identity politics, media

Review: Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

Countdown to the Butch Voices NYC Conference: 2 Weeks

Did you see that? Does it really say “2 Weeks” up there in the title. Um, reality check. So much to do! And I’m going camping with Kristen this weekend. She’s already made her famous (or what should be famous) potato salad. Which seems like a bad plan (the camping, not the potato salad) because there is so much to work on. But I’ve been working all week, and am still re-integrating after the New Mexico trip, so this will be good for me, I know. And we’re going to our favorite campsite that we’ve visited so far, still on the hunt for the perfect one, far enough from the city that it’s quiet and spacious but not so far that we have to drive all day to get there. I think I will be sneaking away during the days to find a coffee shop with wifi in the northwest Catskills so I can spend a little bit of time on The Smut Machine, aka my laptop, working on Butch Voices media.

Meanwhile: I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend because the Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just two weeks. If you haven’t registered yet, now is the time! We are very near capacity and can only hold so many folks in the space, so make sure you put your name down if you want to come. The workshops and the schedule have been announced, and they look fantastic, it’s going to be a great day. Stay tuned for the full announcements of events around the conference, on Friday and Saturday nights.

I’m really talking about classic butch titles here, so I can’t not talk about Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. How many of us have had someone give us a copy of this book, early on, perhaps before we even know ourselves, and say, “I think this is you”? How many of us first felt like we were tapping into something larger than our own struggle when we started reading about Jess.

I had the opportunity to hear Leslie speak here in New York a few years ago, for her newer book Drag King Dreams, and it was thrilling. I love that about New York, that sooner or later, everyone does some sort of gig here, everyone comes through. It’s a magnet for some of the most amazing writers and activists and I do not discount the value of that (even in all my complaining about the big city).

If this book has been on your list for years, if you always meant to get around to it, if you kept meaning to read it, consider this a sign: it’s time. Go pick up a copy from Paperback Swap or your local indy bookstore or heck, even Amazon.

From Alyson Press, the publisher:

Published in 1993, this brave, original novel is considered to be the finest account ever written of the complexities of a transgendered existence. Woman or man? That’s the question that rages like a storm around Jess Goldberg, clouding her life and her identity. Growing up differently gendered in a blue–collar town in the 1950’s, coming out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist ’60s, deciding to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early ’70s. This powerful, provocative and deeply moving novel sees Jess coming full circle, she learns to accept the complexities of being a transgendered person in a world demanding simple explanations: a he-she emerging whole, weathering the turbulence. Leslie Feinberg is also the author of Trans Liberation, Trans Gender Warriors and Transgender Liberation, and is a noted activist and speaker on transgender issues.

Leslie Feinberg’s website has some other great information about the book, including the covers that were published in countries outside the US, a video of her reading from the book, and her afterward to the 10th anniversary edition.

When I was at the Lambda Literary Awards last year, the honored Leslie Feinberg, but she was too sick to appear and give her speech—someone else, her publicist I believe, gave it for her. So she hasn’t been doing many appearances, but I hope she is still writing.

She has been publishing quite a few photographs through Flickr and Twitter (@lesliefeinberg) if you’d like to follow her there. And of course more information about her work is over on her site,

Pick up a copy of Stone Butch Blues directly from Alyson Books, or head out to your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, as usual, if you must, from Amazon.

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

7 thoughts on “Review: Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg”

  1. a. says:

    Leslie posted recently about how…I won't be able to tell this exactly right…grappling with words aggravates the pain and ringing ears of her (that's the preferred pronoun, right?) illness so she's quit writing in the interest of preserving her quality of life, and is now focusing all her creative energies on photography. It was really sad to read, but her photos are also awesome.

  2. Siouxie_Suse says:

    Leslie signed Drag King Dreams for me and my ex at a reading in Toronto a few years back. Unfortunately, I let my ex keep it in the break-up. Stone Butch Blues was life affirming. I read it when I was a baby-femme in a tiny town in Western Australia, and it filled me with hope. Also gave my dog eared copy of this to the aforementioned ex. All part of the butch-care break-up package ;-/ Might be time for a new copy, just for me… and for my silver fox of a husbutch, who turns out to be not much of a reader, so at 50-something has yet to experience Leslie's work… oh, and thanks for the links to Leslie's photography.

  3. cahun says:

    The most important aspect for me of Leslie's work has been the ways in which she has integrated socialist politics and the struggle for gay liberation. She has always been involved in street politics, and has a sharp critique of the limitations of identity and cultural politics. How wonderful to discover a strong (hot!) butch that is also a revolutionary Marxist!

  4. Gold says:

    Spoilers ahead:

    That book definitely hit me hard. There are scenes that I've been mentally dissecting for years. The funeral, the scene in the bar where she encounters a transitioned man for the first time, the desert where nobody cared.

    There's a part in the book where the protagonist learns for the first time about the female menstrual cycle. She is, if I remember correctly, well into her thirties at that point. Her girlfriend explains menstruation to her. I'm not sure what hit me more, the notion that she wasn't able to receive basic education about her own body, much less medical care, until that point in her life, or her reflection on how that information is mostly relevant to her because she didn't want to get pregnant after getting raped, because getting raped is such a common occurrence in her life. It's harsh. The whole book is harsh.

    An interesting follow-up to Stone Butch Blues is Crybaby Butch, by Judith Frank. It's basically concerned with bridging the gap in generation between Feinberg-era butches and Generation X butches. The plot concerns a butch women in her thirties/forties who teaches illiterate adults to read, and one of her students is a Feinberg-era butch. If it weren't for the fact that Stone Butch Blues is directly referenced as a book within a book, you could basically insert the protagonist of SBB as the illiterate butch in Crybaby and walk away with a fairly solid continuity.

    On a totally different note, have fun at your con :) Take lots of pictures!

  5. meldyke says:

    @Gold – I *loved* Crybaby Butch! What a great book…. I also highly recommend it. I really enjoyed the interplay of class dynamics in the relationships. And not to spoil anything, but I've wanted to build my own stone wall ever since.

    RE: the SBB post – I also really "related" to the book, but not becuase of gender identity issues. As a 36 yo, fat, more-femme-than-not lesbian, I've spent all of my adult life – and most of my childhood – hating my body. There were sections in SBB where Leslie was talking about her/hir own body hatred and discomfort that just destroyed me. I would have to put the book down and walk away for a while. I think my copy is lost to having loaned it out, but this reminds me to find it or buy it again, and re-read it. It's been years now, and I'd love to see how I react reading it for the fourth (fifth?) time, now that I'm older (and hopefully a bit wiser).

    Thanks for this post, Sinclair. I absolutely adore you and your blog. ;)

  6. Butch Tay says:

    I read SBB back in my early high school days and it changed my life completely. I put off reading it for so long and when i finally got to it on my list of queer books i almost didnt read it. I had no idea what a butch was and was confused my the masculine figure on the cover but the library had it under "lesbian" so i gave it a go. I was stunned, this book was what i had been looking for all of my life its one of the only books that can make me cry every time i read it. When i finished i was like "OH that's who i am, that's what i am" and after that i knew what a butch was, who i was, and that's how i found this website.

Leave a Reply