Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 12

Chen 1

Harry Chen
Prof. Fifi
Seminar on Feminism
29 Mar 2015
Final essay
The allegorical representations in Stone Butch Blue
Stone Butch Blue as one of the most important and influential lesbian and transgender
novel displays the diversity and complexity of gay and lesbian culture through 1960s to
1980s. Along with all the social events and movements proceeds in the book, it unfolds the
history of gay and sexual liberation via its characters life experience. From Buffalo to New
York, second wave feminism to Lesbian Feminism, a butch identity to an uncategorized
gender (Transgendering), the storyline seems to function as a metaphor that intertwines Jesss
experiences and the contemporary social movements and liberation. Her progress and
realization through her life experience gives us a direction to think an ungendered world.
In the form of a fictional first-person narration, the novel presents a progress and history
of LGBT movements, social events and workers movements. Narrated by Jess who was born
in a conservative middle class family, the story is circled around the experience of her
personal transformation. Refusing being a conventional effeminate gender role, she had to
endure enormous unfriendliness since she could no longer hide behind the disguise of a little
boy. Moreover, she became more and more uncomfortable with the changes of her physical

Chen 2

appearance. Bullied, mocked, and even sexually assaulted, she then tried to find the sense of
belongingness from people like her and started her journey in the gay/lesbian communities,
social movements, and also on the journey of her transgendering. These journeys and
experiences also make Jess to become a more understanding and liberated person. To me,
each journeys and experiences allegorically serve their own meaning.
In the story, one of Jesss realizations is to accept Frankies relationship with Jonny,
another butch, and at the same time revises her idea about what a butch really means.
Although eventually Jess accepts Frankies relationship with Jonny, what I really want to look
into are the factors underlying her strong disappointment and resentment at the first place.
And her idea of what a butch is. To me, there seems to be a bigger issue lying under those
emotions. Therefore, here in this essay, I would like to examine the Jesss rejection of the idea
of the love between two butches by looking into the contemporary lesbian community,
butches identification and their roles under the heteronormativity. Meanwhile, when we read
this novel, we can hardly ignore the strong sense of the historical background, gay/lesbian
communities and practices of communal living behind the formation of their sexuality. And
Im interested in how lesbians sexuality and their identities (butch/fem) are formed under the
resistance of the state apparatus and police violence? This also gives us a way to think about
the novel in a bigger social context.
In Stone Butch Blue, besides gender movement, we can see lots of social and workers

Chen 3

movements as well, and the descriptions of struggles of marginalized labors. The growing of
capitalism and anti-communism feeling is also noticeable in the novels. Leslie Fienberg once
identifies herself as an anto-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian,
female, revolutionary communist (New York Times) Her novel also shows the contemporary
issues of racist, feminism, communism and working classes. Moreover, her novel also voices
for black community, communism and working classes. These features in the novel are
closely connected with each others. Rossemarry Henesy in The Birth and Short Lived Life
of Gay Maxism: Capitalism And Gay Identity in Context also acknowledges the influence of
feminists and black power movement toward gays and lesbians movements in around 1970s.
Confound with multiple and a complex culture, this novel embodies those social movements
show high acceptance of, and advocate for those marginalized.
However, the racist and discrimination is not only existed in the compelling straight
culture but also within the gay and lesbian communities and it sometimes causes fraction and
also causes the split within the lesbian communities. However, Jesss willingness and
understanding of black community serve also as a liberated feature. Since Jess was in the
school, she could easily feel the unfriendliness toward her and her black friend, Karla. As
both marginalized, Jess was easier associating and united with her. Feeling obliged to Protest
against the unfairness and discrimination of the school policies, she was then suspended and
eventually decided to leave her family and started her journey. Jesss sense of justice,

Chen 4

open-mindedness and fairness also makes her a mediator between both black and white
lesbian communities. The experiences in the black lesbian communities give her more
understanding toward different cultures. Along with the progress of tolerance and the broader
communication among groups in the LGBT community, the problem is soothed, and reduced.
Under other circumstances, as marginalized groups, in order to resist against police raiding,
and other social violence, black and white communities were formed as a more consolidated
and a unified group. Through her association with different communities, she represents as a
symbol toward a more liberated society and serves as a facilitator toward a more consolidated
community. To me, Jess is an allegory represents an imagination of brighter and better society.
However, as an allegorical symbol toward an ideal society and less discriminating LGBT
community, she then has to go through lots of challenges and struggles in order to be
The background setting of this book is basically in Buffalo where Jess was raised and
started her venture. Buffalo in around 1960s was one of the industrial cities which offered
opportunities for gay and lesbian to congregate to form a community and its needs of labors
gives butches more chances to find a reasonable job to support their lives (Kennedy, Davis 9).
These economic independences also give the spaces for lesbian to form an identity. In John
DEmilios Capitalism and Gay Identity, he states that They [gay men and lesbian] are a
product of history, and have come into existence in a specific historical era. Moreover, in his

