Genders 29 1999
Masculinity Without Men
Annamarie Jagose interviews Judith Halberstam
About Her Latest Book, Female Masculinity
Click on each image to see an enlargement of it.|
 JAGOSE: The critical efficacy of the phrase "female masculinity" obviously derives, in large part, from its flaunting of its oxymoronic effect. Yet--post-Butler and the near-universal critical, political and sub-cultural mobilisation of her understanding that gender is performative--there is another sense in which the assault on the coherence of long-reified gender oppositions implicit in your notion of "female masculinity" seems almost inevitable, a necessary moment in late-twentieth century theorising of gender and all it entails. How did the concept of female masculinity evolve for you as a critical term?
 HALBERSTAM: "Female Masculinity" emerged for me as a term that was implicit in many different discussions of gender, gender performativity, constructivism and so on but was never named as such. In my book I actually argue that despite an almost universal concurrence that femaleness does not automatically produce femininity and maleness does not produce masculinity, very few people seemed to be noticing or thinking through the material effects of disassociating sex and gender and this has been particularly true in the sphere of masculinity. Since femininity signifies in general as the effect of artifice, as the essence of "performativity" (if performativity can be said to have an essence), we have an easier time understanding it as transferable, mobile, fluid. But masculinity has an altogether different relation to performance, the real and the natural and it appears to be far more difficult to pry masculinity and maleness apart than femininity and femaleness.
 JAGOSE: Some of your ambition for female masculinity as a concept, then, comes from your sense that it might usefully shake up the complacency of that pigeon pair, femininity and masculinity?
 HALBERSTAM: The term "female masculinity" stages several different kinds of interventions into contemporary gender theory and practice. First, it challenges the notion that genders are symmetrical - in other words saying that gender is "performative" may be particularly helpful when thinking about femininity but less useful in relation to masculinity. Masculinity, in fact, often presents as non-performative or anti-performative (think of Clint Eastwood's laconic roles for example). Second, female masculinity disrupts contemporary cultural studies accounts of masculinity within which masculinity always boils down to something like "the social, cultural and political effects of male embodiment and male privilege." I hope my book will force masculinity studies to make a radical break from white men's studies. In this respect I see my work intersecting with work on queer masculinities of color by Philip Brian Harper, Jose Munoz and others. Third, female masculinity names a disruptive current in the history of feminism and lesbianism. Feminism in some of its forms in the 1970's marked out a terrain of outlawed behavior using the term "male-identified." This term usually meant "heterosexual women who identified through or with their male partners" and butch lesbians who were not "women-identified women" but "men-identified women." The effect of the term "male-identified" I believe was to punish the most visible and out gay women for their masculinity and set up feminism as the study of femininity. The history of female masculinity for this reason only slightly overlaps with the history of lesbian feminism; it is more properly a history of male-identified women. In my book I begin this history with the nineteenth-century gentlewoman Ann Lister, a cross-identified woman who wrote extensive journals about her desires and identifications and I continue this history through Radclyffe Hall, sexological studies of inverts, 1950's stone butches and 1990's drag kings. This history is not exactly a lesbian history, inasmuch as "lesbian" as a marker refers to the history of women-identified women. I believe other work currently in progress by Lisa Duggan, Laura Doan and others will add to these "other" non-lesbian histories of same-sex nineteenth- and twentieth-century desire.1
 JAGOSE So, if your use of female masculinity makes scrupulous distinctions between historical categories which have tended, in less careful hands, to be recuperated for the history of lesbianism, is it to be anticipated that in your accounts of contemporary culture female masculinity goes on complicating and finetuning current understandings of gendered and sexual possibilities?
