The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 16 March 2000

Stone Butch Blues

by Leslie Feinberg

This troubling and excellent novel opens upon a young girl realizing her gender identity isn't like that of all the other little girls in Buffalo. The early '50s is an awkward and potentially dangerous time to be coming to such a realization. Jess Goldberg goes on to explore her "butch" identity, but also experiences violent prejudice, police brutality, and the people who refuse to tolerate her Jewishness, let alone her sexuality. This book has an autobiographical tone to it, as Jess grows up in the turbulent '60s looking for a community to call her own. The violence of her youth builds walls within her, so that intimacy comes very slowly. After a few intense love affairs with the "femmes" in her town, and reacting to the prejudice she sees all around her, Jess finally makes the momentous decision to pass as a man. Her life is changed by this move, but she becomes even more isolated in a world not of her making. Yet, as time passes, she finds more and more tolerance, subtle but real, until the mid '80s when she finally finds some peace in her turbulent life. There is no small talk in this uneven but powerful book. The thread of loneliness and searching that runs through Jess's (and the author's?) life is haunting. Parts of the book are difficult to read; maybe difficult to face in a culture we like to think of as just. This makes it powerfully real.

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