Stone Butch Blues Summary

Leslie Feinberg

Stone Butch Blues

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Stone Butch Blues Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg.

The Stone Butch Blues is a 1993 novel by activist Leslie Feinberg. It tells the story of her experiences questioning her gender identity and the ways that our gender identities can ostracize us from the communities to which we belong.

In her earliest memories, Jess Goldberg felt different from other girls her age. She despised dresses and all the things that girls played with. She preferred to wear a Roy Rodgers outfit, even to her temple, despite it being a “boy” costume. Everywhere she goes, people stare at her and feel uncomfortable because they don’t know if she is a boy or a girl.

Her parents hate her for being different to other girls. They cannot accept that she won’t dress and behave like other girls her age. Her classmates also refuse to accept her, and she is ostracized and bullied. The bullying becomes so severe that she eventually runs away from home at 16 to escape the trauma.

She finds acceptance among her coworkers in factories in Buffalo, New York. As she begins to frequent the gay bars there, she starts to feel more comfortable with her identity and who she really is. She still finds it difficult to accept herself because being gay is illegal at that time, and is officially classified as a mental disorder. Although she is living among others like her, she cannot openly be herself in general society.

Jess adopts a “stone butch” persona. This means that she presents a very manly image, as opposed to a feminine one, and remains emotionally untouchable. This persona prevents her from experiencing real intimacy, although she is just trying to protect herself from further persecution and hurt. It distances her from those that might truly love her for who she is.

She decides to go even further and begin taking testosterone to pass as a man. She believes this will lessen the persecution she continues to experience, but it alienates her from the lesbian circles where she once found acceptance.

At the end of the story, she decides to accept herself for who she is, and stop taking the hormones. Although she struggles to define her gender identity, she learns that she just is who she is and no label is needed. She feels that she exists between genders, rather than identifying as one or the other.

She moves to New York City, and there she meets her neighbor who is a transgender woman. Their relationship gives Jess perspective and makes her feel like she finally belongs somewhere. She becomes an activist so that she can fight for the rights of everyone, regardless of their gender, and so that she can help ensure a future where everyone is accepted for who they are.

A central theme of the book is the search for identity, particularly when that identity runs counter to what society says is acceptable. In Jess’s early life, she is ostracized for not conforming to traditional forms of feminine dress and behavior. Leaving the community she grew up, which values traditional gender roles, allows her to find acceptance; but even in her new circles, her identity is complicated, and she still encounters disapproval and discrimination.

Greater society at that time prosecuted and committed people who were gay to psychiatric facilities, so Jess’s decision to try to pass as a man was a calculated effort to find an acceptable way to express her identity. However, this meant that she had to keep a huge secret and couldn’t let people close to her, for fear that they would find out she was a biological woman. Rather than making things easier, this added further strain to her relationships and her life.

The book is also about struggle. Jess struggles to find acceptance. She struggles to find work. She struggles to live and to find community. All the things that one takes for granted about applying for jobs or housing go out the window when you add in the extra pressure of trying to pass as someone else and having to keep secret who you really are.

In the end, she channels what she has learned from her personal struggle into activism, so that she can help other oppressed people find comfort. The struggle is transformed into the beginning of a greater purpose as she continues to struggle with her own identity. The labels fall away, and she becomes, primarily, an activist.

Feinberg’s book is an important first look at what it means to be transgender or non-gendered in a society that insists on rigid gender roles. It was released at a time when gender identity and expression were taken for granted, and it’s now an important novel that takes a nuanced look at the struggle we face when we don’t conform to societal expectation.