Stone Butch Blues Summary and Study Guide

Leslie Feinberg

Stone Butch Blues

  • 36-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 26 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English instructor with a Master's degree in English
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Stone Butch Blues Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 36-page guide for “Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 26 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Gender Fluidity and Police Brutality.

Plot Summary

Stone Butch Blues is a 1993 semi-autobiographical novel by writer and activist Leslie Feinberg. Jess, the narrator of Stone Butch Blues, spends the space of the novel looking for a way to authentically exist in the world at large. Her childhood is one of pain and trauma. As a very young child, Jess briefly experiences a nurturing environment in the home of her Dineh neighbors but her father, suspicious of Native Americans, forbids her from being with this community that is not critical of her. Jess’s parents try to force her to act “ladylike” and to dress in traditionally-feminine clothes but Jess knows, despite these efforts, that she is not a girl in any traditional sense of the word. Even as a child, Jess latches onto the term of “he-she” and feels that this is the most accurate way of describing who she feels she truly is. When she tries to dress in a way that feels natural for her—in a man’s shirt and pants—her parents forcibly admit her to a mental hospital. She is persecuted at school as well—harassed, raped and suspended for attempting to talk about her identity problems with a black friend who will actually listen. Not only is Jess a gender non-conformist, she also refuses to abide by pre-Civil Rights rules that mandate that white and black students should eat in separate cafeteria spaces.

Jess’s journey of self-discovery takes her down a dangerous road. The bars and clubs she frequents in order to connect with other gender outsiders are repeatedly raided by the police. Jess is attacked by law enforcement multiple times and is nearly beaten to death on one occasion. Even while struggling to remain safe, Jess makes meaningful friendships and engages in romantic connections that help her understand herself and the world better. She loses one partner, Theresa, when Jess decides to try hormone therapy. While passing for male is indeed safer for her, Jess feels empty and alone. She eventually decides to stop hormones and resume the “he-she” identity that she feels is her genuine self. In the end, she finds true companionship with a neighbor, Ruth, a transgender woman, who understands Jess and begins to share a life with her.

Jess’s story is one of gender identity as well as class politics, as labor organizing becomes a passion of Jess’s. It is also a griping commentary on the stark inequities of American life before gay rights, civil rights and women’s liberation. The novel spells out just how dangerous and yet essential it is to maintain one’s true self in a society that insists on conformity. Jess’s perseverance and bravery make her a compelling hero for any outsider to emulate.

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Chapters 1-4