I first wrote this post in March 2014. I made substantial edits to it in January 2016. These edits are primarily intended to clarify the intended meaning of the original post, which had gotten lost because most of the main point was at the end. I changed that mostly by moving the sections of the post around, though I did do other edits for clarity. This post has been linked to many times, so if you followed a link, please note that the person linking to it may not have read the most recent version
Figuring Out I Was Stone
For many years, I assumed I could not be stone because butch was not one of my genders. I didn’t have access to an identity that would have helped me understand my sexuality, because I thought it was an identity that was inherently gendered.
I have found identifying as stone to be extremely liberatory for my sexuality. Understanding and accepting myself as stone made it possible for me to explore the kinds of sex I actually desired, and has helped me to let go of trying to do sex in ways that don’t work for me.
Allowing myself to explore stone sexuality was like coming home. Finally sex made sense. Finally all the things I knew, all the things I could do, all the ways I wanted to act sexually came together. I didn’t feel like I was following arbitrary rules. I didn’t feel like I was “faking it” til I made it. I knew how to do this, I knew how to find my own pleasure in it. I knew how to take it where I wanted to go. And I knew how to manage my own bodily sensations in a way that just felt good.
Do we want to tie stone to gender?
Right now, in most queer spaces, stone is understood to be inextricably linked to gender. This leads to a slew of assumptions about who can be stone and how stone works for specific genders.
It is often assumed that the only stone folks are stone butches. So, anyone else who thinks that they might fit these descriptions often figures they cannot be stone if they are not butch. (Like I did.) Many people assume that straight folks and cisgender men cannot be stone. Many folks assume that stone is not a word that could apply to trans women.
“i spent a long time worrying about what my disinterest in being touched sexually said about me before coming out [as a trans woman]. i ran into the word “stone” at some point but thought it probably didn’t belong to me.” –pinebark
I don’t believe that stone is something only butches can be, though I used to—it was what I learned from our communities. Because of that, I did not call myself stone, until I identified as butch. I didn’t think it could apply to me.
There are also a bunch of assumptions about stone femmes. Many folks assume that stone femme means femmes that partner with stone butches. This is an extension of the common misogynist sense of femme as not quite a separate identity from butch.
“Personally, I always thought of a stone femme as someone who isn’t herself “untouchable” but who prefers to partner with butches who are–i.e. stone butches. I wonder, though, does this take us down the road of defining femme in terms of who we partner with, rather than who we are?” –Sublime Femme
Sometimes folks assume that it means femmes that are exclusively sexual bottoms (folks who only get fucked and do not want to do the fucking and/or run the fuck). People assume that femmes cannot be stone in ways that are around emotional stoicism, and not getting fucked—they think that’s what stone means only when applied to butches. And yet I have met and talked to a number of femmes who would describe themselves as stone using those meanings. (That includes cisgender femme women, femme trans women, and femme trans men, by the way.)
“I’ve always wondered, as a femme-identified person who also identifies as stone/a top, whether or not I’ll ever be understood by partners, as the predominant assumption always seems to be that only butches can be stone, and no one has ever reacted positively when I’ve tried to explain that make-up and skirts does not automatically equate wanting to be touched.” —LionessYawn
There are also a host of assumptions about stoneness and trans men. There is a common assumption that when trans men are stone, it is because of their gender dysphoria. That it is temporary, until their body/gender dysphoria is somehow “cured” by surgery and hormones. So anyone who is medically transitioning is supposed to “grow out of” being stone.
I find all of these assumptions incredibly limiting. I am interested in talking about stone in a way that does not assume it is attached to specific gender identities. I think stone identity can be useful for and accessible to a wider range of folks if we stop assuming that it is tied inextricably to specific genders. I want folks to be able to access the idea that they might be stone, because I think it can be a really helpful framework. It definitely has been for me.
Now I want to dig a bit more into the multitude of things that we mean when we say stone.
What do we mean when we call ourselves stone?
We say “stone” as if it was clear. As if it was obvious, immediately legible. As if you could read our nuances embedded in that one word, instantly. As if we all mean exactly the same thing. Most of the time, we don’t say it at all. But when we do, when we sit down with a lover and name ourselves as stone (usually a bit nervously), we often say that one word as if it could hold all the parts of us not seen. Almost as if it was magic. We don’t want to talk about it, pay attention to it, turn anyone’s gaze toward it, so we cross our fingers and hope we can boil it down to that one word, and that will be enough.
This post (and this whole blog series) attempts to talk about it. Which means it is already treading in uncomfortable places, and drawing attention to things we generally deflect from scrutiny.
I am going to attempt to lay out many of the things folks may mean when we call ourselves stone, based on my experience and knowledge. This is intended to be a jumping off place for conversation; none of these are definitive, or applicable to everyone who identifies as stone. There are likely meanings I missed, or that I described in ways that don’t sit right. Attempting to put words to that which avoids language pretty much guarantees that.
