This courageous and compelling novel by Leslie Feinberg illustrates the life of Jess Goldberg, born gender dysphoric in 1950's America. She comes out as a "butch" in the gay bars and factories, but eventually decides to "pass" as a man when there is no other way to survive. At the end of a plot scarred by emotional and physical brutality, Jess returns to her original he-she identity. Stone Butch Blues cannot fail to touch anyone who reads it. It is not stated how much of the content is autobiographical, but it does not matter - the reality of the characters and the validity of their experiences cannot be denied. Feinberg weaves her tale among the "old" butches and femmes of pre-Stonewall times, women who wore their difference with dignity and pride and refused to surrender to prejudice, even when it cost them their lives. Butch-femme identities were snubbed by political correctness after their refusal to submit gave birth to the Gay Liberation movement, and were also attacked by radical feminism as being a poor imitation of heterosexuality: Feinberg's novel reveals this forgotten fragment of the past in all its glory and dares us to dismiss it. The novel is an indictment of the crushing of human spirits by prejudice, and simultaneously a celebration of those who faced their Armageddon and were ready for the battle. Some were destroyed, some survived - all are heroes. Butch and femme are valorised alike, refuting conceptions of the "femme" identity as being essentially weak. The femmes are prostitutes and drag queens who wear their femininity like a weapon, even down to plucking off their stiletto heels to fight the queerbashing cops. Stone Butch Blues is also an exploration of the nature of gender itself, set among those whose otherness is not located in relation to the opposite sex but in relation to the ideology of gender in general. Many of the butches saw themselves as neither male nor female - as such they can be recognised for their exploration of different possibilities of gender, instead of being accused of lacking the imagination to construct their lives away from the heterosexual paradigm. To reduce these women's lives in this way is to grossly misunderstand and underestimate their complexity. I have sometimes been guilty of this - Stone Butch Blues helped me to realise that I was wrong. Jess does not want to be a man - she is struggling to assert a gender identity for which we still have no adequate words.
Long before I finished "Stone Butch Blues," I knew I'd be back. In these busy days, that's saying a lot. Leslie Feinberg's autobiographical tale of growing up as a butch lesbian in blue collar Buffalo, pre-Stonewall, has its harrowing scenes, as you might expect. Tales of police abuse and love gone wrong fill its pages, and yet such is the author's honesty and gentleness that I want to return to her world and read it all again. Feinberg's alter ego, Jess Goldberg, wants only to love freely and be loved and live as who she is. Her touching, sometimes amusing attempts to do so hold together the narrative of her first twenty-some years, first in Buffalo, then in New York City. The story of what Jess does not have, and what is taken from her, is heartbreaking, but Feinberg is always there with the reader to hold that broken heart together and make it whole with moments of love and wonder at the beauty of the world -- from Jess' touching date with a woman who believes she, Jess, is a man, to a scene on a Manhattan subway platform where Jess hears Mozart played for the first time, by street musicians. Alongside the story of Jess' coming of age sexually runs the story of her awakening to the world of blue collar labor relations. She joins other butches on the assembly lines of Buffalo' factories, and soon becomes involved in union activism. Anyone who reads "Stone Butch Blues" will wish immediately to find more by Feinberg, so as to have her for a travelling companion a while longer. Her other book is "Transgender Warriors," a nonfiction work in which the connection between gender discrimination and class prejudice is examined in greater depth. By the time you're finished with that, who knows? -- you may well, like me, want to go back and read "Stone Butch Blues" again!
While this book is suppose to be a novel, it definitely reads like the author lived it. I have read, and re-read this book several times. This book tells the story of a very butch lesbian woman named Jess, who lives in the blue collar world of factories during the 1950's.. She knows she's different almost from the day she is born. It makes it impossible for her to fit in until she finds the bars in Buffalo. There she finds her way with the aid of Butch Al, an older butch, who is her mentor. There Jess fits in, falls in love, but also endures the horror of the bar raids. She is brutalized, raped, traumatized by the male cops who haul in the butch "kings" and their counterparts the "drag queens."
It gets harder and harder for Jess to cope. She makes the decision to "become a man." Her decision leds to the break-up of her lesbian relationship.
At first life seems easier as a man, but ultimately it leads to a devastating loneliness. She meets a straight woman, and sleeps with her, managing to convince her, she is a man--but it is a risk. When she is confronted by the woman's homophobia, Jess realizes it isn't going to work
When she returns to the lesbian world, however, she finds it has changed and left her behind. Butch/femme is no longer politically correct---no longer welcome in the lesbian bars.
Much of this book is gut wrenching in the agony of human loneliness the heroine experiences, as well as the physical horrors she endures from the "so called normal" world. The ending does, however, give both the reader and the heroine hope of a brighter, more tolerant future..
This hybrid/crossover between the genre of novel and biography charts the life journey of one individual suffering from the imposition of a gender identity that does not fit. The journey begins with an account of a childhood filled with confusion and follows Jess, the main character, in hir exploration and search for hir real self. It tracks hir forays into a lesbian community, an attempt to find hirself as a straight man through hormonal treatment and surgery and finally culminates in an almost religious enlightenment. The novel contains scenes of horrific violence, deep sadness and amazing tenderness. It charts the growth of feminism, changes in the lesbian 'community' and the development of medical assistance for trans folk. It is a gripping book and one I was unable to put down.
This read took me to another exciting yet harrowing world. It was a page turner for me and I really don't want to say too much else I may spoil the story for you. I urge you to read this first novel from the author if you too like me, love to have a book be able to make you laugh out loud and break down and cry the next. Please read this whether you are gay, straight, young or old.
This book is, without a doubt, one of the most deep, yet easy to read books I have ever read. It is, reading level wise, easy to digest. However, you should be ready for the content to make you furious, overjoyed, depressed, and hopeful. This author does not do things by halves for certain sure. I couldn't put this book down, and when I finished, I loaned it to a friend. She read it clear through and loved it too, and she never reads if she can help it. It's just that kind of book. You care about the people in it, and that's the greatest test of any book. It doesn't have a terribly happy ending, but if you read the book you don't expect one. Life isn't so easily wrapped up as that. All in all, a wonderful priceless, thoughtful book well worth reading more than once. I'll read it again as soon as I can steal my book back:)
Leslie's work caught me by surprise because I wasn't expecting it to have the impact it did on me. I am not a butch lesbian....I am a "stone femme". For many years this was something I was constantly teased about. Nicknames like "Donna Reed" were common, as well as complete confusion when I would come out to friends/co-workers. I also discovered in this book the pride in my ultimate attraction to "stone butches". Leslie has touched my heart more than hir knows, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of hir books, and would be honored to someday meet hir.
This book I read in 24 hours and I was absolutely touched by it. It made me relaize who I was and it helped me figure out why I have been struggling with my self identity for so long. This book was like looking in the mirrior at myself (of, course as a '90's butch). I loved it and would absolutely recommend it to everyone, butch and femme alike. You'll get hooked and not be able to put it down. Yet, one thing is it will leave you with a lot of questions.
I found this book to be deeply moving. The circle goes unbroken to this day. As a young butch in the 90's I find myself in similar situations as Jess. Though I know they are not as extreme as what use to be, they hurt just as deeply. Someday there may be an alternative to Stone Survival - the only way we know.
This is an incredible exploration of female masculinities in the the twentieth century, issues explored here are just as relevant in 2007. i could not put it down, it was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time, a must for anyone struggling with their own gender confusions as it helped me to understand my own.