Stone Butch Blues
Being at a loose end for a good read, I started asking friends what would be on their “essential reading” list. The same title kept coming up over and over again, “Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg. My confession that I hadn’t yet read it caused my dear roommate to actually sprint from the room to retrieve her well-loved copy from her bookshelf, placing it solemnly into my hands as if handing me a rite of passage.
I think everyone knows the feeling of being lost between the pages of an amazing book, but I laughed to break up the seriousness of the moment. After all, when do you expect to be simply handed something that will change your life so profoundly? I embarked on this journey with the scarcest of details about what the story contained, and I can honestly say that, for me, I don’t think any novel will quite measure up to the emotional rollercoaster contained within these pages.
This fictional account from Feinberg takes inspiration from zer life. The story is an unflinching portrayal of the life of Jess Goldberg, intertwining stories from colleagues, friends, and lovers; men, women, he-shes, butches and femmes alike. Jess “comes out as a young butch lesbian in the pre-stonewall gay drag bars of a blue-collar town” in the 1950s, with their life story laced around profound historical moments, such as the Stonewall riots, the rise of unions, and feminist liberation.
There is an element of aching loneliness in the characters struggling with the complexities of a transgender existence, their gender expression, identity and sexuality; an experience that anyone who has ever felt ostracised or different will resonate with. It is ultimately a wrenching story of survival, giving context to the oppression and alienation felt by those in our community, and those suffering from the criminality of homophobia.
From page one you are welcomed into the brutal reality of Jess’ life, as it opens with a letter full of the raw honesty and familiarity you expect when writing to a lover. The seat-belts are securely fastened, the barrier down, and the rollercoaster has started along the tracks. From that moment you’re caught, locked into this journey however it unfolds.
Many tears were spilled on this journey, and more than once, I was brought to uncontrollably sobbing, forced to put the book down so as not to drench the pages. Set around the time of the stonewall riots, I emoted with those who lived during this integral part of our history. However you just need to look at the news to realise that for far too many people, this is still their present; they’re fighting it every day. To quote a line from the novel, “Imagine a world worth living in, a world worth fighting for”.
Sometimes you need to look at the achievements of those before us to find the passion to keep fighting for what we all deserve. This novel re-awakened that spark in me.
For me, Stone Butch Blues is not just essential reading, but essential to own and have on your bookshelf. There has never been a better time to buy as spring 2013 heralds the release of a special 20th anniversary edition, with the dedication and proceeds going to the CeCe McDonald campaign. I won’t share any more details; instead I urge you to read and feel that spark ignite in yourself.
Trigger Warning: This story is rife with abuse and homophobia/transphobia.