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Stone Butch Blues

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  20,635 ratings  ·  1,411 reviews
Woman or man? This internationally acclaimed novel looks at the world through the eyes of Jess Goldberg, a masculine girl growing up in the "Ozzie and Harriet" McCarthy era and coming out as a young butch lesbian in the pre-Stonewall gay drag bars of a blue-collar town. Stone Butch Blues traces a propulsive journey, powerfully evoking history and politics while portraying ...more
Hardcover, 308 pages
Published November 2003 by Alyson Books (first published March 1993)
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Sarah I know this is an old question, but you might find something at universities or colleges that have a queer or gender studies department. The book has …moreI know this is an old question, but you might find something at universities or colleges that have a queer or gender studies department. The book has been used in those courses and the schools would be required to have accessible formats of the book available. (less)

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Average rating 4.39  · 
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 ·  20,635 ratings  ·  1,411 reviews


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a.novel.femme
Feb 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: i-taught-this
i teach this novel to college students, and have taught it for about three years now. there is no other book, in my opinion, that divides a class so radically -- some students love this book and cant stop reading it, despite acknowledging that it is one depressing representation of americas history of hatred against those who live outside of the gender binary, and others hate it for the writing style, which is admittedly not the most sophisticated out there.

other students hate it because they s
...more
Morgan M. Page
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I had put off reading Stone Butch Blues for well over a decade. At first it was because I didn't think it was relevant to me, a young trans woman. Everyone framed it as "a lesbian novel" or meant for trans men. I couldn't see how I would relate to it, then. But people kept recommending it, or assuming I'd read it. Later, I resisted reading it because I didn't want to like the thing everyone else liked and assumed I would like.

Across those many years, a new canon had emerged: trans women's litera
...more
Michael
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, recs
Full of pain and sadness, Stone Butch Blues thoughtfully reflects on working-class lesbian life in America across the twentieth century’s second half. Starting in the ‘50s, the coming-of-age novel follows Jess Goldberg, a Jewish tomboy, as she runs away from her repressive home in upstate New York, in search of community, acceptance, and purpose. In plain, powerful prose Feinberg charts Jess’s struggle to find peace as a blue-collar butch living and working in a highly exploitative, sexist socie ...more
Thomas
4.5 stars

One of the best queer novels I have ever read, Stone Butch Blues takes us back to the 1950s, a time replete with police raids, union riots, the Vietnam war, Stonewall, and more. The novel follows Jess, a butch lesbian, as she progresses through her teen years to her adulthood. The first-person narration puts us right up and close with Jess, so we see her find herself and her identity as a teen, to when she falls in love with her first femme, to when she works in factories and starts to
...more
Sprinkles
Thank you, Twitter, for this one. Have you ever opened a book and just knew it was something meant for you to read? This is one.

I'd only heard of this book in passing, being that I was vaguely familiar with Leslie Feinberg. So, on the day of the NYC Pride parade, I saw an article about how this is one of the greatest books of our time. Then, picture my excitement when I find out its pdf is free on Feinberg's site. If we're being candid, I'm sorry it took me so long to read hir (Feinberg preferre
...more
Liz
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everybody
I do not give many 5-star ratings just because I consider a 5-star rating to be hard to attain by anyone. But I HAD to give 5-stars to this book. I almost feel as if it is cliche to say this book is AMAZING since so many people feel the same way. But I suppose that is just an attestment to the fine work that Leslie Feinberg has done in presenting Jess Goldberg's story and the struggle and oppression that she went through. Utterly heartbreaking at times, this book will take you through the entire ...more
Kelly Rice
Feb 05, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Leslie Feinberg's novel is one of those books that pops up on lists of influential or otherwise 'Must Read' books over and over again. In nearly all of its reviews, people praise it for being groundbreaking and representing the first real voice transgendered people had in the world of literature. Indeed, Stone Butch Blues is a groundbreaking and monumental accomplishment.

But that doesn't mean it's any good.

There's a nice twist of irony in that every other character in the book is an over the top
...more
Natalie
Jan 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
This one was difficult to rate. I give you a complicated review for a complicated book.

This is a coming-of-age novel of sorts about a transgendered/gender queer person.