 HALBERSTAM: Yes: the genesis of my thinking through and about female masculinity probably came from some desire in the early 1990's to mark a place for cross-identifying women which did not fold neatly into community and medical models of transsexuality. As Female-To-Male transsexuals became more numerous and more visible in urban queer communities, there was inevitably a reshuffling of categories and etiologies. Young people coming out in this decade may be forgiven for not quite knowing what their experiences of cross-identification may mean. If "lesbian" in this context becomes the term for women who experience themselves as female and desire other women and if "FTM transsexual" becomes the term for female-born people who experience prolonged male-identification and think of themselves as male,then what happens to those female-born people who think of themselves as masculine but not necessarily male and certainly not female? We do use the term "butch" for this last category but I try to extend the term butch beyond its 1950's context and its inevitable coupling with "femme" and I locate it in a larger terrain - female masculinity. My thinking in this area has been immeasurably enriched by reading the work of FTM theorists like Jacob Hale and Jay Prosser. Prosser's book, Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuals, is very much in dialogue with my work.2
 HALBERSTAM For me, the term female masculinity also records what can only be called a "taxonomical impulse." My book argues for greater taxonomical complexity in our queer histories. Unlike a theorist like Butler who sees categories as perpetually suspect, I embrace categorization as a way of creating places for acts, identities and modes of being which otherwise remain unnamable. I also think that the proliferation of categories offers an alternative to the mundane humanist claim that categories inhibit the unique self and creates boxes for an otherwise indomitable spirit. People who don't think they inhabit categories usually benefit from not naming their location. I try to offer some new names for formerly uninhabitable locations. In fact, my inspiration for taxonomizing comes from Eve Sedgwick's introduction to Epistemology of the Closet where she offers up a list of ways that people could map sexualities and desires. Her list refuses the banality of the homo-hetero binary and suggests that we are limited not simply by the law but by a failure of the imagination. I hope my work can help to reimagine the complex set of relations between sexuality, gender, race and class.3
 JAGOSE: Certainly your recent work has been revisiting - perhaps in some important sense, reinventing - categories of gendered identity. This seems to me a provocative critical move since many queer theorists - and, arguably, the most resistant effects of queer itself - are working against identificatory taxonomies, perhaps particularly those sexual taxonomies allegedly stitched up by gender. I read your work on female masculinity as being in sympathy with the denaturalising gestures at the heart of those queer projects. Yet opposing what you characterise as a mundane humanism, you say, in an idiom not much heard these days, "I embrace categorization." I am interested in this embrace of yours, the way in which it resists the increasingly spooky assumption that recourse to categories of self or categories of gendered embodiment are necessarily bound to essentialist or conservative projects. Yet it seems to me that the near critical consensus on this rests not on the humanist principles that you index here but the more plausible post-Foucaldian axiom that categories of identification are most banally in the service of the technologies of regulation. Is this distinction registered in your articulation of new "acts, identities and modes of being" in relation to female masculinity?
 HALBERSTAM: This is obviously a complicated question but it does register important
concerns about a tactic of "productive classification." Of course, as you
say, queer theory has been much preoccupied with the relationship between
identity and regulation; post-Foucault, as you suggest, we recognize that
to embrace identities can simply form part of a reverse discourse within
which medically constructed categories are lent the weight of realness by
people's willingness to occupy those categories.
 HALBERSTAM: However, I think that we have allowed this Foucauldian insight to redirect discussions of identification away from the subject of categories themselves. The term "reverse discourse" in The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 identifies and
rejects the traditional formulations of gay and lesbian political struggle
as essentially oppositional. Since certain sexual liberation discourses,
recapitulate the very terms of the homo/hetero binary which oppress us in
the first place, then these discourses become part of the installation of
the very sexual hierarchy that they seek to oppose. However, Foucault also
understands emancipation struggles as strategically and historically
necessary; furthermore, a "reverse discourse" is in no way the "same" as
the discourse it reverses. Indeed its desire for reversal is a desire for
 HALBERSTAM: Consequently, I don't see the point of simply rejecting all reverse discourses per se (coming out, organizing, producing new categories) but I do think it is
limited to think of them (coming out, for example) as end points: Foucault
clearly believes that resistance has to go beyond the taking of a name ("I
am a lesbian") and must produce creative new forms of resistance by assuming
and empowering a marginal positionality.
 JAGOSE: So what kind of marginal positionalities are you thinking of here?
