Halberstam's writing focuses on the topic of tomboys and female masculinity and has published a book titled after the concept of female masculinity. This work famously discuss a common by-product of gender binarism, termed "the bathroom problem," outlining the dangerous and awkward dilemma of a perceived gender deviant's justification of presence in a gender-policed zone, such as a public bathroom, and the identity implications of "passing" therein.
Halberstam earned a B.A. in English at the University of California, Berkeley in 1985, an M.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1989, and a Ph.D. from the same school in 1991.
In Female Masculinity (1998), Halberstam seeks to identify what constitutes masculinity in society and within the individual. The text first suggests that masculinity is a construction that promotes particular brands of male-ness while at the same time subordinating “alternative masculinities.” The project specifically focuses on the ways female masculinity has been traditionally ignored in academia and society at large. To illustrate a cultural mechanism of subordinating alternative masculinities, Halberstam brings up James Bond and Goldeneye as an example, noting that gender performance in this film is far from what is traditional: M is the character who “most convincingly performs masculinity,” Bond can only perform masculinity through his suave clothing and gadgets, and Q can be read “as a perfect model of the interpenetration of queer and dominant regimes.” This interpretation of these characters challenges long-held ideas about what qualities create masculinity. Halberstam also brings up the example of the tomboy, a clear case of a youthful girl exerting masculine qualities -- and raises the complication that within a youthful figure, the idea of masculinity expressed within a female body is less threatening, and only becomes threatening when those masculine tendencies are still apparent as the child progresses in age.
Halberstam then focuses on "the bathroom problem." Here, the question of the gender binary is brought up. Halberstam argues that the problem of only having two separate bathrooms for different genders, with no place for people who do not clearly fit into either category to use, is a problem. The assertion is further made that our bathroom system is not adequate for the different genders found in society. The problem of policing that occurs around the bathrooms is also a focal point for examination of the bathroom problem; not only is this a policing on the legal level, but also on the social level. The social aspect of policing, according to Halberstam, makes it even more difficult for people who do not clearly and visibly fall into one category or another to use public restrooms without encountering some sort of violent or uncomfortable situation.
The Queer Art of Failure argues that failure can be productive, a way of critiquing capitalism and heteronormativity. Using examples from popular culture, like Pixar animated films, Halberstam explores alternatives to individualism and conformity. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives looks at queer subculture, and proposes a conception of time and space independent of the influence of normative heterosexual/familial lifestyle.
Halberstam coedited the book series "Perverse Modernities" with Lisa Lowe.
Halberstam has been nominated three times for Lambda Literary Awards, twice for the non-fiction book Female Masculinity.
The Queer Art of Failure (a John Hope Franklin Center Book) by Judith Halberstam
Series: a John Hope Franklin Center Book
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Duke University Press Books (September 19, 2011)
Amazon: The Queer Art of Failure
Amazon Kindle: The Queer Art of Failure
The Queer Art of Failure is about finding alternatives—to conventional understandings of success in a heteronormative, capitalist society; to academic disciplines that confirm what is already known according to approved methods of knowing; and to cultural criticism that claims to break new ground but cleaves to conventional archives. Judith Halberstam proposes “low theory” as a mode of thinking and writing that operates at many different levels at once. Low theory is derived from eccentric archives. It runs the risk of not being taken seriously. It entails a willingness to fail and to lose one’s way, to pursue difficult questions about complicity, and to find counterintuitive forms of resistance. Tacking back and forth between high theory and low theory, high culture and low culture, Halberstam looks for the unexpected and subversive in popular culture, avant-garde performance, and queer art. She pays particular attention to animated children’s films, revealing narratives filled with unexpected encounters between the childish, the transformative, and the queer. Failure sometimes offers more creative, cooperative, and surprising ways of being in the world, even as it forces us to face the dark side of life, love, and libido.
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