Q & A with Gaga Feminism Author J. Jack Halberstam and Book Giveaway

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When I was asked to be part of the Gaga Feminism blog tour, I engaged my collaborator and dear friend Taylor Black to help me write some questions for QueerFatFemme.com. We’ve had bourbon/coke zero/cherry juice discussions about Jack Halberstam’s work before. Gaga Feminism, out this week from Beacon Press, is the latest in the academic arsenal of the USC professor, blogger, and ubiquitous Queer Studies scholar.

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Me and Taylor performing Bob Dylan at Rebel Cupcake. Photo by Ms. Liederman.

Check out what Jack has to say about desire, feminism, Lady Gaga and failure below. Beacon Press is giving away a copy of the book at the bottom of this post!

QFF: In Gaga Feminism you acknowledge Lady Gaga as a post-Warholian pop hybrid. Today it seems it’s not enough for our pop singers to just be good showmen, like Prince or Dolly Parton, but they have to do it all: Catchy recycled pop tunes/performance art/pushing sexual boundaries/becoming a new feminist icon enough to have a branch of feminism named after them. Is there a place in mainstream culture for just a showman? Someone who gets famous just being talented and doing what they do instead of being a Gagaesque “Fame Monster?”

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Jack Halberstam, photo by Assaf Evron.

Jack: In truth, no one ever just gets famous for being talented – there are hundred, no thousands, no millions of talented and smart and original people in the world but only a few become famous and only a very few become mega global brand names like Lady Gaga. I happen to think Lady Gaga is extraordinarily talented and smart but not just because of what she says but on account of the way she markets her image, captures an ever expanding media market and makes body art out of her live and video performances. Lady Gaga calls herself a “student of fame” and like Andy Warhol she thought very carefully about how to make an impact, how to use the market and how to manipulate the technologies available to her. In my book, though, Gaga is not just Lady Gaga, it is a practice, a way of being and a style of revolt. Lady Gaga is only one incarnation of that.

QFF: In the introduction to your book The Queer Art of Failure, you cite one of Quentin Crisp’s most famous phrases: “If you try once and don’t succeed, failure may be your style.” In fact, Crisp’s aphorism about failure being a style for queers is given alongside Foucault’s idea that it can also be a way of life. What differences you see between these two statements—between a queer style and a queer way of life? Or is this coupling only to suggest that Crisp and Foucault were saying the same sort of thing in different ways and from different places?

Jack: Right! They were kind of saying the same thing about queer life – Quentin Crisp was articulating a new logic for failure – if at first you don’t succeed, he was basically saying, why on earth would you just keep trying. Maybe our notions of success are not engineered for everyone. For some of us, failure is literally something we aspire to. We strenuously object to the models of success that exist all around us – wealth, conquest, normativity—and we prefer failure as a mode of critique. Foucault’s point about a “queer way of life” is made in the middle of an interview about homophobia and he commented there that what fuels homophobia is rarely the idea of homo-sex simply. What fuels homophobia is a sense that gays and lesbians and trans people actually want to change the way we live; that their queerness stands as a rebuke to the forms of life that heterosexuals have fashioned, consolidated and defended.

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Photo by Kelsey Dickey for Rebel Cupcake.

QFF: It’s pretty clear that Gaga’s “style” isn’t a personal sense of style, it’s more performative outrageousness–part of that “fame monster” situation. As Crisp says, “Style is being yourself on purpose.” How much do you think Gaga’s meteoric popularity has to do with folks believing her style is personal or do you think the “little monsters” know she’s a product of her industry and love her in spite of it?

Jack: Fans always know better than anyone what constitutes their idols’ appeal. Lady Gaga’s little monsters get that Lady Gaga is a performance, one that renounces the personal in favor of the public, one that sacrifices the private for the popular, and a performance that takes in the subcultural worlds that worship Gaga from afar and in turn are worshipped by her.

QFF: I’m wondering if you are familiar with (New York-based academic and PrettyQueer.com and Junebug vs. Hurricane writer) Taylor Black’s work on Quentin Crisp and style and if you could elaborate on your ideas of what style is and how it may be a significant term in contemporary queer studies? Also, while queer style seems to appear in your text as a counterintuitive effort against the logics of heterosexual success, my understanding of style in Taylor’s work is just the opposite: that it is an intuitive force and a form of becoming rather than simply a way of life or a manner of being.

Jack: No, I was not aware of this website or of Taylor Black’s work. It sounds amazing though and I will check it out. Based on your description, I don’t see the discrepancy between my definition of failure and Black’s – my account makes failure into a counter-intuitive site of self-invention. But what makes it counter-intutive is that it turns away from the common sensical embrace of the logics of success. You are saying that failure in Black’s work is also about committing to another way of being or becoming that has its own internal and intuitive logics. Well….exactly! I don’t necessarily make the distinctions between being and becoming, being and performing that you seem to here.

QFF: How has failure influenced your life path?

Jack: Failure has been my life path. I failed to be a girl, to be a woman, to be heterosexual, to be a good student, to pass exams. I fail well every day and I hope to continue to fail. That does not mean that I have not advanced in my career or grown as a person in all kinds of ways but its does mean that I have recrafted the values that are meaningful to me in my career and my personal life.

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Photo by Kelsey Dickey.

QFF: A lot of my work right now explores desire in the queer community. Would you be more or less likely to ask Lady GaGa out on a date if she were not famous? Do you think outrageousness in attire in a queer feminine context makes one more or less desirable for dates in the queer community? Do you think it is anti-feminist to make a blanket statement about desire, for example “I don’t date Femmes/I don’t date Butches/I only date transmen not men?”

