Trans Utopianism and the Utopia of Transness in Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues

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Jesse Schwartz


Theory can sometimes only find its synthesis in fiction. The debate within queer theory between the anti-social and the utopian has been dominating discourse for nearly a decade. Predating this debate but in many ways anticipating it, Leslie Feinberg understood the difficultly of envisioning and engendering a queer future. The entire concept of the future is problematic when considering the dominant notion of time is constructed in service of capitalism and heteronormativity. Thus, to theorize a queer future is to re-theorize time. Indeed, despite their many divergences, queer theorists seem to agree on the need to resist and reconceptualize what José Esteban Muñoz named “straight time” (Munoz 25). Other difficulties face those brave enough to consider the future, such as how to survive the present, and what to do with the past. Feinberg’s groundbreaking 1993 novel Stone Butch Blues, widely regarded as the first novel by a transgender writer about a transgender protagonist, offers one set of answers to these questions. In this paper, I will attempt to close read the first chapter of Stone Butch Blues, which is a letter written by the protagonist, Jess Goldberg, to a lost love, Theresa. This is not to say that the first chapter is the only -- or even most -- important part of the book; on the contrary, Feinberg’s novel is endlessly generative and as such, warrants focused attention to each word. Through this close-reading, I will show that there is a specifically trans utopianism to be found alongside the trauma in Stone Butch Blues, one that bravely hopes for a just and liberated future while refusing to turn away from its traumatic history. Trans utopianism is born from trans people, whose existence can be read as proof of the inadequacy and insolvency of gender and the broader systems of taxonomy that structure the present world, as well as the embodiment of a radically different future. As an extension of Muñoz’s queer utopianism, which itself is an extension of Marxist utopianism, trans utopianism has the potential to offer an intervention into a somewhat stagnated discourse of queer theory and -- in the spirit of utopia -- signal towards a future.

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