Book Review: Stone Butch Blues

Author: Leslie Feinberg
Title: Stone Butch Blues
Call no: FEI

This novel tells the story of Jess Goldberg, a transgendered “butch” growing up in Buffalo, New York. Jess first learns to admit and negotiate her attraction to women and her butch identity. Immediately, she is faced with violence. The police raid the lesbian bars, arrest any woman wearing fewer than three articles of women’s clothing and routinely beat, strip, or rape them. Jess and her friends also face the violence of bashers who attack without cause on dark or well-lighted streets.

Nevertheless, Jess refuses to compromise. From a doctor, she gets a prescription for testosterone, goes to a gym and transforms herself into a bearded, muscular man. Having saved two thousand dollars, she has a mastectomy done. The doctor falsifies a biopsy, performs the surgery and makes her leave. By the end of the novel, Jess is secure in her identity and determines to fight to make the world safe for others like her.

Stone Butch Blues is deeply troubling. One is forced to recognize the violence inflicted on those who do not fit stereotypes of heterosexual, male/female divisions. It may be advisable to prepare students with discussions on sexuality and sexual difference, especially as concerns butch-femme relationships. These relationships do not replicate male-female relationships; they are distinct. Some may be inclined to treat Jess as a spectacle rather than a human being. Within this context, the novel forces the reader to reconsider sexual stereotypes and medicine’s role in their perpetuation.

Source: Annotated by Pamela Moore (