essays, Interviews

Gaga Feminism Giveaway! And Q&A with Jack Halberstam

I—like, I suspect, many of you—was first introduced to Jack Halberstam’s work in college, where I read Female Masculinity in a gender studies class. Jack’s work has been largely influential on the gender binary critiques and to many people that I have studied and read since, and of course influential on my own ideas about gender and performance and masculinities too.

And, he’s got a new book out! The book is called Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal and it’s published by Beacon Press, officially released yesterday, September 18th. It’s an incredibly readable book—like Jack said in my interview with him for Lambda Literary Foundation earlier this year, it’s on an unacademic press and intended for a wider audience. So even if you’re not a theory buff—and I’m not, though I do love theory—it’s a very good read.

A Few Quick Questions for Jack Halberstam

(It’s intimidating to interview one of your mentors! Thanks Jack!)

1. When you discuss the concept of “gaga feminism,” which you say is a feminism “that recognizes multiple genders, that contributes to the collapse of our current sex-gender systems, [and is] a feminism less concerned with the equality of men and women and more interested in the abolition of these terms as such,” (p25), I find myself identifying deeply. I run in many communities which are more invested in that than in the analyzation of the male-female binary, and often feel disillusioned with the mainstream feminism movements which have less concepts of breaking down the system and more that seem to maintain it. How can gaga feminism help queers and genderqueers and other marginalized communities get our message farther into the mainstream, to continue to influence the larger culture? What barriers keep our gaga feminist perceptions of gender from reaching the mainstream, and do you have any suggestions for how to continue the activism of working to break down those barriers?

Great questions Sinclair! As you say, it is frustrating to see so many people acting as if male and female are totally stable categories and as if all the changes in technology, in social formations, in sexual identities and in the visibility of queer bodies have made no difference whatsoever! I hoped and still hope that GAGA FEMINISM would have some appeal as a more mainstream and readable book and that it would be able to circulate complex ideas about sex, gender and fast-changing technologies of gender in an accessible and fun way. That said, there have been a few books out recently like How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, The End of Men by Hanna Rosin and Marry Him by Lori Gottlieb that purport to be feminist analyses of men, women, marriage, work, love and family but actually they mostly shuffle around the same old cliches about hetero reproduction and hope for the best. GAGA FEMINISM begins with the premise of taking a longer tradition of anti-marriage, anti-capitalist feminism seriously and joining it to new queer theory and queer forms of life.

2. I loved your writings about The Kids Are All Right (which start on p54). I enjoyed that film quite a lot and have had many elaborate conversations about its construction, but you articulated some new things I hadn’t heard. I am especially curious about what you said about depictions of relatively sexless long term (lesbian) relationships, as I have been theorizing a lot lately about keeping the spark going in a long term commitment. You’ve been with your partner for many years now—do you have any tips or suggestions about staying sexually connected and satisfied while building something long term?

Well, my point there was that straight culture likes the idea that lesbian long-term relationships are more prone to “fizzle out” that others because women are the kindling rather than the spark when it comes to romance…pardon the metaphor but you get my point. Heterosexual mainstream conversations about desire love to depict women as the ones who create an environment for love and romance and men as the ones who set the whole thing on fire. For this reason, when you have two women, the old narrative goes, you have a lot of love and cuddling but no real…spark! So, The Kids Are All Right feeds into that narrative and assigns all the sexual energy to the sperm donor dad. But that was just one of many reasons I found the film disappointing. As for tips on staying sexually connected etc…sorry dude, I am a terrible advice columnist!!

3. You talk quite a bit about butches and butchness in this book (p86). I do a lot of organizing around butch identity and community, including some work for the BUTCH Voices conferences (and of course your book Female Masculinity has been a huge influence on my understandings of genders). You mention the concept of stone and melting the stone in particular, which is something that I discuss and think about often. I tend to define stone as “having control over how one’s body is touched,” which is not quite the same as impenetrable or not ever receiving sexual pleasure or stimulation. Have you noticed that the caricature of stone butches as “rigid or immobile or frozen” (p86) has changed as we are entering an age of gaga feminism, with more depth of understanding and multiplicity in our definitions of gender roles in general? How can we continue to break down those frozen stereotypes and build something unique and open, with more room for people to be expressing themselves authentically and not feeling stuck in limitations of labels?

Yeah, definitely. I was just using the example of the stone butch in GAGA FEMINISM in order to say that we assign pathological narratives to masculine behavior when it appears in the butch (inflexibility or impenetrability becomes neurotic) but not when it appears in a man. If the man does not want to be penetrated, then he is, well, normal! And in fact, if he does want to be penetrated, then he is suspect. I think GAGA FEMINISM is about recognizing the rapidly generated new forms of desire, embodiment, orientation that proliferate all around us and developing new systems for naming them, owning them and inhabiting them.


