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Conformity: a Concealed Identity

In: English and Literature

Submitted By mlcsweetie143
Words 1367
Pages 6
Andrea Marshall
Kim Palmore
English 1B
30 May 2012
Conformity: A Concealed Identity
Society is made up of predominately heterosexual people. Our instincts tell us in order to repopulate the world; a man and a woman must reproduce offspring. This is considered to be a social norm; mankind’s very survival depends on it. More recently, society has given people the ability to express themselves in ways they never thought possible. The American Gay Rights Movement in 1924 sparked animosity throughout the nation creating discrimination toward the gay community. This movement brought about significant change; unfortunately, not all people were willing to accept it. People’s resistance to change is usually based on ignorance or the desire to conform in an attempt to avoid becoming an outcast. In the novel, Stone Butch Blues, written by Leslie Feinberg, Jess Goldberg becomes an outcast because of her resistance to conformity. Since Jess was brought up in a straight environment, she grew up confused, without the understanding of her true nature. Her parents rejected her differences due to the fact that they were so focused on society’s view of the social norm. Having no one to confide in, Jess was forced to set out on her own to find people she could connect with and help her to explore identity. This book demonstrates both society’s demand for conformity and the pressures that queer people face in an unjust world; Jess’ success in battling this social pressure inspires people to fight against discrimination and to ensure their pursuit of happiness.
At a very early age, Jess noticed that she stood apart from many of her peers. She desired to indulge in young boys’ fashions and rigorous activities. Her sister, on the other hand, conformed to wearing dresses and participating in more feminine interests. At first, Jess’ parents accepted her behavior, while under the assumption that it was a phase. As time went on, Jess began to attract attention causing her parents a great deal of embarrassment. “I’m sick of people asking me if she’s a boy or a girl…Everywhere I take her, people ask me” (Feinberg, 19). Her parents then began enforcing their conformed beliefs and demanded that Jess act as a lady. Her father insisted, “Young lady, I spent $4.90 for this Annie Oakley outfit and you’re going to wear it” (19). Contrarily, Jess began trying on her father’s clothes, and after being caught, her parents became desperate and admitted her to a psychiatric hospital.
At the age of eleven, Jess felt extremely scared and alone. She felt that her parents had abandoned her and that she had become an alien to society. While in the hospital, her discovery of a library of poems changed her forever. These poems had been left by previous queer patients, which instantly gave her a sense of belonging. Jess finally had discovered that she was not alone. She knew that what her parents were doing was wrong.
“I didn’t care anymore if my parents didn’t love me. I had accepted that fact in the three weeks I’d survived alone in this hospital. But now I didn’t care. I hated them. And I didn’t trust them. I didn’t trust anyone. My mind was focused on escape. I wanted to get out of this place and run away from home” (22).
After receiving three weeks of treatment, she returned home harboring ill will and resentment toward her parents. As soon as she came home from the hospital, Jess’ parents threw her into charm school, hoping things would turn around; it turned out, it had the opposite effect. “Charm school taught me once and for all that I wasn’t pretty, wasn’t feminine, and would never be graceful” (23). She returned to school, only to be tormented, raped, and stripped of her dignity. This caused a lot of emotional turmoil for Jess. Being rejected from her parents and having no one to turn to caused her to suppress her emotions. At the age of sixteen, she dropped out of school and ran away from home in search of people who understood her and who truly cared for her.
In the 1960s, queers were not widely accepted in society. They faced ridicule, discrimination and abuse. People had not yet accepted the fact that some people desired same-sex relationships; these types of relationships were unheard of. Much of this was due to religious beliefs and the social norm. Now that Jess was on her own she not only had worry about protecting her identity, she had to worry about survival. Since she was not properly educated, she was forced to take a low end job. Because of this, she was not exposed to people with ambition and stability; instead her role models were people with little to no education. Because of society’s inability to accept Jess for who she really was, this ultimately resulted in less opportunity for her. She had been denied the chance at a good education and a solid career.
The beliefs in the 1960s caused a lot of pressure for Jess. It made it hard for her to express her true identity. She soon found a community of queers that she felt she could trust. She portrayed herself as an experienced butch in order to fit in and be respected. Once she surrounded herself in the gay community, she had to deal with much oppression and abuse from authority figures. Cops would bust the local gay bars and arrested both femmes and butches. Cops would use physical and sexual abuse on these innocent queers, as if they had been criminals. “There are times, the old bulls told me, when it’s best to take your beating and hope the cops will leave you on the ground when they’re done with you. Other times your life may be in danger, or your sanity, and it’s worth it to try to fight back. It’s a tough call” (56). This maddening abuse of authority portrays the misconception that society has towards the gay community. After suffering through so much torment and maltreatment, Jess was determined to make a difference and ensure that queer people were acknowledged and given the same liberties as all others.
In the end, Jess is finally able to present herself in front hundreds of people. After battling years of social pressure, oppression, and violence, she is able to stand up for herself and represent the gay community. At a Lesbian-Gay rally in the streets of New York, she speaks to hundreds of people about her experience. “I’m a butch, a he-she…there’s a lot of us on the outside and we don’t want to be. We are getting busted and beaten up… I don’t know what it would take to change the world. But couldn’t we get together and try to figure it out?” (296). The audience responded with applauds and cheers, affirming their encouragement and support. This event signifies Jess’ impact in society and portrays how one person’s life can make a difference.
Some people may argue that conforming to society is more beneficial than being able to express your true identity. Society has revered the classic relationships between men and women for generations. To take a stand against it, results in severe costs. Those who choose to protest conformity suffer rejection and persecution. Jess’ parents, for example, must have wanted to spare Jess from such heartache. Although Jess’ parents may have had good intentions, they ultimately hindered her from expressing herself; this would eventually prohibit her from the opportunity to find self-worth.
In conclusion, Stone Butch Blues shows the many struggles and social pressures that queers are constantly faced with today. They are subjected to a bias society where conformity is expected. They encounter discrimination and are denied the liberty that they deserve. The speech that Jess makes at the rally inspired many people of the gay community to stand up for their beliefs and to protect their rights to pursue happiness. Jess’ resistance to conform shows how one person’s stand can make a difference, and her story provides inspiration for all people to fight against injustice.

Works Cited
Feinberg, Leslie. Stone Butch Blues. Alyson Books: Los Angles, 1993.

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