If you’ve never read transgender, lesbian, female author Leslie Feinberg’s seminal 1993 novel Stone Butch Blues, today’s your lucky day. No, it hasn’t been made into a feature-length film or cartoon series (we wish), but you can get a free digital copy of the book’s 20th anniversary edition at the author’s website today in commemoration of the Trans Day of Visibility.
The book, like its author, defies categorization — laying somewhere between autobiography and fiction, political polemic and personal epic — but it stands as one of the earliest explorations of gender ever to reach mainstream audiences and has since been translated into Chinese, Turkish, Slovenian, SerboCroatian, Greek, Italian, German, Dutch and Hebrew.
The book follows a person named Jess Goldberg, a working class youth from upstate New York during the mid-20th century who, after facing rejection from their parents and classmates, runs away to a life in Buffalo, New York’s factories and gay bars.
Jess just wants to live an authentic life as a stone butch — that is, (pardon the binary) a masculine lesbian who doesn’t like to be touched, though the very concept of queer butchness is nuanced in a way that defies language. Heterocentric society seems intent on harming and degrading her and she isn’t entirely sure how to achieve the identity she craves. Jess can take hormones and live as a man, but that feels inauthentic to her and alienating from her lesbian community; otherwise, there’s no clear guidance on how she can best express her gender identity — finding love ain’t easy when you don’t want to be touched.
Though LGBTQ people and society at large have learned a lot about gender-fluidity, genderqueerness and transgender identity since 1993, Stone Butch Blues remains an important contribution to the literary canon (as much as other queer literary greats like The Price of Salt, The Well of Loneliness and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit).
Feinberg died on Nov. 15, 2014, but as an “anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist” (their words) who spent their life as an activist fighting intersectional oppression and war, they’d want you to have a free copy of their book, we assure you.