Originally published: 04.02.18
‘Woman [Latin: mulier] takes her name from “softness” [mollities], or as it were “softer” [mollier].’ (Isidore of Seville, Etymologies)
‘the most stone butch of them all … a woman everyone said “wore a raincoat in the shower”‘ (Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues).
In her novel Stone Butch Blues, Feinberg imagines a brutal police raid on an underground club full of butch/femme couples. The character of whom she writes the lines quoted at the beginning of this post is, so we are told, subjected to deliberate humiliation by the local police, stripped naked in a bar, her female body opened up to a public gaze. ‘Later she went mad, they said. Later she hung herself’. For Feinberg (or, at least, for her novel’s protagonist), the quality of stoniness encapsulates a certain lesbian identity, an identity deeply conscious of its embattled ‘otherness’ and characterised by a magnetic resistance to touch. Intimacy might ‘melt’ this stoniness, her novel suggests, but to outside eyes it is a target for violence because it appropriates masculinity, because it insists upon boundaries between the stony body and the world, to which female bodies are not traditionally considered entitled.