Stone Butch Blues
by Leslie Feinberg
- Near the end of the book, Jess tells her friend Ruth, “When I was growing up, I believed I was gonna do something really important with my life, like explore the universe or cure diseases. I never thought I’d spend so much of my life fighting over which bathroom I could use.” What are some other ways that society and its structures conspire against Jess and her LGBTQ friends? What are some other simple situations that Jess must navigate that a cisgender person would never have to think about? How do those barriers contribute to Jess’ oppression?
- In Stone Butch Blues, language and labels are everything: they are alternately used as tools of liberation and tools of oppression. What are some examples of both the power of labels such as butch, he-she, and lesbian, and the limits of such labels? How do the characters experience that power and limitation?
- Much of the plot of Stone Butch Blues is bound up in class issues. What are some ways in which Jess’ working class background informs her character and shapes her story? How do you think the story would have changed if Jess had been born into a middle-class family? How would that change add or detract from the narrative?
- One of the turning points in the book is Jess’ decision to start taking hormones and pass as a man--a decision that originally feels liberating for her, but that she later has mixed feelings about, telling her former lover Edna, “I feel like a ghost. Like I’ve been buried alive.” What was your reaction to Jess’ decision to take hormones? How do her experiences support or contradict our current narratives around trans people and gender identity?
- Violence is a major part of Stone Butch Blues. Most characters in the book treat beatings, rapes, and assaults not as shocking events, but rather as inevitabilities. Were you surprised by the way violence was portrayed in this book, and how it was woven into this world?
- Throughout Stone Butch Blues, Jess’ community of drag queens, butches, and femmes saves her life and sanity many, many times. What are some examples of ways in which Jess’ community helped support her? What were some of the most touching moments of friendship and love in the book? Were you struck by the contrast between this extreme tenderness and the violence visited upon these characters by the rest of society?
- Although Jess is marginalized from society, she still maintains a strict sense of beliefs governing how she and her queer friends live: for example, she bristles at the thought of two butches dating. On the other hand, she’s ostracized from the burgeoning gay pride movement because her embrace of masculinity is seen as misogynistic. What are some other examples of ways that the LGBTQ characters police each other? Did the book’s ending give you hope that this intra-movement fighting would end?
- Since Stone Butch Blues was written in 1993, how has society shifted regarding LGBTQ issues? What surprised you the most about the ways LGBTQ communities and issues were viewed in the 1960s and 1970s? Fifty years from now, how do you think our norms and viewpoints regarding gender and sexuality with further change?