Rating (out of five): ΔΔΔΔ

Reading Judith Halberstam’s In A Queer Time & Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives was an altogether thrilling experience for a gender nerd like myself. Halberstam does not rest in one place while meandering through modern portrayals of gender; her flow, while erratic, keeps the reader’s brain jumping and eyes moving. In A Queer Time & Place is a symposium of chapters that probe many subjects, some well-known to the general populace but many not.

Halberstam begins with a number of pages detailing the concept of heterosexual time: there are attributes, or milestones, specific to so-called normal heterosexual lives. She muses on how queer lives in their many forms impact the straight timeline and how the queer digression from the timeline creates differing ideas of time and space.

Halberstam also prompts the reader to both appraise the impact of instant gratification on domestic relationships and examine how queer memory is transformed into a commodity.

At some point during reading one begins to ask themselves, “How do transgender people prove the construction of sex and gender?” When what they aspire to be is one of the binary, or in their brain many transgender people are of the binary? Is theory around gender construction yet another case of modern U.S. culture valuing the outer rather than the inner?

To help answer those potential questions Halberstam notes the distinction between realness and the real. Realness, she argues, is about a desire to take on “attributes” of the real whereas the real is fundamentally a fantasy, an unrequited love with the concept of belonging. Therefore even the real, in this case the gender binary, is shown to be a fantasy everyone is chasing. Eventually Halberstam equates Prosser as stating in Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality that transgender people do not prove that gender is a construct or even gender roles. It is cissexual people projecting their desire to believe that the cissexual experience is real onto the transgendered individual. This could be yet another case of making the transgender person a victim in the gender wars.

The chapters move on to address numerous icons of pop culture through a lens of gender acuity. Halberstam does not leave a stone unturned when she deconstructs the full gamut of genre including boy bands, contemporary art and movies like the Austin Powers series, and my personal favorite, the Full Monty.

Halberstam not only focuses on mainstream pop culture icons, she also discusses in depth queer culture icons such as Sleater Kinney, Alix Olson, Matthew Shepard, and so on. Some of her writing about queer culture is fluff, however the majority of her thoughts are deep and revealing of the complexities of the situations people may overlook. The writer frequently makes the decision, for example, to devote a number of pages to Brandon Teena, a well-known hate crime victim, and the media aftermath of the murders. This decision is not a mistake.

To address hate crimes she writes a supremely logical statement within an already steady flow of logic: “The desire, in other words, the desperate desire, to attribute hate crimes to crazy individuals and to point to the U.S. justice system as the remedy for unusual disturbances to the social order of things must be resisted in favor of political accounts of crime and punishment.” She then calls for more narratives on hate crimes through the context of questioning homophobia, racism and classism, all which ultimately are state-sanctioned discrimination. It is not simply about love and hate, she writes, like the Boys Don’t Cry movie implies. The Hollywood movie is simplified for mainstream viewers and distorted into a story focusing more on the romantic connections that Teena develops rather than questioning the system that created an environment that enables persons like Teena’s murderers to commit horrific acts like rape or murder.

Readers, prepare for more than a few preconceptions challenged; Halberstam’s work here goes down easy, but brews into something quite impressionable after settling in just a little while.

Creative Commons License