Stone Butch Blues (Review)

Honestly, I had reblogged a post with a link to the free pdf version in Nov 2018 and promptly forgot about it while dealing with the tumblr policy update in Dec. The main body of the post has been copied below, and it pretty much sold me on giving this book a try.

Trigger Warning(s): Rape (Feinberg gives a warning before the story starts). Specifically, an incident of “corrective rape” from members of the football team in high school (Ch 4, pg 39 – 40) and allusions of rape from police officers after raids on bars against a variety of men and women (off-screen, in a sense) before and after the main character experiences it (Ch 5, pg 65 – 66).

This story has a complicated mix of oppression when it comes to Jess Goldberg and how she navigates coming of age in the 1960s and struggling to live through the ’70s and ’80s as a Jewish (read as white when it came to the civil rights movement and racism), butch lesbian who underwent some elements of transitioning to try to find more safety as a man, and who was working class and pro-union (in light of the not so distant striking of certain Amazon warehouses and that ridiculously large nation-wide US hiring event, it felt a bit surreal to read about not crossing picket lines and temp workers being used by the factories to try to do so). Admittedly, Jess wasn’t always the best partner to her sex worker girlfriend, Milli, but the acceptance, interactions with other working girls, lessons, and reality shown of the overall sex worker inclusive stance is worth a mention (after finding a sex worker’s review after Feinberg’s passing here). I chose “complicated” to describe the mix of social movements and pre-current social efforts precisely for the melding of different but interconnected political activism. It is not a history book, but it can’t be divorced from its historical context.

There were parts where it was like someone had scraped out hidden bits of rot from my heart, and I – the person who has undergone surgery to remove a sty in the past and had other not-crying-enough stys – I cried. Ugly, ‘why don’t you just @ me next time’, cathartic tears on more than one occasion. I obviously haven’t lived most of Jess’ life, and even moments where I’ve merely had the fear and threat hanging over my head isn’t quite the same as living some of these experiences. The fragility of moments where your heart hurts, but you can’t cry (the forced feminization at Old Butch Ro’s funeral, Annie’s homophobia tinting a stealth encounter with danger, the self-isolation and loneliness while trying to pass, trying so hard to avoid the ER and the hospital in general because it wasn’t safe). Hot, angry tears (institutionalization, all of the police brutality, the casual cruelty of civilians).  The not so clearcut relationship to women’s lib that comes out with Theresa and later trying to access reproductive health resources (the issue with getting help for a vaginal infection at that women’s clinic). The rediscovery of hope and living (Ruth is introduced in Ch 22, and this really stands out in that chapter’s rediscovery of feeding the senses). You can’t pin survival and being saved on one person, but damn, if you don’t hope for things to be better in the last chapters with Ruth.

Final Decision: E – Exceeds Expectations


here you can get a free PDF or an at-cost physical copy of Leslie Feinberg’s semi-autobiographical Stone Butch Blues, a seminal work of lesbian and trans fiction which is a must-read not just for communist queers but honestly for everyone ever

Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg’s 1993 first novel, is widely considered in and outside the U.S. to be a groundbreaking work about the complexities of gender. Feinberg was the first theorist to advance a Marxist concept of “transgender liberation.” Sold by the hundreds of thousands of copies and also passed from hand-to-hand inside prisons, Stone Butch Blues has been translated into Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian, Slovenian, Turkish, and Hebrew (with hir earnings from that edition going to ASWAT Palestinian Gay Women). The novel was winner of the 1994 American Library Association Stonewall Book Award and a 1994 Lambda Literary Award.

Feinberg commented on Stone Butch Blues in hir Author’s Note to the 2003 edition:

“Like my own life, this novel defies easy classification. If you found Stone Butch Blues in a bookstore or library, what category was it in? Lesbian fiction? Gender studies? Like the germinal novel The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe/John Hall, this book is a lesbian novel and a transgender novel—making ‘trans’ genre a verb, as well as an adjective…

“People who have lived very different lives have generously related to me the similarities they recognized in these pages with their own struggles—the taste of bile; the inferno of rage—transsexual men and women, heterosexual cross-dressers and bearded females, intersexual and androgynous people, bi-gender and tri-gender individuals, and many other exquisitely defined and expressed identities.”

One thought on “Stone Butch Blues (Review)”

  1. Thank you for this review. This is one of the most important books written about trans people, I think, and a huge part of completely ignored LGBT history. I have seen some extremely selfrighteous individuals criticize the book because she gives an honest portrayal of a less-than-perfect person, and I’m truly baffled at how anyone can read it and fail to feel empathy. But I’m also biased because I relate very much to the character’s (and Feinberg’s) experience, so make of that what you will.

    Well Of Lonliness is also worth a read, of you haven’t yet, though it offers no “answers”, I feel.


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