Chen 5

researches, he shows that gay and lesbian has been immerging and appearing more and more
since societies been industrialized and capitalized. (DEmilio 8) To him the increasing of
waged labor transforms the structure and function of nuclear family, ideology of family life
and meaning of heterosexual relations.(9) These relatively extra economic freedom and the
transformation of the nuclear family structures make lesbian and gay men spaces to establish
new identity and form a collective gay living.
The political and social background also takes an important part in the story. In the
1960s, under the global cold war structure, the feeling of anti-communism is also clearly seen
in the story. When Jess was little, she would hear her neighbors, a retired old man, telling her
as she passing his houseGotta watch out and communists could be anywhere, Anywhere.
(16) Growing up in this anti-communism and middle class environment, she then has certain
ideology with her. The misunderstanding and wrongful imagination of communists are
another challenge that Jess has to overcome. Duffy then in the story seems to be the
representation of communism. Duffy as one of Jesss supervisor in the bindery gives her
much supports and respects. He is described as a compassionate, justice, and tolerant person.
He then soon becomes Jesss friend. Maybe as another form of marginalized, Duffy can also
be easily related to Jess as well. As a communist, Duffy is also suffered some prejudices and
discrimination toward him.
After Jess started working in the factories, she noticed the exploitation and unfairness

Chen 6

toward women and labors. The feeling of resentment toward huge corporation also increases
and the strikes were also more and more often organized. Jess also organized and participated
in the strikes at the bindery. In the scene of the strike in the bindery, Grand pushed Jess aside
and told her you know that guy is a communist?(98) After hearing Grands assertion, Jess is
first shocked by the news and then develops to strongly defense by denying her assertion. Not
only Jess looked shocked, Jan after hearing the news also looked worried (98). After
learning this news, Jess then confronted Duffy by asking him directly but Duffy avoided
answering the question by saying Do we need to talk about it now[on the strike]? From the
characters reaction toward the news, we can feel the serious sense of anti-communism. The
demonization and misunderstanding toward communist also make Duffy become invisible as
a communist and make his identity as communist unspeakable. At the end of the novel, when
Duffy becomes an organizer and\ they meet up again, Jess asks Duffy again the question Are
you a communist? Duffy doesnt really respond to this question this time as well by stating
I dont know what that word means to you, so I dont know what a yes would mean. What
do you say we sit down over supper and Ill tell you how I see the world and my place in it
(300) In Duffys answer we can understand the meaning of communism seems to be variable
and represents different images toward different people. The identity of being a communist
seems to be derailed from its essential meaning. By not admitting it directly, Duffy tries to
avoid the misconception of communism. The tolerance and acceptance of communism in the

Chen 7

end seems to also show the expectation of a more justice and fair society. The reconsolidation
between Jess and Duffy and be also seen as LGBT communitys embracement toward left
wing politics, and an association of LGBT community with other marginalized and repressed
groups. Moreover, besides this social and political connotation behind the story and each
character, the realization and acceptance toward other sexuality is the progress and topic in
the story. Further, I will then examine the Jesss relationship with other butches, and the
marginalized sexualities in the lesbian community.
Under all these circumstances, Buffalo then formed its own working class lesbian
culture which we can see quite explicitly detailed in the book. Immersed in the lesbian bar
and butch-fem culture, Jess soon learnt its culture and built up the identification as one of the
butches under the guide of Butch Al and Jacqueline and found her belongingness there.
Although Jess didnt identify herself as a butch when she was little, she realized she was
different from the conventional female role. The sense of identification of male, and resent of
her effeminate By no clear imitation, she had formed an identity before she started her
journey to the lesbian bar. The admiration toward those butches that Jess look up to is not
simply a worship of masculinity but also the beauty of its own butchness and some concealed
femininity. In the book, Jess as a stone butch isnt only processing the masculinity in her
character, but rather was highly praised by her feminine trait.

