Masculinity without men. In Female Masculinity Judith Halberstam takes aim at the protected status of male masculinity and shows that female masculinity has offered a distinct alternative to it for well over two hundred years. In this first full-length study on the subject, Halberstam catalogues the diversity of gender expressions among masculine women from nineteenth-century pre-Iesbian practices to contemporary drag king performances.
Through detailed textual readings as well as empirical research, Halberstam uncovers a hidden history of female masculinities while arguing for a more nuanced understanding of gender categories that would incorporate rather than pathologize them. She rereads Anne Lister's diaries and Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness as foundational assertions of female masculine identity. She considers the enigma of the stone butch and the politics surrounding butch/femme roles within lesbian communities. She also explores issues of transsexuality among "transgender dykes"-Iesbians who pass as men-and female-to-male transsexuals who may find the label of "lesbian" a temporary refuge. Halberstam also tackles such topics as women and boxing, butches in Hollywood and independent cinema, and the phenomenon of male impersonators.
Female Masculinity signals a new understanding of masculine behaviors and identities, and a new direction in interdisciplinary queer scholarship. Illustrated with nearly forty photographs, including portraits, film stills, and drag king performance shots, this book provides an extensive record of the wide range of female masculinities. And as Halberstam clearly demonstrates, female masculinity is not some bad imitation of virility, but a lively and dramatic staging of hybrid and minority genders.
Judith Halberstam is Professor of Literature at the University of California in San Diego. She is the author of Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, and writes a regular film review column for Girlfriends magazine.
There is something all too obvious about the concept "female masculinity." When people have asked me over the last few years what I am working on, I have explained quickly to them the concept of this book. Usually I can do it in one or two sentences. I will say, perhaps, "I am writing about women who feel themselves to be more masculine than feminine, and I am trying to explain why, as a culture, we seem to take so little interest in female masculinity and yet pay a considerable amount of attention to male femininity." People tend to nod and say, "Yes, of course, female masculinity," as if this is a concept they have grown up with and use every day. In actual fact, there is remarkably little written about masculinity in women, and this culture generally evinces considerable anxiety about even the prospect of manly women. I hope that this book opens discussion on masculinity for women in such a way that masculine girls and women do not have to wear their masculinity as a stigma but can infuse it with a sense of pride and indeed power. Already, lesbian counterproductions of female masculinity, from the spectacle of dykes on bikes to the outrageous performances of the drag king, are certainly taking aim. at the cultural mandates against masculinity in women. This book, I hope, will eventually form just one part of a cultural onslaught on the privileged reservation of masculinity for men.
I was a masculine girl, and I am a masculine woman. For much of my life, my masculinity has been rendered shameful by public responses to my gender ambiguity. However, in the last ten years, I have been able to turn stigma into strength. This book is a result of a lengthy process of both self-examination and discussion with others. Many people have contributed both emotionally and intellectually to this book.
My colleagues at UC San Diego have been supportive and encouraging of this project, and because the Literature Department at UCSD, unlike so many traditional English programs, has a serious commitment to cultural studies and interdisciplinary work, I have felt encouraged to take this project in the many nonliterary directions that it has needed to go. I have been influenced and enriched by reading the work of my UCSD colleagues Rosemary Marangoly George, Page Dubois, Michael Davidson, Shelley Streeby, Mike Murashige, Rosaura Sanchez, Ann DuCille, George Lipsitz, Steven Epstein, and Ramon Gutierrez, and especially Lisa Lowe.
I benefited during the writing of this book from several UC Senate travel and research grants. I also held a postdoctoral fellowship at NYU while finishing research for Female Masculinity. The primary benefit of this postdoc was that it put me in conversa- tion with the amazing group of New York-based queer scholars, including Jose Mufioz, Philip Brian Harper, Chris Straayer, Jill Dolan, Peggy Phelan, and others. I feel my work has really improved as a result of such close contact with other queer academics. Meeting and working with Lisa Duggan at NYU was an important influence on the course of this book. Her work on femme subjectivities and her historical research on turn-of-the-century lesbian subjectivities has greatly affected my thinking on lesbian genders.
I met another person while in New York who has become indispensable to this project and my own intellectual development: Esther Newton. In many ways, Esther Newton is my scholarly role model; she has been a mentor and a friend, and she has helped to shape this book with her many insightful and tough readings of it. I could not have foreseen the importance of a dialogue with a butch scholar from a different generation, and I have realized while writing this book that my work has been influenced by her thinking and her formulations throughout.
