What did it mean that I didn't "look like" a lesbian? That I was feminine but liked girls that weren't? This sounds insane to say now, after we've survived the entire story arc of The L Word, but there weren't many "femme" lesbians to look to, either. I'd seen some fake ones in magazines I wasn't supposed to be looking at, but those were hardly images of relationships. Feminine lesbians were just doing it to get attention from guys. We would change our minds.
I started dumping my allowance at the local gay bookstore. (RIP and forever thanks to Lambda Rising in Dupont Circle.) Amid the leather and BDSM boy stuff, I was drawn to the vintage shelves stuffed with pulp books from the '60s, especially Ann Bannon's "Beebo Brinker" novels, full of the Sturm und Drang of old-school butch-femme relationships. So much fighting, so much drinking, so much of the butch staying out all night or speeding away from the femme's life forever on a motorcycle. So many flowers, making up, slow dancing. I was entranced by the detail the butches' clothes were rendered in: Their femmes ironed their shirts, laid out their cufflinks, scrubbed their factory coveralls. It was back to the Stone Age in terms of feminism, but was it? These were women having real relationships with each other. But why were the butches so hardened? So mean? So withholding? They were women; certainly I could understand them. Surely I could get through.
(This is the sound of a million femmes laughing at me.)
In 1993, transgender activist Leslie Feinberg published Stone Butch Blues, hir second book, a novelized version of hir life so far as a butch lesbian. (Feinberg published six books, including Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come (1992), Transgender Warriors: Making History (1996), and Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue (1999). Feinberg, who died Saturday at 65, preferred the pronouns ze and hir.)
Stone Butch Blues wouldn't make it into my hands for more than 15 years, which is unfortunate because it changed queer history. It changed trans history. It changed dyke history. And how it did that was by honestly telling a brutally real, beautifully vulnerable and messy personal story of a butch lesbian. A stone butch. In 2010, I had just started dating a butch, the love of my life. And I had all the same questions I did in 1993—and a lot more.
I wouldn't blame you if you thought the audience for Stone Butch Blues must be incredibly limited. (You'd be wrong: It's been translated into Chinese, German, Italian, Dutch, Slovenian and Hebrew.) Admittedly, the "Who Cares?" barriers are high. It's about a woman. It's a about a gay woman. It's about a sexuality and gender expression that's hard for even the narrator in question to understand. The story itself is pre-Stonewall, and it was published pre-Internet. It could seem antiquated and irrelevant to young people today, kids with the freedom to embrace their queerness—and especially their genderqueerness and identity fluidity—with actual communities they can turn to, Tumblrs they can learn from each other on, and role models they can Tweet at. Who wants to read story about some crusty butch who can't open up to her lovers? To anyone?