J. JACK HALBERSTAM is the author of four books, including Female Masculinity and The Queer Art of Failure. Currently a professor of American studies and of ethnicity and gender studies at the University of Southern California, Halberstam regularly speaks and writes on queer culture and gender issues and blogs at BullyBloggers.

Giveaway! I have one copy for one lucky commenter …

Thanks to Beacon Press, I’ve got an extra copy of Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal to give away. I’ll pick a number at random on Monday, the 24th of September, and the corresponding commenter will get the copy.

In order to enter, simply leave a comment on this post and tell me one influential book you’ve read about feminism, or one book about gender, or something you love about Jack Halberstam, or something else entirely. Make sure you leave a valid email address; anyone can enter. I prefer to mail the book to someone in the US, because I’ll be paying for postage—so if you are outside the US, I might ask you to kick me a few bucks to cover the cost of mailing you the book.

Tomorrow’s Gaga Feminism Blog Tour post will be at The Qu—check it out.

Gaga Feminism was sent to me from Beacon Press to review. Thanks Beacon! Pick up your own copy at your local feminist queer bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Published by Sinclair Sexsmith

Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is "the best-known butch erotica writer whose kinky, groundbreaking stories have turned on countless queers" (AfterEllen), who "is in all the books, wins all the awards, speaks at all the panels and readings, knows all the stuff, and writes for all the places" (Autostraddle). ​Their short story collection, Sweet & Rough: Queer Kink Erotica, was a 2016 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and they are the current editor of the Best Lesbian Erotica series. They identify as a white non-binary butch dominant, a survivor, and an introvert, and they live outside Seattle as an uninvited settler on traditional, ancestral, & unceded Snoqualmie land.

34 thoughts on “Gaga Feminism Giveaway! And Q&A with Jack Halberstam”

  1. Kent says:

    I’m doing a Master’s in Women’s & Gender Studies at Brandeis University and would love a copy of this book! I’ve read two of Halberstam’s other books, In A Queer Time & Place and The Queer Art of Failure. Both were very influential in my studies of gender and sexuality.

  2. anna says:

    Love this post. The Queer Art of Failure was fantastic!

  3. Stefany says:

    Dr Halberstam is pretty much the only academic queer theorist whose writing I find accessible. And as someone whose ideas on gender and sexuality were not forged in university level queer studies classes, this is very important to me. Thus, I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of this book!

  4. Avery says:

    A) The first book about feminism that I read was Sisterhood is Powerful – it rocked! I bought it and read it at the age of 16 while living in Tehran, Iran.
    B) Wow….Jack Halberstam is hot! I remember when objectifying women was considered patriarchal, and hope that trend has died down.
    C) I’m forever grateful that genderqueer exists.
    D) I’d love to read Jack’s book.

  5. Siouxie says:

    I still remember the heartbeat joy of discovering The Drag King Book and Female Masculinity in my small town university library over a decade ago. The world expanded. How awesome to get to interview Jack!

  6. Logan A says:

    For me, it was Gender Outlaws:TNG. Specifically, the comic by Kate Diamond in the middle of the book. Before reading this book, I would never have thought of myself as “trans” since I’m not transsexual (I don’t want to change the sex of my body), even though I knew I didn’t fit in to to the usual conceptions of gender. Reading the essays in TNG really helped me to figure out the words to express what I am.

  7. nyna says:

    I cannot list just one favorite book about anything to save my life, so current three (…four) favorite books on gender, light on theory:

    Sister/Outsider and The Black Unicorn, by Audre Lorde
    Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg
    Close to Spiderman, by Ivan E. Coyote

  8. Glaux says:

    I’ve been dancing around my own gender identity a bit (veering away from female, towards ?, but still speaking in queer femme tongues), and I’d love to read this.

  9. KJ says:

    I had a chance to be in a special seminar Jack taught; JH gave every one of us thoughtful and affirming responses that directed our conversation and drew out the relationships among the readings. It was something special.

  10. Eloïse says:

    The very accessible book that took me to feminism is King Kong Theorie, by french author Virginie Despentes (who later directed the documentary “Mutantes”.

    Now about gender, the one i loved is “Femmes of power” (because genderbending isn’t only about masculinity!), that book inspired me A LOT. (And Virginie Despentes appears in it. We have come full circle)

    I’d really like to read J. Halberstam book about Gaga feminism, please pretty please!

  11. wendydee says:

    THANK YOU BOTH….JACK AND SINCLAIR….DAY by DAY, BRICK by BRICK you tear down sexual boundries!

  12. Cinderella says:

    I just read the Caliban and the Witch about feminism and Marxism and have been thinking about it in the context of the questions and discussion that Jack raises about feminism. Can’t wait to read this book!