“I found claiming ‘stone’ an enormous relief, and I like that. It’s upfront, it’s on the table, it’s a positive assertion of who I am and what I will or won’t do.” –Anonymous
The reality is that when we name ourselves as stone, we mean a wide range of different things, some of which oppose each other. I have listed them in no particular order. This list does not represent how I see stone, but instead includes the range of things I’ve found that people mean when they call themselves stone.
A. Having emotional armor: being emotionally guarded, being emotionally self-protective, emotional stoicism, not sharing our emotions, not wanting our emotions recognized or discussed. Emotional armor is a range of protective strategies around emotions (showing them and feeling them), and can range in thickness and levels of stoicism.
B. Limits on touch/penetration/nakedness: common limits can include things like: I don’t get fucked; I don’t fuck my lovers; don’t touch me there, I don’t take off my clothes during sex, don’t touch me in that way. This is the most common meaning of stone.
C. Being a sexual top: the one who runs the fuck, or sometimes the one who does the fucking (often exclusively), and is not interested in being sexually receptive (getting fucked). This meaning is often tied to the prior one about limits.
D. End of the spectrum masculinity/butchness: very butch, very masculine. Commonly, this meaning of stone also refers to specific traits associated with masculinity in Western culture (like toughness, physical strength, showing little or no emotion, dominance, etc.). This meaning has fallen out of popular use, and is more commonly used among stone folks who came into stone identity in the 50s and 60s in the U.S. As I’ve said earlier, this is not something I mean when I use the word stone. I think we would all be better served by separating stone identity from gender. It is, however, a meaning I have heard other people use, and I would feel remiss to leave it out completely.
E. Body experience of violation with [certain kinds of] touch: a visceral experience of violation with certain kinds of touch, any touch at all, being touched in certain places. This is about what it feels like to be touched, and can be separate from and sometimes the opposite of our desire for touch. (For example, I might really want to have a lover rub my belly, but might have a physical reaction to that kind of touch, where I instinctively pull away or tense up or it just makes my skin crawl, because even though one part of me wants to be touched, my body experiences that touch as violation.)
F. Sexual orientation– pleasure is centered on another: this is about a primary way we get off (though we may sometimes get off in other ways), where we get pleasure from creating intense responses in our lovers, and riding the waves of their experience.
As I stated at the beginning of this post, I do not understand stoneness to be inherently gendered, but it is often used that way and comes from a history of being gendered. This impacts stone people, and is part of how stone identity is perceived in queer community. It is often also part of individual stone people’s identities, so it seems important to discuss in this post.
In U.S. queer communities, stone is often understood as something deeply (and often exclusively) tied to specific gender identities. So folks often don’t just say they are stone, but use these identity names:
- Stone Butch often refers to a butch who fits some or all of the meanings described above. It is most commonly used as shorthand for a specific set of boundaries around sex: not getting fucked, not getting naked, and sometimes areas of the body being off limits for touch.
“’Stone butch’ is a term with many connotations just as thick and craggy as their namesake. I sometimes find myself moving away from the label because those connotations can be so firm and unflinching, and because the history of the term is complicated, as social as it is sexual; strange how something can be so aptly named, since my main issue with the identity is that every time I try to fit it to myself, it’s all rough edges.” –Kate
- Stone Femme has several common understandings that are in tension with each other.
- Some folks identify as Stone Femme because they have a set of boundaries around sex: not getting fucked, wanting to be the sexual top, not wanting touch. This understanding of Stone Femme is pretty much the opposite of another common usage of Stone Femme (the next bullet point below) which can lead to considerable confusion for folks who are only familiar with one or the other meaning. These folks may also identify with some of the other meanings of stone as well (emotional armor, feeling of violation with touch, sexual orientation).
- Some folks identify as Stone Femme because they have a sexual identity and desire built around being sexually receptive; these folks often have boundaries around not being the sexual top or not fucking their lovers.
- Some folks who identify as Stone Femme mean that they partner with stone butches or stone trans guys. This is a complex and contentious issue because it implies that Stone Femme is an identity based on who folks partner with. I don’t want to leave this meaning out, as I have met folks for whom it rings true. That said, many Stone Femme identified folks are offended by this meaning of Stone Femme, because of the ways it is a reflection of misogyny in queer culture, and connected to other ways femmes in general are targeted by misogyny (particularly the ways that femme identity is depicted as secondary or dependent on butch identity and partnership).
“I am stone femme because I have boundaries. It’s not really in relation to stone butches (though they are whom I partner with). I’m stone femme because I don’t go down on someone without a strap-on, because I don’t “fondle” breasts. I have zero interest in doing those things. So, to all those who say I’m not a *real* lesbian b/c I don’t eat p*ssy? F*ck you.” —laurynx
- Stone FTM and TG Stone Butch are two more common ways trans folks refer to ourselves as stone. These identities sometimes refer to any of the meanings described above, but are most often referring to similar sets of boundaries around sex and nakedness that stone butch is often shorthand for.
