Burning Butch: a Memoir
Burning Butch is the courageous story of a trans / non-binary butch on a quest to survive with their authenticity intact.
When divorce moves young R/B Mertz away from rural Pennsylvania and their abusive father, Mertz's life is torn in two. Mertz's mom and new stepdad dive headfirst into conservative Catholic homeschooling, entrenching themselves in a world dominated by saints, prayers, and having as many babies as possible, just as Mertz is starting to realize they might be queer.
Mertz clings to Catholicism as a rebellion against their anti-Catholic bio-dad, and to movies and musicals as beacons of the world outside the conservative closet constructed by the homeschoolers– who might actually be more concerned with being conservative than with being good, while Mertz's bio-dad just wants them to be "normal."
Trying to stave off the inevitable, Mertz enrolls in a conservative Catholic college in Ohio. Coming of age in the early aughts, they grapple with flirtations, sexual encounters, and confusing relationships with students and faculty, as they try to figure out how to live a life in a world hell-bent on making them choose between their community and their identity.
At turns rebellious, charming, and self-effacing, Mertz struggles to navigate this oppressive environment, questioning whether or not there is a place for them inside or outside of the Catholic Church; whether they can be themselves on the left or the right; whether they can be "conservative" or "liberal;" or whether they can be at all.
Praise for Burning Butch: a Memoir
"That was cool. And I think you'll agree. Cause r/b mertz is queer as hell and can really really write prose.
—Eileen Myles ,
"Don’t let BURNING BUTCH’s wry, witty voice fool you. This work is also heartbreaking and harrowing, carefully calibrated, and downright illuminating. R/B Mertz’s strikingly original memoir creates a space on the page for all outsiders, misfits, renegades, rebels, and queers. This is a tale of resilience and hope penned by a writer whose singular artistic voice is like no other. BURNING BUTCH is an account of a life lived bravely, honestly, and above all else, proudly."
—Alex Espinoza, author of 'Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime'
"This blistering memoir is the book I didn’t know I needed... This is the perfect book for anyone who wonders what roles queer people can occupy in 'traditional' religious structures. I’m so grateful they had the courage to share their experience in such a transparent, authentic way."
—BuzzFeed Books, One of 2022's Most Anticipated Books
"Trans/nonbinary butch poet R/B Mertz challenges religion, conservatism and tradition in this powerful memoir."
—Karla Strand, Ms. Magazine, One of 2022's Most Anticipated Books
"BURNING BUTCH is a necessary and important memoir. A wonderful addition to underrepresented voices. Honest, insightful and moving."
—Angie Cruz, author of 'Dominicana'
"This book snuck into my heart like a song I'd never heard but always wanted to, and now I can't stop humming it. BURNING BUTCH is an urgent reminder that in any community where people read the same stories, sing the same songs, and pray the same prayers, there are stunning souls buzzing with contradiction, pain, beauty and desire, voices which create gorgeous polyphony rather than discord. With generosity and disarming honesty, R/B Mertz has written a book to help all of us survive being alive, being alive, being alive."
—Will Arbery , author of the Pulitzer Prize-finalist 'Heroes of the Fourth Turning'
"BURNING BUTCH by R/B Mertz howls against the dogged mouth of the past as much as illuminates the present, evoking the legendary Leslie Feinberg and their struggle for selfhood in the classic memoir, STONE BUTCH BLUES. Mertz’s extraordinary and stunning debut memoir extends and deepens the tradition begun by Feinberg for 'butch' life, butch recognition, gender non-conformity, and queerness by writing the catastrophic and world-shattering repressions that radical Christianity can inflict on children, people, and communities. In this gorgeously written, powerful and moving literary accomplishment, Mertz reminds us of the sheer miracle that any of us queer kids are alive. BURNING BUTCH is sure to be a new classic. It will lead us into a brighter future."
—Dawn Lundy Martin , author of 'Good Stock Strange Blood' and Director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics