Split Between Identities

Up until chapter twelve of the novel, I kept telling myself that the femmes in Stone Butch Blues “had it easy.” At times, I was angry because the butches were getting arrested and beaten, while the femmes could escape simply because they wore women clothing and did not disturb the status quo as much as the butches did. However, once Theresa explained to Jess why they could no longer be together, I began to understand that whether a butch or a femme, the lesbian community as a whole had to face similar hardships and similar heartbreaks.

Jess’s struggle to place herself under one sex is ongoing. Even as a child, Jess never felt “like a girl,” but at the same time she was never “one of the guys” either. Being a lesbian was hard enough in the 1950s, but being a lesbian who is confused about her sex proved to be even tougher. From my point of view, I do not see Jess as being either a “female” or a “male,” but I can understand that she feels safer and more comfortable being more like a male. Even with the hormone pills, Jess can never transform herself completely, especially because of her genitalia, but it would make her feel better internally.

While the lack of work and the constant terrorization by the police clearly contributed Jess’s decision to take the pills, Theresa also becomes a primary reason for Jess’s decision. Seeing her other half feel at ease with her sex and at ease with her body, Jess starts to feel as though something is clearly missing from her life. Since early childhood, Jess denied the cultural norms of women in the 1950s. She was never comfortable wearing a dress, growing her hair out, or putting makeup on. Still, Jess felt like she was learning, and as life went on, she would understand what she truly wanted. However, things really changed for her when she saw Theresa become part of the feminist movement. In one of the conversations with Theresa, Jess says she cannot relate to the feminist liberation movement because she is a butch (Feinberg 138). This dialogue intrigued me because at that moment I realized that Jess never identified herself as a lesbian. Until now, she had always referred to herself as a butch, and when it comes to labeling herself, she will always choose this term,

The various movements taking place after the war begin to ignite fear inside of Jess. Being so detached from them, Jess finally sees that she does not have anything to fight for. As a matter of fact, Jess gives up and believes that these movements will pull the bar members into different directions (142). This fear is mainly a result of Jess not identifying herself as anything other than a butch. She cannot fight with the men because she would be “pulling the trigger” towards herself, yet she cannot fight with the women because she does not know if she ever was a woman. This complication eats at Jess until she finally makes the decision of taking the hormone pills. This choice is not easy or ideal for Jess, but it does help her maintain her sanity.

Readers continuously struggle with Jess on her journey. Meanwhile, Theresa struggles with the decision just as much as Jess. Theresa has long identified herself as being a lesbian, femme. For her, it has always been known that she likes women, yet she also wants to look like a woman. Unlike Jess, she does not challenge the stereotypes. Because of this, it becomes difficult for her to support Jess’s decision of changing her sex. This would mean that Theresa would have to give up part of her identity to be with a “man.” “If I’m not with a butch everyone just assumes I’m straight” becomes one of Theresa’s main arguments for leaving Jess (151). Unlike Jess, Theresa is comfortable being seen as a lesbian; Jess struggles just to refer to herself as one. This conflict between identities becomes the main reason between Jess and Theresa’s breakup. It is easy to blame Theresa, like I was originally doing, but readers have to look further and understand that by being with a “man,” Theresa would also be giving up her identity. Theresa has struggled just as much as Jess, and to give away her movement, as well as her identity, would leave her as depressed as Jess. Jess’s one decision exemplifies the problem with identifying people. The LGBT community is not simply gays and lesbian, it is much more.

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One Response to Split Between Identities

  1. cdadas says:

    Great post here. You address the idea that many identities comprise the acronym LGBT. Much of the work of queer theory over the past 20 years has been to disrupt gender categories and present gender as fluid. The struggle that Jess and Theresa feel demonstrates how complex gender identity and sexuality can be. I agree that it is tempting to think that femmes have it easier–but they are often seen as traitors to their gender by straight people and “not gay enough” by gay people. So your point is well-taken that LGBT encompasses many identities and they each have particular struggles.

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