Thoughts on “Stone Butch Blues”

Alright so I read Stone Butch Blues. 5/5 stars. Two and two-thirds thumbs up. 1 out of 1 queer nerds interviewed have described this book as “uber duber compelling”.

True to its title, it’s about a stone butch. True to its title, it’s chockfull of the blues.

The book does an amazing job showing the rise of the lesbian subculture, the evolution of feminism, and the isolation of growing up different. If you’re at all gender-nonconforming, if you embody female masculinity or masculine femininity or transmasculinity or transfemininity or any of those permutations, you have to read it. Scratch that; if you’re a person, you should read it.

Things are tough for Jess, who grows up in Buffalo, NY in the 50s/60s, in a working-class Jewish family. Violence, police brutality and corruption, and economic constraints on non-conforming people abound. Butches of all kinds are represented: straight butches, gay butches, transmasculine butches, butch-loving butches; but most of all, femme-loving butches. Femmes are well-represented, butches of color, transwomen, gay men, drag queens, etc. Police brutality and corruption is called out bigtime. At the intersection of labor rights and gay rights and radical feminism, the main character, Jess, comes into their own. Jess discovers and works to overcome their own conservatism as well: double standards concerning gender roles, gender identity, gender expression. Having found a home and a family amidst the hardcore exclusive butch/femme culture, they struggle to transcend the idea that it is the only way to be lesbian.

I don’t identify as butch, so the book spoke to me differently than it would to butch-identified people, but it’s powerful and awesome no matter how you identify. It finds a place for everyone, no matter how they identify, and how diversity strengthened the gay rights movement. And they bring up the difficulties of being butch-loving butches, or straight butches, or butches who wish they could be with men but struggle to find acceptance anywhere they can, and so they try to blend into the lesbian community. Everyone struggles to fit in somehow and to find a label that will provide them with comfort. As Jess confronts this, and struggles with their own rejection after spending years passing as male, their world opens up.

A whole lot of stuff is brought up in the book. If you get the opportunity, pick up a copy. The landscape of LGBTQ life is so different today, Stone Butch Blues is an important reminder of how the world we live in today came to be. 

Man, I’d probably be the bane of the butch/femme lifestyle’s existence, because I’m neither/nor for so many things. How on earth would I have been pinned down?! And back then, not being able to be pinned down was a dangerous thing, because you’d lose your community and your safety blanket. But nowadays, us non-binary, non gay/straight folks are lucky that not only is there space in the queer community, but also in the world at large (for the most part). Separatism is far from over, but it’s fading, and I like it. Because there’s nobody exactly like me. There’s probably nobody exactly like you, either. And to not be tossed out because of it… that’s a beautiful thing.

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9 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Stone Butch Blues”

  1. I tried to read Stone Butch Blues when it first came out and I couldn’t get through it because it was a little too close for comfort. I am ashamed to say that I also didn’t identify with the protagonist because I found a different way out (I looked down on her attachment to the working class and I went to college because I wanted to be financially independent). I had very mixed feelings about the book.
    I reread it a few years later and it resonated with me in a completely different way, and then read it again when I was trying to figure out if I was butch or transgender or some hybrid of both. Regardless, you are right, it should be required reading along with Catcher in the Rye.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure our experiences reading this book were very different, but I also didn’t identify with Jess. Rather, I saw the book as a peek into a marginalized life different from my own. She grew up working class, and whatever options to move up were stripped from her by a handful of high school boys. She had to drop out of high school and start working, for her mental and physical well-being. And the book did touch upon how hard it was for visible butches to move up in the workplace; she was not poor by choice. Her attachment to the working class was intersectional with her sexual orientation, gender presentation, gender identity, and background, as well as a product of growing up in an unsafe environment. Plus I know many people who went to college; I know very few who go on to achieve greatness without having done so, because of my upbringing and identity. So to read this character’s story was really neat. And I agree with you that it’s really helpful in understanding the differences between different masculine AFAB identities, since the main character had gone so many places with her own identity.

      That being said I did have the same struggle as you at first: I couldn’t believe she’d drop out, and furthermore I thought the writing was really “un-literary”, but that’s precisely the point, and I think it reached precisely the audience it wanted to, and to expect the writing or the protagonist to turn out otherwise, or to expect zir to strive for a college education given the book’s circumstances, is missing the point of how marginalized people like the main character were held down socioeconomically. And if it wasn’t for the economic hardship of the LGBT community that was largely resorting to factory jobs and sex work, the gay rights movement may not have taken off as it did.

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  2. I first encountered this book years ago. Then again some years later. Now again, after Feinberg’s death.
    I friend once read a little out loud to me, but somehow I have never read the book. I guess it is pretty hard to get hold of a copy right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t think anyone could ever be Leslie Feinberg, and therefore, I think each read of this is totally unique. The take-away for me was just realizing how much has changed and yet at the same time, how much it is still the same. Having grown up in Seattle and leaving there in the 90s, I felt like time had stopped when I finished reading and looked around my community.

    Liked by 1 person

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