 HALBERSTAM: Well, like a historian such as George Chauncey, I am less interested in expert-produced categories ("the homosexual," "the invert," "the transsexual") and far more interested in sexual vernaculars or the categories produced and sustained within sexual
subcultures. Obviously, a project like this originates with the work of
Gayle Rubin who has spoken eloquently about the limits of expert discourses
on sexuality (like psychoanalysis) and the importance of questions of
"sexual ethnogenesis" or the formation of sexual communities. I think
scientific discourses have tended to narrow our ability to imagine
sexuality and gender otherwise and in general the discussions that take
place in medical communities about embodiment and desire may be way behind
the discussions taking place on email lists, in support groups and in sex
clubs. Doctors use categories in very different ways THAN people cruising
for a sexual partner use categories. I think we should take over the
prerogative of naming our EXPERIENCES and identifications.5
 HALBERSTAM: Nowhere has this been clearer in recent years than in relation to the experience we call "transgendered." Transgender is for the most part a vernacular term
developed within gender communities to account for the cross-identification
experiences of people who may not accept the protocols and strictures of
transsexuality. Such people understand cross-identification as a crucial
part of their gendered self but they may pick and choose among the options
of body modification, social presentation and legal recognition available
to them. So, you may find that a transgender male is a female-born subject
who has had no sex-reassignment surgery, takes testosterone (with or
without medical supervision) and lives as a man mostly but is recognized by
his community as a transgendered man in particular. In this context, the term "transgender"
refuses the stability that the term "transsexual" may offer
to some folks and embraces more hybrid possibilities for embodiment and
identification. At the same time, I think the term "transsexual" is
undergoing reconstruction by publicly identifiable transsexuals like Kate
Bornstein. In other words, transsexual is not simply the conservative
medical term to transgender's transgressive vernacular; rather, both transsexual and
transgender shift and change in meaning and application in relation to each other
rather than in relation to a hegemonic medical discourse.6
 HALBERSTAM: Finally, if we produce different categories, people are forced to use them and widespread use of these categories does utterly change the landscape of
gender politics. Last night on mainstream cable TV at 10 pm, for example, I
watched an excellent show called "The Transgender Revolution." This program
began in the usual way with a sensationalist introduction pitting those
weird trannies against the rest of "us," but as the program turned its
attention to transgender subjects (some of whom were easily identifiable as
transsexual rather than transgender), the focus shifted and the narrative
changed. Male-to-female transsexual Nancy Nangeroni discussed her decision
to take estrogen, live as a woman but not have genital reconstruction
surgery and she spoke in moving ways about being hybrid. The effect of
these "real lives" was to flesh out the category "transgender" in ways that
altered the meaning of masculinity and femininity profoundly and also
shifted the emphasis away from the strangeness of transgender bodies and
towards the peculiarity of gender hate crimes.7
 JAGOSE: Maybe one of the things worth noting here is the way in which the concept of "female masculinity," while a productively disruptive descriptor, is not itself an identificatory category. That is, I am assuming - unless you tell me differently - that to experience "female masculinity" as a resonant term of self-description is not to identify with anything as formal or coherent as an identity. Rather, one of the valuable characteristics of female masculinity might be its ability to describe in different and incomplete ways sexual subcultures as diverse as some of those you've mentioned already: say, drag kings and butches, for example. Can you give me some fuller idea of the spectrum of acts and identities that you pull together under the rubric of a history of female masculinity?
 HALBERSTAM: It's true that "female masculinity" does not describe an identity
although perhaps it does offer a site for identification. In my book, female masculinity covers a host of cross-identifications: tomboys, butches, masculine heterosexual women, nineteenth century tribades and sapphists, inverts, transgenders, stone butches and soft butches, drag kings, cyber butches, athletes, women with beards, and the list goes on.
 HALBERSTAM: I use the term as a general rubric which avoids the historical specificity of a term like "butch" and allows for the grouping together of a number of different gender affiliations and expressions transhistorically. In relation to pre-
twentieth-century cross-identified women, for example, the terms "lesbian"
and "butch" are singularly unhelpful. If we argue that a nineteenth-century
masculine woman was a "lesbian" we assume that her desire and her gender
presentation were organized and recognized according to contemporary models
of sexuality and gender. If we call her butch, we confer upon her a
vernacular word that she would not have used and would not have had access
to. Furthermore, the assumption that such a woman was "pre-lesbian" or
lesbian lacking access to the language of identity presumes that all
organizations of gender and sexuality in the past have simply progressed
slowly and inevitably towards the organizations we favor today. If we
recognize a nineteenth-century cross-identified woman within the rubric of
"female masculinity," we can then grapple with the question of what her
masculinity may have meant to her, to her lovers and to her society.
