I finally got through Stone Butch Blues on my train ride home today. It took me almost three weeks to get through, which, if you know me, is pretty unusual. I’ve actually read this book before so this was my second time reading it. Back when I read it the first time, I remember liking it a lot more than I did this time. Let me first give you some background information about the book.
The main character is Jess (possibly a reference to Feinberg). She is a young Jewish girl in high school who is struggling to fit in in the 1960s. After getting gang raped on the football field, she leaves school and her family behind and finds a world where she belongs. She meets women who are like her … women who like other women. During this time it was illegal for a woman to “cross dress,” aka wear pants and a suit. Throughout the book, Jess along with her friends are arrested several times for doing absolutely nothing wrong, unless you count dancing with a woman as something worthy of a beating, a rape, and jail time. Eventually, Jess decides to try taking hormones in order to be able to pass as a man. By passing, she has the opportunity to stay out of harms way and be able to keep a job.
While reading Stone Butch Blues for the second time, I found it hard to get through for several reasons:
1. It’s a sad book and sad books generally take me longer to get through.
2. There are some consistency and grammatical errors that kept jumping out at me that I hadn’t noticed before. For example, a character’s name would be spelled one way and then the spelling would change three lines later. Is this a new character or the same one?
3. I didn’t like the distinction Jess places on the characters in this book. Jess identifies as a butch and is referred to as a he-she by people. Butches are supposed to date only femmes, women who are very feminine. Only femmes are able to express their feelings. Butches are constantly talked about as though they are men. Lesbians are different from butches.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a very important piece of literature that everyone should read at some point, but the last point I made earlier was the one that really stuck out to me. I admire Feinberg’s courage in writing this book and expressing feelings and thoughts that many people in the gay community might have gone through or are still going through. BUT, and this is a big one, I found it hard to identify with Jess because she is constantly categorizing the other characters in the book. Stereotypes are placed upon the butches and femmes by the public already and Jess just adds more to it. Of course, as with any book, there is a resolution at the end, but for me, it didn’t make up for my problem with the distinctions that were made throughout the book.
Stone Butch Blues is definitely worth a read so, as always, happy reading! 🙂