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Literature / Stone Butch Blues

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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.


This novel provides examples of:

  • 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.
  • Bury Your Gays: Because, at the time, it was Truth in Television oh so very much. Incidentally, the page image, from Watchmen, is the same timeframe.
  • Cast Full of Gay: No shit.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Early on, although Jess keeps growing as things progress, and being "old", mentally vs. physically, is often discussed.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A large portion is set in pre-Stonewall America. Needless to say, it's fucking terrifying. And not even exaggerated.
  • 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.
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  • Gayborhood: Once again, no shit.
  • Gender Traitor: Theresa leaves Jess specifically because Jess is undergoing FTM transition, but it is unclear whether she considers her a gender traitor or is merely no longer attracted to her.
  • 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.
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  • Magical Queer: Al. She's the Obi-Wan to Jess' less whiney Luke Skywalker.
  • Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: averted by the patrons of Abba's and other lesbian bars; many of the women are in their late thirties-early forties when Jess first meets them, and some are over 60 by novel's end.
  • 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.
  • Pass Fail: too frequently to list.
  • Post-Rape Taunt
  • Prison Rape: By the cops. Sadly, Truth in Television.
  • 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.
  • Rape as Backstory
  • Rape as Drama
  • Rape Discretion Shot: Along with Rape Indiscretion Shot.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil
  • Rape Leads to Insanity
  • 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.
  • Serial Rapist
  • Sex for Services
  • 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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