To be honest, I wasn't that into the first half of the book. The writing feels really unpolished and forced, the characters lack any depth or description, and a lot of the narrative seems like a cold retelling of historical facts. I'm also totally unfamiliar with the lingo involved in the trans movement of the 50s and 60s, so I
...more
El
Jun 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to El by: The F-Word
This entire story is so important, but before I get into that, I just want to share the most important words in this novel which come at the end in Feinberg's own Acknowledgements:
"I am typing these words as June 2003 surges with pride. What year is it now, as you read them? What has been won? What has been lost? I can't see from here; I can't predict. But I know this: You are experiencing the impact of what we in the movement take a stand on and fight for today. The present and past are the tra
...more
Nikki
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book destroyed me. Even when I put it down, I felt like I was still inside it. The narrator's pain and isolation are painted so vividly and with so much care that reading it is like being lovingly shot in the face. If there's a sadder, more heartbreaking, more powerful book than this, I honestly don't want to know about it. ...more
Alaina
Mar 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, queer
I sometimes forget that there was a time when we were not safe. It is good to be reminded. Each kiss on the street corner tastes sweeter with freedom.
Lauren
Jan 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-5-books-ever
ok, I know everyone and their mom thinks this is the best book ever, and really it is quite amazing and so is everything that Leslie Feinberg does. But i have to say besides all the reasons everyone loves this book I remember the exact moment I read the opening letter in this book and how I was totally blown away. Not just because it was this brutally honest confession about being stone butch, but just because it that kind of letter where you say everything you ever meant to and it was beautiful ...more
Bridget
Mar 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
This book reminded me of how fluent I used to be in academic-speak, and how much of that I seem to have lost. I like to think if I was immersed in it again it would come back to me. But I know from Spanish that it wouldn't be immediate, and that it's my own fault for not keeping it up. I'm finding myself unable to say anything significant about it without using the complicated words and phrasings that used to pour out of me and are now tired and dusty and put away somewhere inaccessible. The boo ...more
aurangzeb
Apr 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
teared up several times during the duration of this and had to take breaks to continue.

i realize this was published in the 90's in america, and it should be a world unimaginably foreign to myself in the 21st century as a young adult in the global south. that doesn't seem to matter, not really, because this is what being a lesbian has always meant, and i think i am not nearly as tender and achingly true in what this specific isolation like this means for us - like it meant for jess - but i under
...more
Mel
This book was just phenomenal. I don't think I've cried so much on public transport reading anything. It is so sad and so insightful. I've read a lot of books about being queer in the 50s and 60s but none of them were anywhere near as honest as this. Here you have women and men who risk not only being arrested for being in the gay bars but tortured and raped, they know this will happen to them but they still go as it's the only place they can be themselves. The book covers several decades and lo ...more
Emmkay
Sep 11, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A powerful novel about working class lesbian and trans life in the 60s to the 80s. Jess Goldberg, the protagonist, drops out of high school and begins working a series of temp blue collar jobs in the Buffalo area, finding community among the ‘butches’ and ‘femmes’ at the local underground gay bar. She and her friends and lovers are constantly in danger of being attacked on the street or by police. Over time, Jess further explores gender identity through passing as a man, and comes to re-evaluate ...more
Priyanka
Jan 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
-From Childhood’s Hour, Edgar Allen Poe


Stone Butch Blues creates such a real and violent world filled with the emotional truth that many trans people live with – day in and day out. In a highly truncated version – it is about a he-she Je
...more
Ashton
“Never underestimate the power of fiction to tell the truth.”

This novel is painful and raw and vulnerable, but easily one of the most important things I’ve ever read. I think, if I grew up when Feinberg or Jess did, we would’ve been very similar. Lesbian history is beautiful, trans history is beautiful, and I wish more people recognized how common it is for them to intertwine. I don’t think this story will ever fall out of relevancy.
savannah
Jun 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
no matter what i say about this book, it won’t be enough. it is difficult to stomach, not because the writing style is dense or circuitous but because the sheer amount of violence and hatred the characters are subjected to is at best overwhelming and at worst nauseating. i would not necessarily call it graphic because the violence (sexual and physical) is not overly descriptive but it is explicit and unflinching in its portrayal of homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and racism--in a way you kind ...more
Herbie
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I've been trying to cop to the real reason I didn't read this book for so long. I think when I was younger, and first self-identifying as genderqueer and learning about gender difference and theory, this book felt really dated; I wasn't interested in history, I was interested in the cutting edge. But later and lately that changed and I'm very interested in queer history. I really relished reading a book of poems, Crime Against Nature, published in 1989 by Minnie Bruce Pratt, who is Leslie Feinbe ...more
Evie
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
It's been a long time since I've been able to invest myself in a book. I run around with ten projects on the go every day, and when I try to relax at night by reading I just look through the page and don't absorb a thing. It takes me months to finish a book anymore.

