Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues (1993)
A novel by trans author and activist Leslie Feinberg about working class butch/femme queers in New York in the pre-Stonewall years of the 1960s. The central character, Jess Goldberg, is one of the most memorable in contemporary queer fiction; Goldberg, a self-identified “he/she,” refuses to accept the limits of binary gender despite the extreme violence inflicted on those living outside of the categories of man/woman.
Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (1995)
An excellent companion piece to the Feinberg novel is the analytical autobiography by Kate Bornstein. Bornstein was assigned male sex at birth and after gender reassignment surgery in the late 1980s concluded that neither the category woman nor man are expansive enough to accurately reflect her identity. She is also the co-editor of a 2010 volume of essays Gender Outlaws: the Next Generation. A much more theoretically challenging, but foundational, text on gender and identity can be found in the work of feminist philosopher Judith Butler. One good introduction to her ideas is the essay “Imitation and Gender Subordination” in the 1993 anthology The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Butler argues that, in performing gender (masculinity/femininity), we create the very identities (of man/woman) that gender is understood to express. Gender is not a natural expression of sex. It is incorrect, then, she argues, to claim that butch women are imitating men or drag queens are imitating women. Everyone, including masculine heterosexual men and feminine heterosexual women, are imitating genders for which there is no natural original.
_by ERIN PURNELL:
Rita Mae Brown, Rubyfruit Jungle (1973)
I found this before internally identifying as a lesbian (I was living as a straight man at the time). The “be yourself and carve your own path” message resonated. Incidentally, I planned to write an adaptation for my Film Theory & Criticism capstone, but never finished the program.
Jennifer Finney Boylan, She’s Not There (2013)
I was given this when I came out as trans (about 2 years after Rubyfruit Jungle). At that time the memoir showed what was possible—it talked about things (family, etc) that I hadn’t done—yet.
Clive Barker, Imajica (1991)
This isn’t really queer per se, but one of Imajica’s main characters Pie’oh’pah magically expresses gender and sexuality to fit the desire and expectation of whomever they are with. Their alien status is discovered by someone they have a relationship with (who reads them as a straight woman) and over time he want to know Pie as Pie and they stop being perceived differently. (I am amazed this isn’t in the Gender & Sci Fi class at USM). Anyways, it’s a good book.
Kate Bornstein, A Queer & Pleasant Danger (2012)
I read it when it came out. Unlike the other memoir on the list, it was reminiscent for me. I remembered the awkward and otherness. It was a very sad book for me.
...AND SOME OF OUR OWN:
William S. Burroughs, The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead (1971)