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.