(author photo credit: Simon Holliday)

 

Leslie Feinberg’s highly praised novel Stone Butch Blues completely changed my life.

 

Here was a book detailing the painful intricacies of butch-femme counterculture: a counterculture I felt desperate to be a part of. I first read the book aged seventeen and have read it many more times since, sometimes just dipping into my favourite parts. The parts of the novel I found and continue to find most helpful are those that deal with intimacy and the ways a femme can touch you to make you feel validated. I remember once having my bow tie and blazer lapels adjusted by an ex-girlfriend in a tight-fitting dress while waiting for a taxi and feeling like a million dollars. It was the way she touched me and how it made me feel that will stay with me forever. 

 

Touch and the material are covered by Deborah Lutz in her biography The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects. Lutz writes ‘I … feel that an object’s meaning—its slumbering life—comes from our own desires and passions, the shadows we let play over it’ (Lutz, 2016, xxiii). What does a butch leave behind as the material extension of her rough road of a life? 

 

If she’s braver than me she’ll leave behind a motorbike, some knackered leathers… and then the things I can also leave: a smart watch, cologne, shirts (always buttoned to the very top). Imagine: your femme still wears your leathers to bed, sobs quietly and touches herself before falling asleep. As if you can still love her from where you’ve gone. As if you can still be inside her. 

 

My protagonist Christina in Brixton Nights holds on to a painting she shared with her ex-girlfriend Steph for far too long. The painting is of a white deer and Christina often stares into the eyes of the deer to try to find meaning. She collects miniature Buddha figurines to add some character to her home, and further invests in ‘three lemon lime dracaenas (a type of houseplant)’ (Tollyfield, 2022, 25). Through these objects Christina creates a sense of self and identity – something that years of loneliness has caused her to crave. She references her collection of sex toys: even without a partner to love, Christina’s strap-on helps to formulate her identity. In a similar vein, Feinberg’s Jess holds on to those things that mean most to her and which remind her of those who have gone: a ring, a letter, her motorbike.

 

For those of us who have spent large periods of time alone, the material can provide a safety net and a window into a happier time. Lutz writes that ‘the faithful believed that to touch the walking stick of Saint Catherine of Siena … was to touch her flesh, a tangible contact with the eternal’ (Lutz, 70). Yet Christina eventually destroys the white deer painting, realising that holding on to it is stopping her from moving forwards with a new love. The material can only get us so far before we need human touch again. 

 

References

- Feinberg, L. (2003). Stone Butch Blues. Alyson Books, New York. First published by Firebrand Books in 1993.

- Lutz, D. (2016). The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York.

- Tollyfield, A. (2022). Brixton Nights. Olympia Publishers, London.

 

Article written by Amy Tollyfield, author of The Suicide, Toy Soldiers and Brixton Nights.

 

 

The Suicide is available in paperback and eBook format.

 

Toy Soldiers is available in paperback and eBook format.

 

Brixton Nights is available in paperback and eBook format.