I have also been able to learn other less tangible things from Esther about how to be in the world, about inhabiting female masculinity and about shaping an intellectual project around issues of great personal importance. I believe Esther's work provides an exemplary model of how to create subtle interactions between the personal and the theoretical; indeed, her work skillfully prevents the weight of the personal from crashing through finely meshed theoretical webs but also prevents theoretical abstractions from obscuring completely the coarse lines of personal experience. My debt to Esther, fittingly, is both personal and theoretical.
I also benefited from an extremely insightful reading of the book by Valerie Traub, whose own work is a model of historically based, careful, and rigorous scholarship. Laura Doan's research in progress on British lesbian culture in the 1920S has been extremely provocative for my work on Radclyffe Hall, and I eagerly await Doan's book. Others who have left their stamp on my thinking include transgender theorists Jacob Hale, Jay Prosser, Del Grace, and Jordy Jones, Jacob has been a demanding interlocuter, and I have learned much from our various collaborations; although Jay and I disagree over many issues within what can now be called transgender politics, I feel the greatest admiration for his work and feel fortunate to be in dialogue with him. Jordy has inspired me with his strange and wonderful artwork, and Del has proven to be a steadfast friend and continues to amaze me with his breathtaking portraits of queer lives and bodies.
I have been helped and supported by the work and advice of many friends and colleagues: Henry Abelove, Juanita Diaz, Deb Amory, Ed Cohen, Barbara Cruikshank, Ann Cvetkovich, Stacey Foiles, Heather Findlay, Beth Freeman, Jane Gallop, Laura Green, Ira Livingston, David Lloyd, Martin Manalansan, Sally Munt, Geeta Patel, Saeed Rahman, Chandan Reddy, Javid Sayed, Nayan Shah, Cherry Smyth, Patti White, Kath Weston. I owe much gratitude to the drag kings in New York, who are an inspiration to me, not to mention a source of many evenings of entertainment: Mo B. Dick (Maureen Fisher), Dred (Mildred Gerestant), Shon (Shavell Lashon Sherman ), Lizerace (Liz Carthaus), and especially Murray Hill (Betsey Galagher). I would like to thank Ken Wissoker at Duke University Press for his generosity and his belief in this project and Richard Morrison for encouraging me at all the right moments and for carefully guiding the book into print.
I want to thank my pa Jenni Olson for being a great butch buddy over the past decade and for helping me learn to be more open-minded and generous in my judgments an speculations not only on gender but also on life in general. My family has also been very supportive of this project and I must especially thank my younger sister Lucy for her affection and love in general, but also for always showing interest ill, and enthusiasm for, my queer work. And, finally, I thank Gayatri Gopinath for her brilliant intellectual insights, which have completely changed this book in form and content. This book is dedicated to Gayatri, and I want to thank her here for bringing beauty and wisdom into my life.
Parts of some chapters of Female Masculinity were published previously in different versions. I thank those publishers for permission to reprint. Parts of chapter I appeared as "Techno-Homo: On Bathrooms, Butches, and Sex with Furniture," in Processed Lives: Gender and Technology in Everyday Lift, edited by Jennifer Terry and Melodie Calvert (London: Routledge, 1997), 183-94, and as "Bathrooms, Butches, and the Aesthetics of Female Masculinity," in Rrose Is a Rrose Is a Rrose: Gender Performance in Photography," edited by Jennifer Blessing (New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 1997), 176-89. Part of chapter 4 appeared as "Lesbian Masculinity, or Even Stone Butches Get the Blues," in a special issue, "Queer Acts," edited by Jose Munoz and Amanda Barrett, in Women and Performance 8, no. 2 (1996): 61-74, and another small section of this chapter appeared in The Lesbian and Gay Studies Textbook, edited by Sally Munt and Andy Metcalf (London: Cassell, 1997). A shorter version of chapter 5 appears in, a special issue, "The Transgender Issue," edited by Susan Stryker, in GLQ4, no. 2 (spring 1998). A small section of chapter 6 also appears in "Mackdaddy, Superfly, Rapper: Gender, Race, and Masculinity in the Drag King Scene," in a special issue, "Queer Transexions of Race, Nation, and Gender," edited by Phillip Brian Harper, Ann McClintock, Jose Esteban Munoz, and Trish Rosen, in Social Text IS, nos. 3-4 (fall/winter 1997)•
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