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Stone Butch Blues is a 1993 semi-autobiographical novel by transgender activist Leslie Feinberg. It follows the story of Jess, a "he-she" (later "butch," as the story progresses and she hates herself less) from a working class Jewish family. After she is raped on campus by members of the football team trying to "cure" her and the crime is dismissed by the school authorities, she runs away from home and begins a new life, growing up under the supervision of older lesbians, who provide her with a sense of community. Later, she becomes a union activist. Jess considers and undergoes hormone therapy and attempts to transition to being a man, but ultimately decides to remain a "stone butch," and forsakes transitioning. The novel is very much Truth in Television for the time period, and that should depress you.

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This novel provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: After she starts passing as a man Jess has a complicated tryst with a woman who seems to think of Jess as a man, but as they eventually part ways it is unclear if she wasn't actually aware that Jess wasn't a cis man.
  • Attempted Rape: When it's not successful, although it sometimes is.
  • Big Damn Heroes: At the union protest, Jess manages to get the entire strike to rescue Jan and the others arrested.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: Jess's first few months in early 80s New York are not pleasant at all. Things do get better, though.
  • Butch Lesbian: Exactly What It Says on the Tin
  • Bury Your Gays: Notably, this hardly applies to all of the queer characters in the book. However, at the time, it was Truth in Television, and there were very high rates of both suicide and homicide of queer people, which is reflected in the novel. Incidentally, the page image, from Watchmen, is the same timeframe.
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  • Cast Full of Gay: No shit.
  • Closet Key: A rare gender related example - when Jess first meets Rocco, an FTM who is transitioning, she is immediately transfixed. She later explicitly imitates Rocco and seeks advice both from him and from his girlfriend.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Early on, although Jess keeps growing as things progress, and being "old", mentally vs. physically, is often discussed.
  • Cure Your Gays: Jess' parents caught her wearing her father's clothes when she was a young teen and admitted her to a psych ward until she lied her way out of there. This narrative is also part of what makes the rapist policemen so insidious.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A large portion is set in pre-Stonewall America. Needless to say, it's fucking terrifying. And not even exaggerated.
  • Drag Queen: Several of the characters in novel identify as drag queens, though it mught be safe to assume at least some of them would identify as MTF in today's terms. Importantly, the drag queens and the butch women share a unique solidarity in the novel that is rarely explored in other media.
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  • Drugs Are Bad: One former friend becomes a hooker strung out on heroin.
  • Everyone Is Gay: A rarity, not everyone is gay, as there are many transgender characters and others who fall outside of the binaries of male/female and gay/straight, but the number of heterosexual cisgender characters can be counted on fingers. Quite the Justified Trope, considering the novel is about the LGBTQ community, although quite unique at the time it was written.
  • Family of Choice: one of the earliest queer works to explore the very important queer notion of chosen family. After running away from home at sixteen Jess cuts ties from her biological family and finds her family among the LGBT community at the bars and factories.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Jess' old unionist friend accidentally outs her as a women in the factory by using the wrong pronouns. She quits her job there before they can fire her (or report her actions to the police).
  • Gender Traitor: Theresa leaves Jess specifically because Jess is undergoing FTM transition. However, while some of the other fems that Jess and Theresa hang out with consider FT Ms traitors, Theresa specifically says that she understands Jess' choice but she doesn't feel like she could be with a man as a lesbian.
  • Het Is Ew: straight men don't come off so great from the novel, and all descriptions or references to heterosexual sex range from unexciting to downright vile.
  • Heteronormative Crusader:
    • The various groups of men who rape Jess to "fix" her are the extreme end of this.
    • Also, when one of the older butches dies, her family refuses to allow anyone dressed "butch" to attend, forcing all of the butches to wear dresses. When Jess arrives in her usual apparel, she is forced to leave and the funeral becomes closed to anyone but family.
  • Incompatible Orientation: This becomes an issue between Jess and Theresa when Jess begins her FTM transition.
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: Jess undergoes being called "it" and faces other harassment from those who cannot determine her gender.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: All of Jess' love interests identify as Fems and are described as what we would call now lipsticks, especially Theresa.
  • No Periods, Period: also averted, as the discussion of menstrual blood comes up frequently. When Jess decides to stop taking hormones, her period returns, and she destroys her underwear rather than risk having to answer questions in the building's laundry room.
  • Old Friend, New Gender: At her most hormonally-induced masculine, Jess is still recognizable to people from her old life.
  • Queer Flowers: The lesbian couple Edna and Butch Jan eventually open a flower shop together named Blue Violets. When Jess visits them, she first sees Jan "bent over a crate of violets."
  • Rape and Switch: Jess is separately gangraped, as a teenager and later as an adult, by different groups of men who are trying to "fix" her sexuality.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Many of the butches believe this, and Jess does too, although her refusal to wear a dress to a funeral causes her ostracization from both worlds.
  • Reality Subtext: How much of the novel is autobiographical is unclear, but if even a third of it is from Feinberg's life, it is a miracle ze lived as long as ze did.
  • Red Scare: The story takes place between the mid 60's and late 70's, with the Vietnam War making headlines in the background. In that political atmosphere, is it a wonder even union activists are terrified of being called communists?
    • Even Jess, who is an ardent believer in organized labor is practically horrified to hear her friend might be communist.
    • When Gay Conservative (ish) Grant wants to insult anyone (especially Theresa) she calls them Dirty Communists.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Rather than humorous, Jess' first time with a woman is sweet and loving. Earlier on, one could say that she truly became a member of the community once she was raped.
  • Totally 18: When Jess runs away from home, she is sixteen. She winds up at a lesbian bar, claiming to be 21 so that they will serve her a drink.
  • Transgender: Jess undergoes hormone therapy and top surgery (a double mastectomy) to transition into being a "man," but ultimately decides that the procedure wouldn't bring her peace.
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