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Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
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Stone Butch Blues (1993)

by Leslie Feinberg

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"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 |
jetzt hab ich das also auch gelesen, und es ist ganz anders, als ich erwartet hätte. vor allem sympathischer, als ich es bei der menge an gewalt vermutet hätte. *mögmög*
  kthxy | May 6, 2016 |
There were times when this was not an easy book to read. Parts of it are very upsetting and disturbing. That being said, I think this is a book that needs to be read. While things may be better, they aren't equal yet. There are still states in which you can be fired for your orientation or being transgendered. There are still people being beaten up or bullied to death for the same reasons. An important and eye opening book. ( )
  bookwormteri | Aug 31, 2015 |
Perhaps the most influential book I've read, this one turned my world upside-down in the most wonderful of ways. A semi-autobiographical novel that follows a butch from early teens through adulthood, this book is accessible to anyone regardless of their connection, or lack thereof, to the butch or butch-femme world. ( )
  kgriffith | Apr 9, 2014 |
You know, I delayed for years on reading this one, and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it was the title that scared me off -- too intimidated to be comfortable in myself reading about stone butches until recently. But this book, for all it is unpolished as a novel, fully deserves its accolades. This is an excellent history of change and of bygone eras.

One friend said it spoke to her about what it means to have a butch identity. Another friend appreciated how it illustrated the difference between pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall culture. For me, the book shone for the details of its (my) hidden history. It is what I might have known if I had been born a generation earlier (if indeed I hadn't been content to pass, always wondering if there was something more, but realizing or having the courage/unavoidable need to enter the bar scene): trusting people just because they are family, exploring a butch or femme identity (only), accepting trick turning as part of life, seeking out union jobs for protection and a modicum of acceptance, despicable abuse by the police. I consider myself pretty well educated in the stuff of academic gayness, but this was history I didn't know illustrated palpably, and it is history we shouldn't forget.

The changes, too, are fascinating, especially inasmuch as they happened over the course of only 30 or so years. Gay culture in the late '50s and the late '80s is shockingly different. Of course, so was mainstream culture, really, with the rise of the women's movement, the civil rights movement, the downfall of unions and manufacturing and rise of international conglomerates, the development of computers. Still, it's amazing that all these changes happened in my parents' lifetime. It astounds me to think on it.

There's no doubt that as a novel, this book is imperfect (misspelling names, themes picked up and later ignored, assuming knowledge the reader wasn't given, sometimes insistently quotable), but it is pitch perfect as history/ies all too easily forgotten. ( )
2 vote pammab | Dec 29, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (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.

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