Judith (Jack) Halberstam - Biography
Judith (Jack) Halberstam, Ph.D., (1961-) is one of the leading voices in gender theory and queer studies. She has also written extensively on literature, film and visual arts. Judith Halberstam exploded into the forefront of gender studies with her book Female Masculinity. Judith Halberstam has also written the books The Drag King Book, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, and In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. Judith Halberstam teaches at the University of Southern California. She holds a professorship and directorship of The Center for Feminist Research. Judith Halberstam has also received invitations to lecture on Gender Studies at Harvard University and the University of Basel, Switzerland. Judith Halberstam’s honors include receiving Compton-Noll Award for Best LGBT Essay, UCSD Humanities Center Fellowship, Awarded the Publisher's Triangle Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Non-Fiction for Female Masculinity, REFLAGS Visiting Professor of Gay and Lesbian Studies at Yale University, and Draper Postdoctoral Fellow, Liberal Studies, NYU.
Judith (Jack) Halberstam and Lisa Lowe edit a series called Perverse Modernities: Race, Sex, ad the Break-Up of Knowledge. In this series, Judith (Jack) Halberstam and Lisa Lowe select books to publish that critique and examine the problems of knowing practices and communities. Halberstam promotes voices that examine alternate constructions of culture in modernity.
Judith (Jack) Halberstam’s research interests include the formation of masculinity in women. One of her main concerns in these works is the so-called “bathroom problem.” This issue is centered on spaces that are gender-policed. The public bathroom has become the archetypal place of gender-policing. Her studies examine the problematics associated with “passing” in these spaces.
In addition to Judith (Jack) Halberstam’s writing, she has given many lectures and has participated in many panels, including “Transgender in a Global Frame,” (University of Basel) “Bois, Girls and Trans-generations,” (Goldsmiths College), “Re-Visioning Gender: The Future of Gender Studies” (Braunschweig University), “Notes on Failure” (University of Illinois), “Queer Covers: Big Mama Thorton, Lesbians on Ecstasy and the Recycling of Political Culture,” (McGill University), “Queering the Western: Brokeback Mountain in Context” (BFI London), “Forget Family: Queer Studies and Anti-Oedipal Discourse,” and “Rural Space and Queer Identities.” The varied topics of her lectures and panels are indicative of her general interests since she continues to investigate the transitional boarders or gender in specific contexts.
Judith (Jack) Halberstam was born on December 15, 1961. Halberstam has spoken little about her personal life. However in one interview, she describes her immediate paternal family history. Her father was a Czech Jew who was forced to flee from Czechoslovakia during World War II. He entered England as a refugee. His mother (Halberstam’s grandmother) was deported to a concentration camp where she died in 1942. The historical context from which Halberstam’s family arises seems to have implications on her intellectual development.
The University of California at Berkeley awarded Judith (Jack) Halberstam a Bachelors Degree in English in 1985. In 1989, the University of Minnesota awarded Halberstam a Masters Degree. Two years later, Halberstam received her Doctorate from the University of Minnesota. Judith Halberstam's dissertation focused on the confluence of homophobia and anti-semitism in the production of a monstrous other.
In 1998, Duke University Press released Judith (Jack) Halberstam’s seminal Female Masculinity. In this work, Judith (Jack) Halberstam argues that the formation of white masculinity in men is not an essential component in the formation of masculine identity. It is only one possible formation of masculinity. For Judith Halberstam, the burden of masculinity is a difficult subject to be sympathetic to since this burden manifests in violence and the destruction of women. Ultimately, Judith Halberstam maintains that in giving White Male Masculinity a preferable place in criticism, alternate masculinities as embodied by women are undervalued.
In the previous year (1997), Judith Halberstam examined a similar subject in a booklength collaboration with the photographer Del LaGrace. This project was entitled Drag Kings: Queer Masculinities in Focus. For Judith Halberstam, the drag king is an important subject since the population conflates and complicates ideas of gender and sexuality. Judith Halberstam also examines the relationship between race and masculinity. Judith Halberstam observed that many performers were women of color. She suggests that for white women, the constructions of white masculinity might not be penetrated. One of the central lessons that Halberstam learned from this project is that theory and facts are often distant from each other. Her ethnographic examination revealed that when her subjects were questioned about her theories, the subjects dismissed them.
Judith (Jack) Halberstam does not find unity an inherently desirable quality in a social group. Judith Halberstam argues that consensus destroys subtleties. To this end in the article Imagined Violence/Queer Violence: Representation, Rage, and Resistance, Judith Halberstam argues that imagined violence produces a utopia in which consequences are not real but are on the verge of occurring. From this imagined violence, white heterosexual masculinity can be undermined.
Judith Halberstam’s book, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, examines queer subcultures. Halberstam defines queer as non-hegemonic systems and logics of gender embodiment, sexual identifications and communities in relation to spatial and temporal activity. Halberstam studies how people in these subcultures experience time and space in a mode that is significantly different from the time and space experienced by the heteronormative familial majority.
In In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, Judith (Jack) Halberstam examines the both the real life tragedy of the transgendered Teena Brandon and the film recounting of the tragedy, Boys Don’t Cry. Halberstam describes the scene in which Teena (who has chosen to go by the name Brandon) is forced to reveal her anatomical gender.
In the scene, a group of social associates confront Brandon about his anatomical gender, while she is at the house of his girlfriend’s mother. His girlfriend intercedes and removes her from the direct hostility to supposedly check on the gender. This quiet space is an interlude in the violence of the normative perception of time and space. The bedroom offers a fantastic space in which the girl and queer boy can form a safe zone if only temporarily. In the queer space, the girlfriend offers Brandon a gaze, which sees the “truth” and not anatomical determinism. For Judith Halberstam, queer time emerges from a postmodern conception of the world and represents the departure from the heteronormative insistence on reproduction and the longevity it seemingly offers. Queer space refers to the production of places in which queer people interact and create new conceptions of queerness.
Some critics view Judith (Jack) Halberstam’s work as reinforcing gender binaries. However, Judith Halberstam argues that the goal of criticizing the gender binary is to observe existing categories, but also to add new and ignored categories to the whole. Judith Halberstam understands the criticism, but suggests that her detractors use her acknowledgement of traditional gender identities to make such a claim.
Like other feminist and queer critics including Donna Haraway and Sandy Stone, Judith Halberstam examines the Cyborg formation in gender in Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine. She examines the possibility of how technology might affect the formation of gender. Judith (Jack) Halberstam suggests the conflation of identifications makes it difficult to distinguish the natural self and the technological self. She imagines that Cybernetic entities are already manifest in society.
In her recent work, Judith (Jack) Halberstam has examined so-called “silly culture” and other forms of alternative knowledges. In these formations, the cartoon character SpongeBob Square Pants can coexist with theorists and philosophers as producers of knowledge.