FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

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FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby Baker » 03 Dec 2010, 06:40

So, I finally finished this book. And Deej might die of shock one day soon when the postman returns it to her!

I was discussing it with Fran, and found that I kept coming back to: "it's well-written and interesting, but it's just not my story. It's not my past."

The bit that got me was when Jess was angry with Frankie for being a butch who preferred butch lovers. Jess asks her which one of them is the butch in bed. It was that ignorant, bigoted question "which one of you is the man?" that stupid straight people ask lesbians (and, I suppose, gay men). I found it difficult to get my head around the idea that lesbians forced themselves into gender roles of a wider society that despised them for not sticking to strict gender expectations. It made no sense to me. Nor could I find any explanation of it in the book: it was, and everyone behaved as if that was the only way it could be.

I wasn't far into the book before I began wondering if this was the story of a transsexual rather than a lesbian. Jess took male hormones and had surgery to reshape her chest. Ze lived and worked as a man, and had sex with at least one woman as a man. Perhaps it's best to just say this is a queer story.


I'm sure this is going to make for some interesting discussion.
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Re: FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby wildlx » 03 Dec 2010, 07:40

That is more or less what I've always felt about the book. It has nothing to do with my life as a lesbian. And, as I've written before in this forum, I've always considered this to be the story of a transsexual person.
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Re: FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby Nurse Jo » 03 Dec 2010, 08:16

I've finished. I think it is a desperately sad story in so many ways. Obviously the abuse described is horrendous but I keep coming back to the same thing - I don't really get the main character. I can sort of sympathise but find it difficult to empathise. Probably for the same reason as Baker, this is just not my story, in any way. I cannot relate to any of the characters.

The thing I am finding difficult to cope with is the line between being a butch lesbian and gender dysphoria. To me a lesbian, however 'butch' or 'femme', is a woman and loves women. A lesbian identifies as a woman. Jess identifies as a male - indeed, aspires to be male - hmm so would this be transsexuality rather than transgendered? Anyway, I can safely say that it involved gender identity issues aplenty.

I also suspect I am too far removed from the social setting of the story as well, although I actually found that the part of the story I enjoyed the most was the description of factory life and the development of the union movement. I understood the interaction of people in the factory about day to day things, that made the most sense. I found it most strange the way the various couples treated each other - depending on their perceived role as the butch or femme. It seemed so prescriptive and utterly restricting. I guess it was a case of copying wider society and trying to recreate that society. Although why you would want to recreate the society that was rejecting you I have no idea. But then I have a quite ferocious personal dislike of being pigeonholed, so this was just all too much for me to understand. I wanted to grab some of these characters by the hand and pull them away and tell them they didn't have to pretend to be the male and the female and that being stone was nothing to do with being butch, it was all to do with severe psychological, emotional and physical traumas.

I too found the scene where Frankie is rejected incredibly difficult to stomach.

Jess's story reads as the story of someone with gender dysphoria,to me at least . At the time, then maybe the butch and femme type thing was the only option, the only way open for Jess. The only place where she could at least feel a little bit at home.

I wrote to Wildlx to say this is what I thought after the first 3 chapters but said I'd reserve my judgement until I'd read more. Well, my opinion hasn't changed. What this has made me realise is that it is vitally important for the LGBT movement to remain united against prejudice. We should all be standing together against prejudice, whether gay or transgender or whatever.

I am really pleased that I have read this at long last. This story is an important part of LGBT history. I probably won't read it again but it has helped me to understand, a little bit at least, how it feels to hate the body and sex you were born with.
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Re: FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby deej » 03 Dec 2010, 09:00

I've finished again, and just as the first time, this story really hurt me. It's not a feel good tale, which is my preference and the reason that's my preference is because I've lived so many of Jess's experiences and reading about them only reminds me of unhappier times.

I understand everyone's opinion about the story being more about transgender than lesbian issues. But for me, having grown up in this time period and having experienced a great deal of similar emotions and reactions I humbly think that's an incorrect assumption for this particular story. In my mind, this story is about being different and not in a good way. Loving another woman in the late 50's early 60's in America was not an easy thing. As you've all pointed out not only was the problem the straight world not accepting this proclivity, but within our own ranks certain roles were expected, even demanded. Jess was dealing with loving women, trying to understand her own body, the outside worlds disgust with her choices and her fellow gay friend's expectations of how she "should" behave.

Think back to wanting to be accepted as a youngster and young adult. I have no knowledge of how it was in other countries, but Ladies please think about this for a moment. The USA is light years behind foreign entities even today with regards to sex, sexual identity and religious beliefs, please imagine 40-50 years ago. The stories of arrests, rapes, and battery are all real, and sadly we have politicians today who see nothing wrong with continuing that treatment.

As for Jess's identity issue, my take on the story is she felt it was the easiest way out. I believe it was a desperate attempt to fit in, to find cohesion in a world where there was none. I also think that's why she never completed the process, because she knew it wasn't the answer for her. Back then certain things were expected. Femmes were the "women", the ones to cooked and cleaned and took care of the house, the Butches, were the "men", they worked, paid the rent and fixed stuff. Conventional, yes, just like Mom and dad, but what other examples did they have? And who was going to be brave enough to step outside of that roll, outside of what was expected by straights and gays and say, "NO MORE?"

Baker, Wildlx - I can't imagine growing up in a world where being gay was just an accepted way of life. Where sexual identity isn't a cause to lose your job, your home, or possibly your life. I envy that and I understand that's why this story doesn't call to either of you.

Jo - I agree, LGBT around the world need to stand up and demand their rights, need to unite in this effort. Sadly I don't see it happening in my life time, hopefully the next generation will fix this.

