Queer Literary Classic "Stone Butch Blues" Is Being Turned Into Movie—Against Its Author's Wishes

"Don’t tell me you’re honoring me by saying you can tell this story better than I did," said writer Leslie Feinberg.

For Stone Butch Blues is a seminal title in the queer literary canon. But plans to turn it into a movie have angered fans of Leslie Feinberg's groundbreaking semi-autobiographical novel.

First published in 1993, Blues follows the story of Jess Goldberg, a blue-collar lesbian in 1950s Buffalo whose life intersects with the emerging gay rights movement. At various points Jess navigates between a butch-lesbian identity and that of a transgender man, mirroring Feinberg's own journey. It was one of the first major works to explore the complexities of gender identity away from a simplistic male-female binary.

A recent casting notice posted in Backstage by 11B Productions revealed production on a Stone Butch Blues film is beginning in Buffalo this fall, with a call for performers interested in playing Jess.

The production is seeking a Caucasian performer, aged 18–28, from the transmasculine spectrum of identity. Gender non-conforming actors, trans men, as well as non-binary performers, are all encouraged to apply. Jess is a gritty, defiant gender outlaw, with a vulnerable masculinity. Jess transitions during the story from presenting as butch female to trans male after taking hormones. Actors planning to medically transition who have not started are strongly encouraged to apply.

But before her death in 2014, Feinberg made it explicitly clear she didn't want such a movie made.

"No permissions, no contracts, no commercial use, no derivative use, no digital rights," she wrote in the afterword to the book's 20th anniversary edition in 2013. "No adaptations: Don’t tell me you’re honoring me by saying you can tell this story better than I did."

Adaptations and derivative works, she explained, "concretizes their... interpretation for all time, as if that’s the truth of Stone Butch Blues for all time and all readers." Feinberg had actually worked on a film version in the 1990s, and walked away heartbroken.

"The producer’s prospectus was trying to raise capital from investors by offering a sexual fantasy: an invitation to watch butches being raped by police," she wrote. "I requested that no movie be made; I don’t believe any movie can be made true to the intention of the book."

How 11B is proceeding isn't entirely clear since, as Slate reports, Feinberg retrieved the rights to the novel in 2012, after a lengthy legal battle.

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