I could have never imagined the severity of police brutality the gay, lesbian and transgender community endured before and early after Stonewall without reading Leslie Feinberg’s novel Stone Butch Blues. Feinberg tells the survival story of Jess Goldberg, a young butch lesbian growing up and becoming an adult amid the violence and systematic oppression during the mid to late twentieth century. It’s hard to fathom how any human being could ever treat another human being so cruelly: ridicule, deadly beatings, sexual harassment, gang rape. The cultural consciousness completely dehumanized the queer community during this time. And it wasn’t just the police, though they were the worst. It was also the academic, medical and labor institutions, to name a few, but generally, straight men perpetuated the torment and violence that haunted the members of our community.
It be wonderful to say that in 2017, nearly fifty-years after the Stonewall riots, we no longer experience this level of discrimination, but then you hear a story like the Amazon factory workers in Kentucky who ferociously harassed a transgender wife and her husband who worked there, and you realize, it’s a scene right out of Feinberg’s novel.
It’s heartbreaking how Feinberg depicts what it’s like to be genderqueer or transgender in a society that demands its citizens be one gender or the other, female or male. It’s even more painful that these members were often rejected by their lesbian sisters. How lonely and vulnerable Jess and others like her were under society’s crushing contempt, and the emotional wall of stone they learned to put up to shield themselves from society’s abuses. It wasn’t only the butches, it was the femmes too who were seen by some lesbians as mimicking straight society, chauvinistic men and their doting wives, so they cast them out.
Despite all this, the ending is a hopeful one. It’s a story of resilience, of having the will to forge forward and speak openly about acceptance when very few had done it before, and it fills me with absolute awe.