Please all understand this is only my thoughts and I respect everyone elses.
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Re: FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby ElaineB » 03 Dec 2010, 09:51

When I first read it, I was sure it was not a transgender story, but on rereading it, I came across the time when she began to grow breasts, before she fully understood her orientation and what roles might be inflicted on her. She was horrified, at what I think was a very elemental level, not a society-imposed level of awareness. Then, once she'd had the top surgery, she longed to make love to Theresa again, to experience that while feeling good about her body. She felt bad that she was rejecting her he-she status. But, she ran into such roadblocks that I can understand why she might regret it. She ended up in between worlds. That just makes her story more poignant to me.

As Deej said, this took place in the dark ages of gay rights. And I particularly liked that she staddled Stonewall for it. If it had been all pre-Stonewall, we wouldn't have gotten the feminist rejection of the butches. That was another interesting, yet horrifying, element. I'm fascinated to learn that it wasn't like this in other countries. No, this was not my story, nor one I can really identify with, but I was able to insert myself into her psyche--which is why I find it so painful to reread.

I, too, was amazed by the rejection of Frankie, but found it enlightening to realize that 1) there is such a thing as internal homophobia, and 2) the culture was so strong back then--what model did they have to go by? Ozzie and Harriet, Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers, you name it. The whole concept of women wearing pants was unheard of, never mind feeling female and masculine at the same time. I don't see them as recreating a society that rejected them, but more creating their version of what they see society as being and finding a way to exist in it. While Jess's rejection of Frankie wasn't addressed as a hypocritical moment, she did have some awareness that she wasn't sure why it disgusted her.

Remember, this was all pre-consciousness-raising. And while I didn't go through that, I've certainly benefited from it.

Maybe the amazing part is that Feinberg was able to recreate this world when she wrote it in the early 1990s. A lot had changed by then, but I think she brought back that time very well.

Bottom line, if Jess/Leslie had grown up today, or at least post-Stonewall, I wonder if this would have still been a transgender story. Not sure. Feinberg is transgendered, and she pretty much admits in the intro that it's autobiographical, so, there you go. It's not like it's less often a road taken since Stonewall, almost more so.

What I struggle with is my concept of what is a lesbian and what's just a man in a woman's body. I confess I feel a sense of loss whenever a lesbian transitions to a man. I felt some discomfort in P'town when we were in the bar and there were several "men" present. I'm not sure if they were butch women or trans men. But if someone looks like a man, I have little interest, and even a bit of fear. But I also see that as my own failing. In my perfect world, I'd be attracted to a person, regardless of anatomy or self-identification. I like my masculine side. I like butch women. There is just a line that can get crossed and then I feel uneasy.

But, hey, I just want people to feel good in their skin. If only everyone felt the same. And yes, this did raise my consciousness and make me aware of how important it is to keep adding to the "quiltbag" (LGBTQI-etc.) and being supportive.
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Re: FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby ElaineB » 03 Dec 2010, 10:02

Oh, and I haven't even touched on the whole class thing. That's something that was alive and well into the 1980s, and today, certainly. I remember being dressed down by a butch lesbian who said I could never understand (some issue I don't recall) because I wasn't working class.

I went to college in upstate NY and there were a lot of students from the Buffalo-Salamanca area. A lot of them didn't have much of a future back home to look forward to.
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Re: FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby deej » 03 Dec 2010, 10:06

Good point Elaine, it's true education played a big part of the whole dichotomy.
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Re: FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby Nurse Jo » 03 Dec 2010, 10:06

Deej - I think you've hit the nail on the head , in many ways, with that post. I just want to say that I do greatly respect your experiences and thank you for being so honest and open.

When I read histories of lesbians in the UK, there is not the emphasis on roles that there is in the US tradition. There is also not the emphasis on roles within the straight community either. Don't get me wrong, women were seen as the lesser sex and certainly patronised and equality was a pipe dream, however, there is a long working class (in fact this goes across the classes) tradition in the UK of strong matriachs, of the elderly woman ruling the roost with a rod of iron. We also didn't have the McCarthy era, the suspicion etc. Generally, we tend to ignore things we don't want to confront. We are happy not to enquire too deeply into people's private affairs and tend to tolerate 'eccentricity' - even secretly admire it - if it is around long enough and doesn't affect us. We didn't have the three pieces of women's clothing law.That must have been horrendous and I just don't understand how a government so obsessed with freedom could even think of telling people what to wear. Even Maggie Thatcher voted for the 1969 act of parliament legalising male homosexuality. The reason she gives in her autobiography was that it wasn't anyone elses business whom you loved and that she believed it would stop blackmail.

What fascinates me is how different societies and sub-cultures evolve. Wildlx, I don't imagine Portugal was exactly an oasis for lesbians or women in general when you were a teenager. How did communities find each another, how did they evolve? I believe the women's movement galvanised lesbians in the UK to re-evaluate their posistion as women and I was lucky that I was on the tail end of that and benefited from the women who had gone before me. I truly am the lucky one, other than my family, I have not had to cope with any overt discrimination as a lesbian.

Deej, what made you think outside the box, so to speak. You say that many of these experiences were yours - so what made you think about those gender role assumptions? Please do not feel I have any particular issue with butch/femme roles in a relationship - it's not for me, but if that is how both parties feel then that is up to them, whatever makes a relationship work and makes a couple happy. I have a problem with it when it is just assumed that is how you will be.

Obviously ignore me and tell me to stop being nosy if you want to. I'm used to it.
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Re: FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby Nurse Jo » 03 Dec 2010, 10:10

Elaine - we cross posted. I agree with much of what you say/puzzle about :) .

Especially the conscious raising bit and adding to the quiltbag.
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Re: FRC Discussion: Stone Butch Blues

Postby ElaineB » 03 Dec 2010, 10:11

I figured we were all typing away simultaneously!
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