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There’s no one way to be stone butch

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Jan 12, 2024

There’s no one way to be stone butch
  • Let’s talk about the identity of stone butch — like many types of lesbian identities, there are no rules set in stone. 

    If you’ve been reading your queer literature, you might be thinking of the 1993 lesbian classic novel, “Stone Butch Blues” by Leslie Feinberg. The book has been a touchpoint for many queer women and gender diverse people since its publication, and the expansion and evolution of stone butchness over 30 years is a part of Feinberg’s legacy. 

    Learning about stone will teach you about sexual desires and boundaries — how we express our needs and respect our partners’ needs. And butches continue to pave the way for gender diversity in all its beautiful forms.  As you venture into the wonderful world of lesbian dating and sex, you should know about stone.

    What is the meaning of stone butch? 

    A stone butch is a masculine lesbian who does not want to be touched during sex or wants to be touched in specific ways with specific partners, and they get the most sexual gratification from the pleasure of their partner.

    As they are used today, stone and butch are two different but sometimes related sexual and social expressions, often held by queer women, trans men, and nonbinary folks. One can be stone without being butch, butch without being stone, and being a stone butch has its own meaning and history when you put them together. 

    Everyone has sexual boundaries. Like the terms “top” or “bottom,” many people fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum or change how they express themselves during sex. Stone is also a sexual and social expression that looks different from person to person and over time. 

    I’ve also seen some of the discourse online that questions stone and butch as dated categories or rejects how they’ve evolved and expanded. 

    It’s a myth of the systems that maintain our oppression that our identity categories are undermined by diversity. The existence of a stone femme does not threaten stoneness or butchness. The choice to identify as a touch-me-not instead of stone does not erase the queer history of the latter. The creation of new categories that people find more validating than what existed before does not weaken the foundation of LGBTQIA+ community — in fact, it is the opposite. Expanding the view of sexuality and gender is our gay agenda. 

    Even if you don’t identify as stone or butch, both identities have radical implications for sexual and gender expression, and they are communities worth exploring. They are also two identities that are frequently ridiculed or met with disgust, even within queer spaces. We can educate ourselves to be kinder to these members of our LGBTQIA+ community. 

    Where did the term stone butch come from? 

    Leslie Feinberg in black shirt and tie

    Source: Wikipedia

    “Stone butch” first became known as a sexual identity in the lesbian community of the 1940s and 50s. Interestingly, in the 1950s, stone butch was such a prominent identity that being “stone” became an expectations of all butches, and some expressed that they felt ashamed to want sex themselves.  It became taboo for butches to get “flipped,” or be topped by their femme-identifying partners. 

    Stone Butch Blues takes place in this era of lesbian culture in the 1950s. The protagonist Jesse is coming into her queer identity as a self-identified stone butch.

    “I wondered how it would feel to be touched and not be afraid,” she says in one scene with her lover Theresa. 


    Leslie Feinberg played a major role in a wider understanding of stone butchness, and even today her book is one of the primary associations with the term. However, the novel certainly feeds into a myth that stone is the result of sexual trauma or gender dysphoria. While some people may identify with those parts of the stone butch story, they are not universal traits.  You don’t need a “why” to explain if you do or don’t want to be touched in a certain way. 

    The quote that I love most from Stone Butch Blues as a description of stoneness in sex is not about repression or fear, but about the love of giving pleasure to Jesse’s partner:

    “Since I had no words to bring the woman I loved so much, I gave her my tenderness.” 

    Jesse’s partner

    Sticks and Stones

    Woman holds a stone heart over a mountain lake

    Being stone is no longer specific to a certain sexual orientation or gender. It has multiplied into endless ways of describing this sexual expression, such as touch-me-nots, stone femmes, and just plain stone. 

    Exhausted Anarchist on Medium describes it this way:

    “Stone sexuality challenges the idea that sex has certain requirements and limitations. Sex does not mean nakedness. Sex does not mean someone getting f—ed. Sex does not mean both parties are reciprocated. Sex does not have to focus on genitals. As queer people, we know that there are a thousand-and-one ways to experience pleasure that doesn’t involve penis-in-vagina sex. Queer sex is the ultimate freeing experience.”

    Exhausted Anarchist on Medium

    Touch-Me-Not Top 

    Touch-me-not is a term used mostly by Black queer folks to describe wanting to pleasure their partner but not wanting to be touched sexually themselves, all giving and no receiving. Like stone, there’s no “underlying cause” related to trauma — honestly, it’s rude to ask, y’all. Different people have different boundaries of where they don’t want to be touched.

    Stone Femme 

    A femme lesbian who only wants to give and not receive sex can be a stone femme. Some definitions online specify not wanting penetration, but this is not the limit of what a femme lesbian can prefer in the bedroom. 

    You don’t have to look more masculine as a lesbian to not want to be touched. You can express your femininity and womanhood and not want to be touched in a certain way or any way in the bedroom.

    Butch please! 

    Lesbian couple smiling and hugging

    Source: Pinterest

    We love butches. They are the best of us. 

    Butch means a lot of things to a lot of different people — a certain aesthetic, a sexual expression, a gender expression, a way of being. 

    “In my early 20s, I identified as a stone butch…In adulthood, I’ve come back to butch in terms of how I see myself in the world and in my relationships, so I think of myself as a soft butch now.” 

    Author Roxanne Gay

    If you’re Gen Z, gay, and on TikTok, you may have heard about some kind of “butch shortage.” Maybe because they are too amazing and in demand. Maybe because they are disappearing as an identity that is only for “older lesbians.” Or maybe, even worse, you’ve heard some kind of butch hate. In my own experience, I see butch or dykephobia — or prejudice against a “certain kind” of gay woman — arguably even more than I see homophobia today. 

    But make no mistake — butches aren’t going anywhere, thank the gay lord. Butch is not a dated identity category. In fact, it is a label that was ahead of the curve in its inclusion of people of sizes, races, genders, and abilities. It is a radical acceptance that should be cherished and emulated across the LGBTQIA+ community. 

    Hard butches, soft butches, dapper butches, studs, and mascs, cis butches, nonbinary butches, trans butches, long-haired butches — it doesn’t sound like a shortage to me. 


    There’s no one way to be stone and/or butch. These two words together are rich with history and meaning for many lesbians today. Leslie Feinberg’s legacy shows us how powerful this identity is — Jesse is a character that speaks to people who rarely see themselves reflected in literature, in the crossfire of our rigid and violent stereotypes about sex and gender.

    Do not dismiss stone butches. They deserve so much more. 

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    Catherine Henderson is a journalist based in Chicago. She has worked at a wide variety of newsrooms, including The Denver Post, Chalkbeat, Business Insider and In These Times, covering education, career development and culture. Catherine holds a master’s and bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Outside of work, she enjoys traveling, exploring Chicago, reading LGBTQ lit, and analyzing internet trends.

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