Stone butch and stone femme are terms that are rooted in dyke history, particularly working class dyke history. If you want to learn more about that history, I recommend Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold ( a history of lesbian community in Buffalo based on oral histories), and Stone Butch Blues (a novel).
What is stone not?
Stone does not mean having sexual/kink boundaries or limits. Everyone has those. (This has been a common source of confusion my classes on stone sexuality and identity.) Having boundaries or limits does not make you stone, whether they are temporary or ongoing. We all have things that we do not want, do not enjoy, or do not choose to do, and that does not make us stone. You don’t need stone identity to give you permission to have sexual and kink boundaries, or to have those boundaries treated with respect.
There are some folks who talk about stone as a role or skin you can put on and off. These folks often talk about sometimes being stone (e.g. when they top or take on a specific kink role), or being a “sacred stone”—someone who chooses to be stone for specific period of time for spiritual reasons, or stone as a form of spiritual asceticism, a way of giving up pleasure for themselves. Many stone-identified folks (including me) see this as co-optation. We feel like our experiences and lives as stone identified people are quite different from folks who do this sometimes as a tool (spiritual or otherwise). We wish that folks who don’t identify as stone would be more respectful of folks who do, if they decide to take up the idea of stone as a tool.
How is stoneness perceived in queer communities?
Stones and our partners often experience prejudice. There are a lot of negative ideas about stone folks in our communities. Stone is often reduced to something to pity, or something to nod sympathetically about.
ETA: Folks often assume that stoneness is rooted in trauma, especially sexual trauma, and stone folks often get nudged to go to therapy or pressured to “work on their trauma”. The idea is often about “curing” stone; folks think that if you do the personal work you’re “supposed” to do about your trauma that you will no longer be stone, so folks that are stone are understood as not having done the work they need to do.
Stone is often understood as some kind of a lack, or an absence, or a problem. Sometimes it is simplified to serving another person’s pleasure or to giving up your own pleasure.
Common negative stereotypes are often broken down by gender and are deeply intertwined with misogyny. For example, the stereotype of the Stone Butch is perceived as a sad and dysfunctional figure who lacks desire, or does not experience pleasure. In this universe of stereotypes, a Stone Butch is understood to be the perfect match for a Stone Femme who likes to get fucked, who is often derogatorily called a Pillow Queen or Do-Me Queen (falling right in line with misogynist concepts about sexuality). A Stone Femme who likes to get fucked, enjoys pleasure, and gets off on her body being the center of sex, gets depicted as selfish, greedy, needy and too sex/pleasure oriented, while the Stone Butch is perceived as withholding (and therefore paradoxically also selfish), asexual, damaged goods. These stereotypes work in tandem with the (very common) stereotype that all butches are tops and all femmes are bottoms, another set of assumptions that is rooted in misogyny and does everyone a deep disservice.
The negative images of stoneness impact how we are treated in our communities and our intimate relationships, as well as how we see ourselves. Stone folks and our partners are often treated badly for being stone. People sometimes partner with us hoping to melt our stone or “cure” us of being stone. We often internalize the idea that our stoneness is a problem, needs a cure, means something is deeply wrong with us. We sometimes start thinking of our sexual boundaries as illegitimate or hurtful to others.
Stone as a sexual orientation
“My sexuality is not only about refusal. The silence into which I coax her murmurs and cries and maybe eventually screams: that is my sexuality, too. And the hundred ways she has of stoking my desire just by how she moves herself under me. The exquisite moment when my hips fall down into hers and our movements match. And those tiny fissures—the look on my face or the change in my breathing or the thrusts I’m no longer consciously controlling—out of which my love pours onto her. Those things are also my sexuality and my sexual freedom.” –Leo McCool
In my classes on stone sexuality, I concentrate on the idea of stone as a sexual orientation where pleasure/desire is centered on another person’s body and experience. I understand stone to be a sexual orientation much like queer, straight, bisexual, asexual, boot fetishist, exhibitionist, etc. can be sexual orientations. I find this framework to be incredibly useful as a way to talk about what is present, instead of solely focusing on what is absent or not allowed.
Stone is one of my core sexual orientations (along with queer, dominant, sadist). Although many of the other understandings of stone also apply to me, when I talk about my sexuality, I don’t only want to name the things I don’t want (e.g. to get fucked, to be touched, to get naked during sex). I want to talk about how I do want to have sex. What kind of sex I like. How I express my desire. How I get off. And direct stimulation of my body is just not how I generally get off. I get off via direct and indirect stimulation of another person’s body/psyche/spirit. I get off on invoking strong responses in my lovers.
It is my experience and my firm belief that stone sexual expression can be a wonderful, transformative, glorious, positive, hot and complete experience for all involved. I’m going to talk a whole lot more about the pleasures of stone sexuality in my next blog post: Stone Dynamics: Where Pleasure Resides.
This post is part of my Stone Blog Series. You can find links to other posts in this series here.