That being said, this is the first book that I have truly loved in a very long time. I thought I was broken, that reading had lost its appeal because it was just another "to-do" on my list and I just didn't find I was truly enjoying
...more
Kari
Apr 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was kind of formative for me, it made a big impact on me as a teenager and again, half my life later. I found my own thought echoed in the book and realized how it somehow shaped me. It's a difficult story to read - my teenage self imagined it set in such a distant past. But really the story ends well and I think that's really the part that stays with you. ...more
rosalind
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: every lesbian ever
Recommended to rosalind by: every lesbian ever
[read for gay and lesbian literature] like...... holy fucking shit
Anna Avian
Jul 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This crushingly hard, emotional and beautiful book deserves all the stars in the universe! I can't believe I've been putting it off for so long because this is exactly the kind of book all of us should be reading.
Even though it was written decades ago it's still relevant to our current moment and reminds us of the psychological and emotional toll of oppression.
Jess’ remarkable story and her determination to exist shows us some of the most damaging effects of oppressive systems - the self-loathi
...more
Jennie
Oct 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
There are some books that are so big to a genre or a topic that they are seminal. This is one of those books. If you are looking for a book to read so that you understand the experience of an LGBTQ person, this is (the) one to read. If you want to know the history of the LGBTQ movement, this is a book to read. If you want to understand the concept of gender not being binary, this is a book to read.

In short, if you are curious about the LGBTQ experience/history, if you are trying to explain your
...more
Robin
Jul 22, 2011 rated it liked it
I have had this book sitting on my bedside table for literally three years. It took me that long to read it. This is not because I don't believe what Jess and Jess's friends and co-workers went through is true; to the contrary, I am quite certain it is. It's also not because it was too depressing or too sad or too much of a downer. I'm not that kind of a reader/person. My problem with Stone Butch Blues is that it is not very well written. I dunno. Maybe a nicer way to explain it is that the writ ...more
Punk
Jun 24, 2018 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer, ebook
Download the 20th Anniversary Author’s Edition in pdf for free.

And a note from that website: In a statement at the end of hir life, Leslie said zie/she had “never been in search of a common umbrella identity, or even an umbrella term, that brings together people of oppressed sexes, gender expressions, and sexualities” and added that she/zie believed in the right of self-determination for oppressed individuals, communities, groups, and nations.

Leslie preferred to use the pronouns she/zie and her/
...more
Megan
Mar 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
a work of activism more than a work of art. still activates 15 years later.

EDIT 2015: what a jerky review! obvs this book is art, too. lol. leaving intact for purposes of humility.

Has anyone taught this recently? I'm wondering how it reads to contemporary, esp social-justice-savvy, college students, esp. whether it reads fast or requires a lot of time?
...more
Rashika (is tired)
The reason why I am giving this book 3 stars is because as much as I loved the book, I also had trouble getting behind the writing. I don't like prose-y language but I also don't like obvious metaphors and this book tends to be full of them. It makes sense why the author includes them but I also had a hard time not rolling my eyes when I came across one.

...more
Dov Zeller
I read this a looooong time ago so I can't write a proper review and my rating is one of reverence rather than one of storytelling, literary meaning and merit, etc. If I read it again I will do my best to write a more in-depth review... ...more
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Leslie Feinberg was a transgender activist, speaker, and author. Feinberg was a high ranking member of the Workers World Party and a managing editor of Workers World newspaper.

Feinberg's writings on LGBT history, "Lavender & Red," frequently appeared in the Workers World newspaper. Feinberg's partner was the prominent lesbian poet-activist Minnie Bruce Pratt. Feinberg was also involved in Camp Tra
...more

Articles featuring this book

Casey McQuiston fell in love with New York City before she started living there. She made the decision to relocate from her Southern home after...
175 likes · 16 comments
“If I'm not with a butch everyone just assumes I'm straight. It's like I'm passing too, against my will. I'm sick of the world thinking I'm straight. I've worked hard to be discriminated against as a lesbian.” 48 likes
“Who was I now—woman or man? That question could never be answered as long as those were the only choices; it could never be answered if it had to be asked.” 42 likes
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