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Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
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Stone Butch Blues (original 1993; edition 2004)

by Leslie Feinberg

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1,546297,194 (4.2)48
Member:kgriffith
Title:Stone Butch Blues
Authors:Leslie Feinberg
Info:Alyson Publications (2004), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Quill Queer Book Club, Your library, Favorites
Rating:*****
Tags:queer, fiction, gender, widget

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Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (1993)

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English (26)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  All languages (29)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
I've held onto this book for awhile, always hesitating to read it because I knew it would be tough read - reviews spoke of the rough style of the writing, and the subject matter - a young woman deciding to pass as a man in the 1950-60s midwest? That is some dark territory.

It's important to write about, and important to provide an honest picture for those who want to know what its like. Leslie Feinberg did not claim this novel to be biographical, but it felt honest. I understand what people meant by the style being dry and awkward, but I read this as a deliberate stylistic choice on the part of the author. Jess has felt different from earliest childhood, has been mocked and browbeaten and even hospitalized by her family as a child for crossdressing, which was still standard practice not so long ago. Personal expression is not going to come easily. Poetry speaks to Jess, but its hard to speak poetry yourself. Jess still tries.

The book is narrated from Jess' persepective, narrating school days, first visits to friendly bars, friends made and, inevitably, run-ins with the police. These are brutal depictions of state-sanctioned violence. The life was a hard one and people came in and out of your life with no guarantees of permanence and Jess' friends come and go and very few of them stick. A reader can only absorb so many monosyllabic male names without any description before they all blur together.

Its a shame the book is still out of print, its essential and even now there are few windows into this world. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
How is this book NOT on every progressive worker's list? It is a wonder (and you can get it free, BTW, so there's even less excuse) - a book that lives intersectionality while being a gorgeously written piece of fictionalized biography. Its complicated praxis of "being butch" is one of the greatest I've ever seen, the equal of Kate Bornstein's discussions of her own complicated gender identity. It's working class literature in a way that should make American lit's heart sing. I mean, it has unions, drag queens, the 1960s and 70s done without nostalgia...I cannot say enough about this remarkable book. ( )
  jeninmotion | Sep 24, 2018 |
Just an incredible book. There are definitely critiques to be made (Mark Rifkin has an amazing one in When Did Indians Become Straight? that I strongly recommend,) but I just have such a deep response to this book. It hurts to read, sometimes, but it's so important and powerful, and I'm so glad it exists so I can read it when I need it. ( )
  aijmiller | Sep 10, 2018 |
As progressive as I deem myself to be, I still found myself trapped by stereotypes and assumptions about what it means to be butch and also gender identification while reading this book. This book really shed some light on how far we have come as a culture and how much further we need to go to create safe and loving space for all people to live and be as they are. There are some very violent passages in this book and even if you are sensitive to this in media (as I am) I still think this book is an important read for any person. I know many people who struggle with gender identification but this is the first time I really felt I had a glimpse inside the fear, the shame, the wild-eyed abandon, the love, grace, and beauty that breathes through those living in indiscernible gender roles. I thought it was excellent of the author to show the main character also showing weakness in stereotyping within her/his own group (butch loving another butch, rather than a femme). I know this book is highly cherished and I can see why. Wish I had read this with a book group, so many excellent discussion points and room for knowledge and understanding to grow. ( )
  ambersnowpants | Aug 23, 2018 |
"She pointed to the circle the ring cast on the ground. I nodded, acknowledging that the shadow was as real as the ring. She smiled and waved her hand in the space between the ring and its shadow. Isn't this distance also real?"

Warning: This is a ramble.

THIS is the book that caused my recent reading and reviewing slump. Having finished Stone Butch Blues, nothing looked in any way interesting enough to move on to. Nothing I typed out made sense, or, even if there was some sense in it, it did not read as anything but a regurgitation of the same thoughts, the same sentiments that so many other reviewers have expressed already.

I think this is the very crux of the problem: this book seems so well known, so "iconic" that anything relating to it sounds a bit unoriginal, a bit cliche.

So, how about we get some of the "cliches" out of the way and see what is left?

- Stone Butch Blues is a "tough" book. True, there are a lot of descriptions of physical and sexual violence, but it also gives a lot of insight into people trying to cope. It beautifully describes characters without over-analysing what makes them tick.

- The story is very moving. Yes, it was written to be deliberately moving but then so is much of literature. And while I admit to being the first to criticise other books for manipulative writing (yes, I am looking at you, The Book Thief), it works in the favour of Stone Butch Blues because the book is somewhat rugged. Stone Butch Blues does not try to manipulate with pompous / pretentious writing. The narration is very down to earth, naturally clunky, and it works beautifully.

- The writing style is atrocious. It is not polished writing, but it works (for me). Most of the book is written from the main characters point of view. It would not befit Jess' character to tell her story in polished or flowery language.

- The book has a political agenda. It is true that the author had strong political convictions and that the book does feature the role and workings of unions. That does not constitute the book itself serving a communist agenda.

- The story focuses too much on the butch/femme dichotomy and not enough on other variances of gender identity. Erm, have you read the book? All of it? To the end? Go read it again. Besides, the story is told from the perspective of one person. It's one individual experience.

- The book is important. I have nothing to add to this.

So, what is left?

For much of the time that I have been thinking about writing this review, all I wanted to do was to join the chorus of readers who have loved this book "so damn much" (yes, that's another cliche). However, I wanted to know why.

Having thought about it, I did not like this book because it is important or moving. Well, at least not exclusively because it is both. I also liked the book for the descriptive detail and because it provided some historical context I was not familiar. The reason I love the book, however, is because as a coming-of-age story, Stone Butch Blues is as powerful as To Kill a Mocking Bird or The Catcher in the Rye or any other you'd care to mention.
It uses the best and worst aspects of humanity, cruelty and kindness, perception and reality, success and failure, to form the individual that is Jess Goldberg.

"My neighbour, Ruth, asked me recently if I had my life to live all over again would I make the same decisions? "Yes," I answered unequivocally, "yes." I'm sorry it's had to be this hard. But if I hadn't walked this path, who would I be?"
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
Feinberg attempts to present Goldberg's life as the personal side of political history, but the narrative seems unattached to time despite the insertion of landmark events like the Stonewall riot and the mention of Reagan and the Moral Majority.
added by DorsVenabili | editPublishers Weekly (Feb 1, 1993)
 
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 156341029X, Paperback)

Published in 1993, this brave, original novel is considered to be the finest account ever written of the complexities of a transgendered existence. Woman or man? Thats the question that rages like a storm around Jess Goldberg, clouding her life and her identity. Growing up differently gendered in a blue--collar town in the 1950s, coming out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist 60s, deciding to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early 70s. This powerful, provocative and deeply moving novel sees Jess coming full circle, she learns to accept the complexities of being a transgendered person in a world demanding simple explanations: a he-she emerging whole, weathering the turbulence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:48 -0400)

Jess Goldberg decides to come out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist '60s and then to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early '70s.

(summary from another edition)

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