Chen 8

I immediately loved the strength in her face. The way her jaw set. The
anger in her eyes. The way she carried her body. Her body both
emerged from her sport coat and was hidden. Curves and creases.
Broad back, wide neck. Large breasts bound tight. Folds of white shirt
and tie and jacket. Hips concealed(29)
From this description of butch Als appearance we can see the aesthetic femininity
feature of her body. Butchness seems more than just copying men and masculinity but forms
its own way and beauty. I think, Jesss admiration to Butch Al is simply the mirroring of
herself and who she really is. Nevertheless, here Jess isnt forming her identity by simply
imitating and copying masculinity, but exploring and reinforcing her own gender by learning
and admiring those senior butches. We can also notice that what Jess wants to be isnt
imitating and admiring certain male character, but the realization of longing masculinity. She
was described as a boyish girl when she was young and happy without any female feature
before puberty.
The identification was being built along her childhood. She already saw her future and
knew her butchness in the mirror in her dads suit, when she was she was young. Her gender
was formed already. Although her sexuality and gender was being built by copying and
imitation, some of her characteristics were formed in the lesbian community. Being
influenced by lesbian culture, she seems to be constrained in the butch-fem system and think

Chen 9

the only sexuality for butch is to date a femme.

Butch-fem system served as an organizing principle in the lesbian community. In order
to receive the benefits and participate in this community, she has to adopt a role and accept
the organizing principle within the community. Appearance and sexual expression were the
primary indicators of butch-fem role, the distinction between butch and femme therefore
imposed under the personal code. Since the sexual expression is the key elements of being a
butch, two butches could never be lovers. (Kennedy, Davis 152).
In this kind of environment and situation, there wasnt too much space for them to
develop their own sexuality. Therefore, a butch cant express their interests to other butches
but rather has to suppress her own feelings. Its not allowed by social imperatives in the
lesbian community. As in the book, Grant turns her affections to other butches into anger and
rudeness. She constantly provokes and challenges other butches because her affection toward
them. This hidden and suppressed affection seems to form an aggressive interior homophobia
toward other butches.

Since Grant cannot express her feelings, she would have to deny her

own sexuality. Under those social imperative, its itself hard for a butch to admit the affection
of other butches. But from the novel we can also observe other underlying notion that
reinforces the oppression. Since the social imperative imposes the idea that Butches has to be
the doer and giver, its an appalling idea for butches to think of. In the butch-fem system, a
butch has to give up her right as a receiver in order to achieve an explicit organization of the

Chen 10

community. Its a serious issue in the lesbian community in that time that it seems to adopt
the heterosexual system of gender dichotomy. All the friendship and relationship are based on
this butch-fem system. Under this system it forms a homosociality. Only through this bond,
they can establish their relationship in the community.
In the novel, Frankie, as an opposite example to Grant, explores and accepts her own
sexuality. After knowing Frankies relationship with Jonny, Jess was disappointed about
Frankies affection and told Frankie that she wasnt a real butch because she slept with other
butch. The underlying notion of Jesss disappointment and embarrassment is the destruction
of her own ideal image about butchness. To her, Butch should be in a certain kind of
relationship and sexuality to be a butch. Moreover, the idea of love another butch challenges
the social imperative of lesbian community. Femmes and Butches under the social imperative
shouldnt have affection of their own kinds. This idea is also similar to the homophobic
assertion that points out homosexuality and gay men undermine the masculinity of men. The
underlying notion of the both is there is an ideal image of gender which cant be tainted.
However, the diversity of gender and sexuality shouldnt be confined and made exclusive.
In the end of the novel, Jess then remember her promise of writing Theresa a letter, one
that states the ongoing difficulties for her, and the spaces the society can still be improved. By
going through the history of them together, those obstacles and depression transform
themselves into positive social powers. The expectation and hope of the future society seem

Chen 11

going to be better and brighter. At the end of the book, last paragraph, Jess remembers the
challenge of Duffy. Imagine a world worth living in, a world worth fighting for.(301) and
when she closes her eyes, she imagines her herself soaring. The end, she sees a young man
releases his pigeons in to dawn, like dreams. The expectation of now unfair and
discriminating society can once soar to a brighter and justice sky.

Chen 12

Work Cited
Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2003. Print.
D'Emilio, John. "Capitalism and Gay Identity." Capitalism and Gay Identity. New York:
Monthly Review, 1983. 7-20. Print.
Henesy, Rossemarry. "The Birth and Short Lived Life of Gay Marxism: Capitalism And Gay
Identity in Context." Capitalism and Gay Identity. New York: Monthly Review, 1983. 1-5.
Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky, and Madeline D. Davis. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold:
The History of a Lesbian Community. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.
Weber, Bruce. "Leslie Feinberg, Writer and Transgender Activist, Dies at 65." The New York
Times. The New York Times, 29 Nov. 2014. Web. 18 June 2015.