A few notes on In a Queer Time & Place by Judith Halberstam

Posted: January 23, 2009 in Uncategorized

I just finished ‘In a Queer Time & Place’ by Judith Halberstam(2005). It is the third queer theory text I have read. And I feel mixed about it. First the positives. When She theorizes I enjoy her work. Queer spaces, queer time, a spectrum of female masculinity, hetero/homo binary, youth/adult binary and subcultural archives. All of these concept were interesting and have enriched my world.
I have two main issues with this work. First, I do not find media criticism an interesting way of theorizing. Films are just so symbolically malleable that I do not believe in the value of uncovering hidden narratives. Each actor integrates the text in her own way, regardless of the agenda of the producer. Most of the book consists of media criticism, if is not your background I think other books might be more interesting.
Second, I find her standpoint myopic and highly gendered. Haberstam, studiously avoids trans-femininity in her work. How can we take her seriously in her claim to be studying the transgender phenomenon and queerness if she only analyzes bio-girl trannies and bio-girl queers. She erases the male body from her analysis and I think it weakens her position. In her analysis drag queens stand in for male femininity. And those references always seem somewhat hostile, as though trans-femme spectrum people were the recipients of male privilege.
Halberstam works within the lesbian feminist tradition which has never put a premium on nuanced and subtle treatment of the male-bodied. This had its place in the early years of the lesbian movement, but things have changed. The queer movement is not about the gender binary. The male-bodied participants in the the Queer and Genderqueer movements are already marginal and almost invisible. There is no need to define a lesbian queer movement and a lesbian transgender movement. These positions are no longer radical. They have become conservative, defending lesbian privilege within the queer movement against the new outsiders.

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