 HALBERSTAM: Since I understand precise classification as part and parcel of a project
on "female masculinity," the book tries to make ever more particular
distinctions between different historical and cultural forms of female
masculinity. I also try to diversify the category "butch" by recognizing
that different women express their masculinities in different ways and that
variability may have everything to do with social class, ethnicity and
 JAGOSE: Yes, your identification of female masculinity as a distinct phenomenon is amplified by the very many ways in which your book insists on the non-synonymity of its different forms. So you value a critical method which is sensitive to the meshings of female masculinity with a series of historically specific identificatory categories while also maintaining a keen critical pressure on female masculinity's persistence, indeed - as Del LaGrace's and Catherine Opie's photographs evidence - on its sheer visibility.
 HALBERSTAM: I think of "female masculinity" as something eminently legible: people ask me repeatedly what "masculinity" may mean in the term "female masculinity" and the most common follow-up question to that is: "Well, you cannot just mean appearance..."
My response is usually: "What is the meaning of "just" in that sentence."
Since when is appearance a negligible part of the way that people circulate
and communicate in the world? When it comes to female masculinity, and I
realize this sounds ridiculously postmodern, appearance is everything. That
is not to say that masculine women do not experience their masculinity as a
deep or internal identity effect; nor is it to say that female masculinity
is only about how you look. It is to say that the "only" in that statement
is impossible. Masculine women are recognized as masculine for long periods
in their lives. They may cover up their masculinity, they may adjust it,
they may flaunt it but part of what it means to be a masculine woman has to
do with being recognized as non-feminine or unwomanly. Tomboys, for
example, partly construct themselves as rebellious or sporty girls and
partly they are constructed within the highly scrutinized context of
childhood as "not-girly." When I was young, I was mistaken for a boy nearly every
day; misrecognition in this context, I would argue, adds up and eventually
or even immediately becomes part of the child's own sense of self. The
tomboy may be a young person for whom misrecognition (her own and other
people's) becomes part of her sense of self. There are many other forms of
misrecognition that are particular to identity formation, some
pathological, (the anorexic, for example, who misrecognizes her body weight)
some pleasurable, but female masculinity names one particular outcome, of
repeated gender misrecognition.
 JAGOSE: I am interested in these notions of recognition and misrecognition and the ways in which they variously reinforce and undermine a sense of gender as authentic. As someone who is accustomed to, but nevertheless each and every time surprised at, being taken for a man in the women's toilets - what you refer to more economically in your book as "the bathroom problem" - there seems to me to be an experiential and perhaps even a useful critical distinction to be made between those moments when female masculinity is actively managed and performed, as by, say, drag kings, and those moments, most frequently, as you note, in the public bathroom (but perhaps we might also include all those service industries whose measure of professionalism is the gendering of their client interface: "A drink for you, sir?"), when gender attributions, perhaps your own, perhaps radically at odds with how you might imagine your self, kind of take you by surprise. Can you talk a little about this distinction in relation to the processes of identity formation you mentioned earlier?
 HALBERSTAM: Yes, well, I guess being mistaken for a man in the restroom does not really take me by surprise. It does take me by surprise when someone actually
calls security (as has happened quite often) but after all I am not
actively presenting myself as "woman" so why should I be recognized as
such? When one is young I think misrecognition can be incredibly difficult
to deal with - its hard to explain to yourself when you have no language
for gender variance. But later on misrecognition is possibly a response to
one's actively managed female masculinity. How do you feel when you get
mistaken for a guy? Do you feel shamed? Annoyed? Do you have a standard
response? Do you ever use the men's room?
 JAGOSE: I don't have a standard response. I always feel ambushed by that misrecognition. I guess the range of responses - which certainly have included savage rushes of shame and milder mannered annoyance but also a kind of contemptuous superiority, to which I am sure I shouldn't be confessing, and a dizzying sense of amusement that my everyday has opened up again to this strange encounter that is already in my head turning itself into an anecdote - maps on to the range of however I might be feeling at the time.
