Building Permits.” Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, NY), Mar. 10, 1922. 

Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues, 1st ed. Ithaca, NY: Firebrand Press, 1993.

Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues, 20th anniversary ed. Self-published by author, 2014. https://www.lesliefeinberg.net/

Feinberg, Leslie. Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.

Feinberg, Leslie. “While a Hostile Relative Re-writes My Life.” Lambda Literary, Jan. 19, 2011. https://www.lambdaliterary.org/2011/01/leslie-feinberg-catherine-hyde/

Feinberg, Leslie and Minnie Bruce Pratt. “Self.” https://www.lesliefeinberg.net/self/

Firebrand Books Records, 1984-2001. Human Sexuality Collection, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.

“Home Beautiful Exhibits Win Praise of 50,000 Buffalonians.” Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, NY), May 22, 1928.

Iovannone, Jeffry J. “Leslie Feinberg: Transgender Warrior.” Queer History For the People, Jun. 23, 2018. https://medium.com/queer-history-for-the-people/leslie-feinberg-transgender-warrior-fcb1bcaf15b2

Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky and Madeline D. Davis. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Leslie Feinberg ephemera. Personal collection of Carol Speser, Buffalo, NY.

LGBTQ Collection. The Buffalo History Museum Research Library. 

“Local ‘Mrs.’ Winners Named.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Mar. 30, 1958.

“New AM&A Head Named.” Olean Times Herald (Olean, NY), Jan. 29, 1979.

Pratt, Minnie Bruce. “Transgender Pioneer and Stone Butch Blues Author Leslie Feinberg Has Died.” The Advocate, Nov. 17, 2014. https://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/books/2014/11/17/transgender-pioneer-leslie-feinberg-stone-butch-blues-has-died

Smith, Rita. “‘58 Mrs. Buffalo Writes Two Books.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Jul. 19, 1959.

Smith, Rita. “Buffalo Housewife Author 2nd Time.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), May 1, 1960.

Smith, Rita. “Contest Entries to Speak Out.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Apr. 2, 1958.

Stein, Gregory P. “‘Buffalo Doubles’: Industrial Vernacular Style.” Buffalo as an Architectural Museum. https://buffaloah.com/a/archsty/indver/stein/

Taussig, Ellen. “Young Mother Starts Writing Career.” Buffalo Evening News (Buffalo, NY), Mar. 12, 1957.

“Thousands at Dedication of Revere Model.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Oct. 28, 1929.

Vanderhorst, Roger. “Olean Center Mall Merchants Elect Officers.” Olean Times Herald (Olean, NY), Jul. 20, 1977.

Wartenberg, Carol. “Bennett Student Aims At Career in Theater.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Apr. 15, 1967.

“Weddings and Engagements: Feinberg-Hyde.” Buffalo Courier-Express (Buffalo, NY), Sat. May 29, 1948.

 

Interviews

Camille S. Hopkins with author, September 14, 2018. 

Marilyn Kern with author, December 17, 2019.

Nancy K. Bereano with author, September 27, 2019.

2 replies
  1. Karin Lowenthal
    Karin Lowenthal says:

    Thank you so much for this. It was brought to my attention by visitors from Ithaca! I was present for Leslies book launch. Passing Facies was ….amazing. Vivid memory of Leslie coming down a catwalk, in a tuxedo, lifting the veil of her lovely “bride”, engaging in a long and sensuous kiss. Sigh.

    I live on Taunton, and am pleased to also get more of the history of the neighborhood. THANK YOU.

    Reply
  2. Jeff Klein
    Jeff Klein says:

    Fantastic post about a very important person. Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues is a very eye-opening and moving book, and is available to read online in its entirety. Thank you for a fascinating look at one of the most significant and eloquent figures Buffalo has ever produced.

    Reply

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