Jack Halberstam

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Jack Halberstam, 2011

Jack Halberstam (born December 15, 1961), also known as Judith Halberstam, is the Professor of English and Director of The Center for Feminist Research at University of Southern California (USC). Halberstam was the Associate Professor in the Department of Literature at the University of California at San Diego before working at USC. He[1] is a gender and queer theorist[2] and author.[3]

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 discusses 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.[4][5]

Early life, education and gender identity

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. Assigned female at birth, he uses the pronouns "he/his" with regard to his gender identity and goes by the name Jack, but says that "some people call me Jack, my sister calls me Jude, people [whom] I've known forever call me Judith" and "I try not to police any of it. A lot of people call me he, some people call me she, and I let it be a weird mix of things."[1] The name "Judith Halberstam" has also accompanied "Jack" on some of Halberstam's later books.[1]


Female Masculinity

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.[6] 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

In The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam 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.

“Telling Tales: Brandon Teena, Billy Tipton, and Transgender Biography”

is concerned with the politics of “passing” as well as the ethics of transgender biography. The essay discuss how women who “pass” are often accused of being deceptive and they are subjected to brutal violations which often terminate their lives. Halberstam poses questions about who controls narratives that circulate about the lives of transgender people. The paper discusses “transgender biography as a sometimes violent, often imprecise project, one which seeks to brutally erase the carefully managed details of the life of a passing person and which recasts the act of passing as deception, dishonesty and fraud” (Halberstam 14). The essay also provides a brief transgender history that is accompanied by a definition of terms such as female masculinity, transsexual, realness, the ‘real’, female-to-male transsexuals (FTM), butch, and femme. The author thinks that trans bodies have a certain illegibility and he is suspicious of “experts” who try to read, document, and pin down “lives filled with contradiction and tension”(Halberstam 20).

Gaga Feminism

In Gaga Feminism Halberstam uses Lady Gaga as a symbol for a new era of sexual and gender expression in the 21st century. The book has been noted as "a work that engages in the theorizing of contemporary gender relations and their cultural narratives, and the practice of calling for a chaotic upending of normative categories in an act of sociopolitical anarchy."[7] Halberstam describes five tenets of Gaga Feminsm:

  • Wisdom lies in the unexpected and the unanticipated.
  • Transformation is inevitable, but don't look for the evidence of change in the everyday; look around, look on the peripheries, the margins, and there you will see its impact.
  • Think counterintuitively, act accordingly.
  • Practice creative non-believing.
  • Gaga Feminism is outrageous… impolite, abrupt, abrasive and bold.[8]

Halberstam uses contemporary pop culture examples such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Bridesmaids, and Dory from Finding Nemo to explore these tenets.

Other works

In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, published in 2005, looks at queer subculture, and proposes a conception of time and space independent of the influence of normative heterosexual/familial lifestyle. Halberstam coedits the book series "Perverse Modernities" with Lisa Lowe.[9]

Honors and awards

Halberstam has been nominated three times for Lambda Literary Awards, twice for the non-fiction book Female Masculinity.


  • Halberstam, Judith and Del Lagrace Volcano. The Drag King Book. London: Serpent's Tale, 1999. ISBN 1-85242-607-1
  • Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8223-2226-9 & 0822322439
  • Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8147-3584-3 & 0814735851
  • Halberstam, Judith and Ira Livingston, Eds. Posthuman Bodies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-253-32894-2 & 0253209706
  • Halberstam, Judith. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8223-1651-X & 0822316633
  • Halberstam, Judith, David Eng & José Esteban Muñoz, Eds. What's Queer about Queer Studies Now? Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8223-6621-5
  • Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. ISBN 0-8223-5045-9 & 978-0822350453
  • Halberstam, J. Jack. Gaga Feminism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. ISBN 978-080701098-3

Articles and book chapters

  • "F2M: The Making of Female Masculinity." in The Lesbian Postmodern. Edited by Laura Doan. New York : Columbia University Press, 1994. pp. 210–228.
  • "Technologies of Monstrosity: Bram Stoker's Dracula" in Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle. Edited by Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken. Cambridge [U.K.], New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. pp. 248–266.
  • "Queering Lesbian Studies." in The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-first Century. Edited by Bonnie Zimmerman and Toni A. H. McNaron. New York: Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1996. 1st ed. pp. 256–261.
  • "The Art of Gender" in Rrose is a rrose is a rrose: Gender Performance in Photography. by Jennifer Blessing with contributions by Judith Halberstam. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1997. pp. 176–189.
  • "Sex Debates." in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Critical Introduction. Edited by Andy Medhurst and Sally R. Munt. London, Washington: Cassell, 1997. pp. 327–340.
  • "Techno-Homo: On Bathrooms, Butches, and Sex with Furniture." in Processed Lives: Gender and Technology in Everyday Life Edited by Jennifer Terry and Melodie Calvert. London, New York: Routledge, 1997. pp. 183–194.
  • "Between Butches" in Butch/Femme: Inside Lesbian Gender. Edited by Sally R. Munt & Cherry Smyth. London : Cassell, 1998. pp. 57–66.
  • "Telling Tales: Brandon Teena, Billy Tipton, and Transgender Biography." in Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion. Edited by María Carla Sánchez and Linda Schlossberg. New York: New York University Press, 2001. pp. 13–37.
  • "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Men, Women, and Masculinity." in Masculinity Studies & Feminist Theory: New Directions. Edited by Judith Kegan Gardiner. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. pp. 344–368.
  • "An Introduction to Female Masculinity." in The Masculinity Studies Reader. Edited by Rachel Adams and David Savran. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002. pp. 355–374.
  • "An Introduction to Gothic Monstrosity." in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism / Robert Louis Stevenson. Edited by Katherine Linehan. New York: Norton, 2003. 1st ed. pp. 128–131.
  • "The Transgender Look." in The Bent Lens: A World Guide to Gay and Lesbian Film. Edited by Lisa Daniel & Claire Jackson. Los Angeles, CA: Alyson Books, 2003. 2nd ed. (1st U.S. ed.) pp. 18–21.
  • "Oh Bondage Up Yours! Female Masculinity and the Tomboy." in Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children. Edited by Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. pp. 191–214.
  • "Transgender Butch: Butch/FTM Border Wars and the Masculine Continuum." in Feminist Theory: A Reader. Edited by Wendy K. Kolmar, Frances Bartkowski. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2005. 2nd ed. pp. 550–560.
  • "Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine." in Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Edited by Anne C. Herrmann and Abigail J. Stewart. Chapter 21.
  • "Sweet Tea and the Queer Art of Digression." in Two Truths and a Lie by Scott Turner Schofield. Ypsilanti, MI: Homofactus Press, 2008. pp. 9–12.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Sexsmith, Sinclair (1 February 2012). "Jack Halberstam: Queers Create Better Models of Success". Lambda Literary. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  2. Halberstam, Jack. "An audio overview of queer theory in English and Turkish by Jack Halberstam". Retrieved 29 May 2014. 
  3. "Judith Marion Halberstam". USC Faculty Profile. Retrieved 15 December 2010. 
  4. Halberstam, Judith (1998). Female masculinity. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2243-9. 
  5. Studies in popular culture, 28, Popular Culture Association in the South, 2005 
  6. Halberstam, Judith (1998). Female masculinity. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2243-9.
  7. "Preparing for the "Gagapocalypse": J. Jack Halberstam's Gaga Feminism - CAP - CAP". CAP. Retrieved 14 September 2014. 
  8. Halberstam, Judith (2005). "Gaga Feminism". Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. ISBN 978-080701098-3
  9. "Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe". Dukeupress.edu. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 

External links