 HALBERSTAM: I am interested in your comment that being mistaken for a man in the
restroom immediately begins to form an anecdote in your head -
misrecognition necessitates narrative really, either a narrative which
corrects the mistake, a narrative which names the effects of gender
variance or a narrative which manages the shame of the encounter.
 JAGOSE: Yes, and maybe the fact that those narratives would all be very different in terms of their effect allows me to return to what I was trying to get at with my earlier question about misrecognition. I was wondering whether you have a sense that female masculinity works productively as both a category of self-identification and a category of other-attribution and, moreover, that at times it might negotiate a gap between one's sense of self and one's public legibility as gender variant.
 HALBERSTAM: I think that in the past female masculinity has actually tended not to work as a category of self- identification but as something that a woman might
get called - "she's a masculine woman," "she's mannish" - that stops short
of lesbian. Women have been identified as masculine in mostly negative ways
as Esther Newton pointed out in "The Mythic Mannish Lesbian" - the mannish
woman is mythic because omnipresent and transhistorical but also mythic
because she is the stereotype against whom all other lesbians are judged. I
try to occupy the category of female masculinity, make myself at home in it
and making it hospitable to others who have felt either left "outside
belonging" (as Elspeth Probyn puts it) or who have felt penalized by their
 JAGOSE: Your use of the metaphor of home here reminds me of Female Masculinity's discussion of the very different metaphors of migration in discourses of transsexuality. Of course, the subtitle of the relevant chapter - "Transgender Butch: Butch/FTM Border Wars and the Masculine Continuum" - invokes precisely the fraught disputes that follow understandings of identity as territorial. Can you outline what you see as the central issues for thinking about transgender, transsexual and lesbian masculinities?
 HALBERSTAM: Let me comment first on the use of this metaphor of the border. I noticed a few years ago that "border wars" had emerged as a term to describe conflicts between FTM's and butches over the meaning of their masculinities and their life narratives. Many FTM's wanted to insist that their life narratives were definitively different than butch life narratives and many butches wanted to deny that difference in order to suggest that there exists an element of choice in relation to the question of whether or not to transition. People wanted to identify the place where butch identity or self-recognition ended and transsexual self-definitions began and predictably, I think, lines were drawn and community battles ensued. Borders were used metaphorically to describe difference in the context of transitioning lives - but, of course, using "border" as a metaphor has its limits. I live in a border town - San Diego - and I began to be troubled by particularly FTM discourse which referenced coming "home" to one's gender and "crossing over" from female to male. These references to "home" and "belonging," I thought, took place as if debates about home and belonging had not already raged elsewhere in relation to postcolonial discussions of migration and global economies. When FTM's did reference such discussions, it was often to recruit postcolonial concepts for the very different project of ratifying white trans-masculinities. Although I think this does not come across clearly enough in my chapter, I felt that the border metaphor was being adopted for trans-projects which actually ignored the movements of capital and privilege which were central to other border debates.
 HALBERSTAM: Nowadays, I believe, identity-based conflicts are less pervasive and people interested in transgender politics are not using "border" only as a metaphor. We are beginning to think instead about the ways in which racial identities, class backgrounds and immigration histories have a profound impact upon one's experience of transsexuality, one's access to health care and community, one's social role post-transition. While many of the early debates that we call "border wars" took place within and among white transsexual and lesbian/gay communities, more recent discussions have occurred among and between queer communities of color. This year, for example, the Audre Lorde Project (a queer people of color group) "Transworld: The Fourth New York City" hosted "Transworld," the 4th Annual NYC Transgender and Transexual Health Empowerment Conference." This conference was a great success and it comfortably accommodated panels on globalization, immigration and sex work under the heading of transgender politics.
 HALBERSTAM: The central issues for the future in thinking about transsexual/transgender and lesbian masculinities will involve far more rigorous attention to the very different meanings of masculinity produced in very different sites. I have attended a couple of Butch/FTM panel discussions in the past year or so and they have inevitably involved 3 or 4 white butches and FTM's producing their personal narratives and then arguing over the meaning of those personal narratives. I think the challenge for white butches and FTM's is to move beyond testimony and beyond identity battles and to think carefully about our productions of white masculinity and learn from the discussions around masculinities of color.