  13. Adrienne says:

    Most of my thinking about gender has been incidental to my thinking about sexual interaction, so The Ethical Slut is sort of my starting place, even though it’s not about gender.

  14. rachel says:

    One of my all-time favorite books is Riki Anne Wilkins’ “Read My Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender”… incredibly accessible, and totally radicalized gender for me!

    1. rachel says:

      Ack. Wilchins, not Wilkins. Sorry Riki!

  15. Kimmy says:

    I’m brand new to feminist and queer theory and therefore haven’t really even known where to start reading about either thing, but as a queer feminist, I’d really love to read this book.

  16. Emily says:

    Reading “The Persistent Desire” and “Stone Butch Blues” back-to-back the summer I turned 20 tore me down and gave me a vocabulary for how to build myself anew.

    I had been immersing myself in grad-level queer theory and feminist histories since I was 15, but finding the history(s) of other working class, mixed-race, kinky queers showed me a path to existing as my fancy-femme self.

  17. Skybirdsnplanes says:

    Gender theory seems to be something that us “young queers” are pushing the envelope on…or at least that is what I’m told. Thank goodness someone is doing it. I feel like this might be our generations contribution to it all. I’ve just started reading “Stone Butch Blues” and my mind is being blown.

  18. I adore Halberstam’s books and work. I must admit I grieve your use of the male pronoun to refer to Jack. If that is what she or he desires, then, OK. But, I mourn the loss of female pronouns, and female identification of masculine women. I feel like “Female Masculinity” is a wonderful book about butch women, and helped me, as a femme who loves masculine women, to put into words my own desire and appreciation for masculine women. I worry when our butch sisters adopt male pronouns in the real world, because it seems like it makes them invisible, and/or buys into the gender binary that queer theory is supposed to be working against.

  19. Kate says:

    I always find myself more drawn to the fiction, poetry, and memoirs of queer writers– Stone Butch, DTWOF, Ivan E Coyote, Adrienne Rich, Rubyfruit– and I’d love to find myself equally drawn to a academic theorist. Grad school left me totally disillusioned by theory, but I think there’s still someone writing out there who can resonate with me like other queer genres.

  20. samantha says:

    stone butch blues and s/he were probably the books that really sparked my serious interest in and inquiry into my own femme identity and queer and fluid understandings of gender, and i don’t mean to be cliche but bell hooks was probably the first author i read who really made me think about feminism in a serious way. i absolutely love halberstam’s work, i’m currently reading the queer art of failure (your review/interview for lambda with him was great). and i feel compelled to note that i think jack halberstam is super sexy, for whatever that’s worth.

    thanks for another great interview!

  21. Staci says:

    In terms of Queer Theory, I have a fair amount of love for Halberstam as well as for Michael Warner – I’m thinking the intro to “Fear of a Queer Planet.”

  22. Cuntext says:

    The most personally relevant and important book I read during my gender studies degree was Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera. Most recently, Audre Lorde’s Zami was another amazing one about queerness and gender and race and place and family life. I want this book because I have somehow never had to read Jack Halberstam but have been meaning to for years and years.

  23. Sugarcunt says:

    I absolutely loved Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs. It really changed my perceptions, because it was chauvinism was a behavior that I really never thought about… and when I was 13, I fit the definition of a chauvinist pig pretty well. It was totally interesting.

  24. Ninja says:

    I’d love to get my hands on this new book :) Sounds so interesting! Big up Jack!

  25. GMH says:

    WHaT a great sounding book. Would love a copy

  26. just says:

    This would be a good read.

  27. Reading Female Masculinity really, really changed my life. It was loaned to me by my favorite, super smart femme professor in college. Excited for the new book!

  28. This is wear the generational differences kick in — Halberstam’s work is after my college years. But one of my early exposures to a more radical view of feminism than, “women and men should be paid equally” was Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, which was radical when I first read it, 15 years after it was published, and still is, but differently, 20 years later.
    I’s love to read the new book (and will, even if I’m not lucky enough to win it.)

  29. jess says:

    a taste of power: a black woman’s story by elaine brown

  30. jd says:

    I love jack’s bartleby take on pronouns, as posted on his blog recently: “I would prefer not to.”

  31. longtime follower says:

    please don’t enter me for the drawing, i’m just kind of surprised with all the thinking you do on gender studies and feminism you are uncritically endorsing gaga feminism.

    which is what this post reads as, even if it’s not what you intended?

    1. Sinclair says:

      hmm I’m not sure I’m “uncritically endorsing gaga feminism,” but I did think the book was a good read. I don’t agree with everything, but I think it’s interesting and definitely have been chewing on some of the concepts. I’m not going around calling myself a “gaga feminist,” but I think it’s a good articulation of some of the things that have been changing in gender studies recently.

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