 JAGOSE: In order to be a bit more specific about what this challenge might look like or what sorts of learning trajectories it might involve, can we talk a little about your work on drag kings, which addresses the theatricalised interaction of white masculinities and masculinities of color? On looking at Del LaGrace's photographs that run with your Social Text essay on drag kings, the fit between certain specific forms of masculinity and the racial or ethnic identity of the drag king performers is highly visible. I am thinking about Shon and Dred's Run-D.M.C partnership, Uncle Louie's white trash trucker or your own dandyish appropriation of the suit's conferral of manhood. At one level, the "realness" of the drag king's performance is reinforced or even enabled by the seeming coherence of race or ethnicity as a signifying practice. How might this meshing of gender and race/ ethnicity enable a rethinking of masculinity?9
 HALBERSTAM: The appeal of drag king culture to me originally was precisely that I felt it did enable a rethinking of masculinity and a rethinking moreover that centrally involved the performance of racial and classed masculinities. In the early drag king contests that I describe in the Social Text article it was so obvious that there were huge differences in terms of theatricality and performance between the black, white, Asian and latina drag kings. The difference was obvious at least in part on account of audience response. The mostly black and latina audiences at HerShe Bar in New York responded wildly to the rap acts and hip hop dancing black and latina drag kings and they responded with only luke warm enthusiasm to the white kings in suits and ties. The white kings even complained that there was no way they could win a drag king contest with that audience. But over the last two years, the drag king scene has become ever more complicated - the white kings have become far more theatrical, the black kings do more than rap and funk. New York, of course, offers only one social landscape for drag king culture and drag king cultures change profoundly depending upon where one finds them. By far the most exciting drag king scene in the United States at present is in the Midwest in Columbus, Ohio where the H.I.S. Kings perform monthly for huge screaming audiences of fans. The H.I.S. Kings are more like a theater troupe than a club cohort and they have up to 20 active performing drag kings of different ethnicities and class backgrounds.
 HALBERSTAM: And since you brought it up, I'll address the use of my own photo in Female Masculinity. Thanks for the "dandy" comment: I think I was going for a cheeky but competent kind of masculinity in the suit and tie image. The photo was taken by Del LaGrace, with whom I had been working at that point for over a year on The Drag King Book. I had watched Del take pictures of drag kings and I was so impressed by the way he slowly developed a rapport with each subject and then worked his way into their confidence. By the time Del was taking pictures of a drag king, he was a trusted friend, a fellow conspirator, never an outsider or intruder, always a sympathetic eye. When he took some pictures of me, I learned a little about Del's technique, his ability to find points of identification and desire between himself and his subject and then play them out in the creation of photos. As a photographic subject, you become an extension of Del, you become his performance of masculinity as well as your own, you find new ways to express identity. I am a particularly uncomfortable subject for the camera but I was also very happy to have these photos in the book because they provide a visual referent for my own masculinity and this forces the reader of my work to factor me into the accounts of masculinity that they are reading. The photos are not simply idle self-promotion (although they may be that in part). They are also testaments to the female masculinity I live and wear everyday.10
 JAGOSE: Yes, even the least studied of Del's photographs could hardly be called "idle" given the way they register a particular investment in the rendering visible of female masculinity. (IMAGE 11 COWBOY ON HILL) Is this recording of female masculinity within the field of vision a significant part of the project of The Drag King Book?
 HALBERSTAM: Definitely. In fact Del and I had a very difficult time finding a
publisher willing to do the book as photograph/ text hybrid. Publishers
either wanted a text book with a few black and white photos or a glossy color photo
book with no text. You would not believe how much the photograph/ text format seemed to trouble publishing houses. Del and I held on to our sense that words and
photos must go together and finally Serpent's Tail came through for us. I
think that publishing lengthy textual analyses of drag kings alongside
photos is risky because the text tends to get lost as people are drawn to
pictures but to present the photos without giving a context for them is to
feed into the mainstream media depictions of drag kings as just a recent
marketing trend removed from community productions of art and knowledge.
 JAGOSE How does The Drag King Book register that interest in community?
 HALBERSTAM: Well, it's significantly different from Female Masculinity in
that it is non-academic and tries to appeal to a general readership. It
includes interviews with drag kings and descriptions of events and relies
heavily upon the drag kings' own statements about their performances. The
book is divided between discussions of New York, San Francisco and London and then has chapters on race, gender, Elvis and masculinities.
 HALBERSTAM: We have a great interview with the Dodge Bros, a drag king band from San Francisco. The two main members of the Dodge Bros are Harry Dodge (a performance artist from San Francisco and a bearded woman) and Silas Flipper (guitarist in the band Tribe 8). The Dodge Bros are really interesting to me because they identify as butch
and they see drag kingdom as a place to celebrate the success of their
particular presentations of masculinity--they talk in very humorous ways
about their female fans, mostly straight women, who come to their shows
with their boyfriends, but leave with the drag kings! While this plays
into the most stereotypical forms of masculine competition over women, it
also does rewrite "butch" as powerful and attractive rather than pathetic
and ugly. The Dodge Bros represent for me a very significant current of
a drag king butch aesthetic. It is also opposed to recent representations
of drag kings as "sexy women" who dress up in drag to hide their obvious
femininity and then strip down to show the woman beneath the suit. In John
Waters' recent film Pecker, for example, New York drag king Mo B Dick plays a
stripper at the beginning of the film, a drag king at the end and then in
the closing scene she strips off her drag to reveal the stripper again.
While I am glad that Mo got much deserved publicity for this role, I think
Waters deliberately defused the threat and the power of the drag king act
by insisting upon the revelation of the female body and by turning the act
into a voyeuristic spectacle for straight men. Kings like the Dodge Bros
do not solicit a male gaze, they threaten to deploy one!
1. Philip Brian Harper, Are We Not Men? : Masculine Anxiety and the Problem of African-American Identity (New York : Oxford University Press, 1996); Jose Munoz, Disidentifications: Performing Race and Sex (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1998); Lisa Duggan, "The Trials of Alice Mitchell: Sensationalism, Sexology and the Lesbian Subject in Turn-of-the-Century America," Signs, vol. 18, no.4 (Summer 1993): 791-814; Laura Doan, Fashioning Sappho in the 1920s: The Origins of Modern English Lesbian Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, forthcoming).
2. Jacob Hale, "Consuming the Living, Dis(re)membering the Dead in the Butch/FTM Borderlands," GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Vol. 4, no. 2, "The Transgender Issue," ed. Susan Stryker (1998): 311-348; Jay Prosser, Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuals (New York: University of Columbia, 1998).
3. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, Routledge, 1990); Judith Butler, "Afterword" in Butch/Femme: Inside Lesbian Gender, ed. Sally Munt (London: Cassell, 1998); Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).
4. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Pantheon, 1978).
5. George Chauncey, "Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and the Construction of Sexual Boundaries in the World War 1 Era" in Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, ed. Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus and George Chauncey, Jr. (New York: Penguin, 1989): 294-317; George Chauncey, Gay New York : Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1995); Gayle Rubin, "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality" in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole Vance (Boston: Routledge, Kegan and Paul, 1984): 267-319; Gayle Rubin with Judith Butler, "Sexual Traffic: An Interview," Differences, vol. 6, "More Gender Trouble: Feminism Meets Queer Theory," (Summer-Fall 1994): 62-99.
6. Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us (New York: Routledge, 1994); Kate Bornstein, My Gender Workbook : How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely (New York: Routledge, 1998).
7. "The Transgender Revolution," aired October 5, 1998 10pm on A&E.
8. Esther Newton, "The Mythic Mannish Lesbian: Radclyffe Hall and the New Woman." Signs 9 no. 4 (Summer 1984): 557-75; Elspeth Probyn, Outside Belongings (New York: Routledge, 1996).
9. Judith Halberstam, "Mackdaddy, Superfly, Rapper: Gender, Race and Masculinity in the Drag King Scene," Social Text, 52-53 (Fall/Winter 1997): 53-79.
10. Judith Halberstam and Del LaGrace, The Drag King Book (London: Serpent's Tail, 1998).
JUDITH HALBERSTAM is an Associate Professor in the Department of Literature at the University of California, San Diego. Her latest book, Female Masculinity, was published by Duke University Press in October 1998. She is interviewed here by ANNAMARIE JAGOSE, Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Melbourne and a member of the Genders editorial board.
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