Jack: Wow, great questions. Hmm, would I ask Lady Gaga out if she were not famous. Tough question – that is like saying would you ask Lady Gaga out if she were not Lady Gaga? If she were not famous? Who exactly would she be then? As for outrageous attire – depends on the occasion. And as for anti-feminism coming in the form of blanket statements…I probably disagree with that. Feminism is as much about naming one’s desires with precision and care as it is about expressing desire in more amorphous ways. Everyone, even the most polymorphously perverse among us, has likes and dislikes in the realm of desire: I can say with complete confidence that “I don’t date butches or men” but that does not make me anti-feminist, just clear. All sexual orientation and all sexual identities are defined as much by what people will not do as what they desire to do and with whom. Precision is always helpful when it comes to connecting sexually with others…check out personal ads and online dating sites, people who are specific about their desires have a better chance of meeting someone. Now, what is anti-feminist is a kind of phobic rejection of people who fit a stereotype – like lesbians who may well date boyish and androgynous women but say in their personal ads “no butches.” Or gay men who may well like a range of male bodies but say “no fats, no femmes” in their personal ads. These are not boundaries on desires so much as prejudices.

Thanks for your questions!

To win a copy of Gaga Feminism, like the Queer Fat Femme Facebook Fan Page and leave a comment here (see form below) with your favorite Jack Halberstam article or Lady Gaga song. Winner will be selected at random on September 28, 2012.

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Other stops on the Gaga Feminism Blog Tour:

Monday, September 17
My Husband Betty

Tuesday, September 18
Queer Fat Femme (That’s Me!)

Wednesday, September 19
Sugarbutch Chronicles

Thursday, September 20
The Qu

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Comments

  1. lady gaga dedicated her grammy for ‘the gays’. don’t misunderstand this, ladies and trans boys. she does’t like gay girls or FTM trans boys or genderqueers born female. to her we are ugly short fat nothings without dicks. please fellow trans guys, intersexed people, and trans girls who don’t want a clowing screeching nothing to have your trans sisters denigrate, especially when she screches over how gross trans gay guys are and none of her “friends” would ever go near a “lady who wants a dick.” self hatred must be in her blood. it certainly is in my now.

  2. sorry girls, but we have something rather snarky to say. to us, lady gaga may have a lot to give to gay men, drag queens, and flamboyant straight girls who want to “work it”. but at the same time, it seems she has nothing to give to her lesbian fans. it almost seems like so many cis women in hollywood that she finds queer girls (cis and trans) to be disgusting unglamorous, worthless, and downright icky. i don’t know if its because we’re not six foot four and skeletal, or because we don’t have big penises attachted to us, or the ‘glamor’ of the gay man, but let me just say that this woman has never said or done anything for dykes. if at all, she seems like the ultimate fag hag who is desperate to have fag hags like her and just generally repelled at those “icky” gay girls who “obviously” are just not “hawt” enough to get a real man like alejadro, fernando, blah blah blah. please, she is no more a lesbian icon than is lance bass or any other twink who hears the word “pussy” and vomits up their low-cal lunch. no thanks.

  3. I appreciate a lot of what Halberstam says. However, I am concerned that in this interview, other interviews, and quite possibly in this book, that the word “bisexual” is consistently omitted. I only saw the word “heteroflexible” in one interview. For someone who is preoccupied with intersection in feminism (and justly so), J. Jack doesn’t seem very open to the intersection of monosexism, or at least in these interviews. Could someone tell me if or how bi/pansexuality is addresses in this book?

  4. thischarmingtrans says:

    I cannot tell you how disgusted i am by lady gaga and the fact that jack halberstam has embraced this woman as an icon of feminism. i know plenty of gay men who have “born this way” tattoos as well as drag queens (my trans women friends, however, are just as repelled as i am, go figure). these people thrilled as gaga screeched that her reward was “for the gays”. but please, i wish people would realize that gaga couldn’t care less about dykes, genderqueers born female, or trans guys who don’t fit into the binary narrative. she is just one of a long line of cis female performers who find gay men and drag queens “fabulous” and inspire normative cis straight women to fit a very narrow image of womanhood (and cis male worship, including cis gay male worship) while utterly IGNORING the “L” and the “T” (and also the “B”) in GLBT. Bevin, I love your site, and I loved Jack Halberstam’s previous work, but PLEASE don’t fool yourselves: Lady Gaga is nothing more than a stand-in for that gay guy you knew who said “vagina” with a sneer and couldn’t hide how repellent he found you, your fellow queer girls, and any trans person who dared to either not be born with a dick or didn’t denigrate their fellow trans people who weren’t. In case you doubt this to be true, in my community, “Born This Way” is now used as a rallying cry by gay men to exclude trans men from their precious penis spaces. Jack Halberstam needs to align himself with ALL of the queer community–not just those who find Gaga a savior. As for me, I am a pansexual trans boy who was literally shoved off the dance floor (along with my best friend, a trans lesbian, and my boyfriend, a bi cis boy) when Gagaga’s “Born This Way” came on. The rallying cry, by the gaggle of gay cis men who use this song as their rallying cry? “YOU TWO WEREN’T BORN THIS WAY, AND ‘HER’ (SIC) BOYFRIEND IS A FAKE GAY SO HE WASN’T EITHER!” Jack Halberstam needs to examine Gaga’s message. “Lady Gaga” and “feminism” are pretty much as anomalous as “Sarah Palin” and “feminism”. Prior to transition, I always promised myself that once I began being seen by the world as a gay man, I wouldn’t forget the cruelties that I had suffered as a girl growing up and all girls suffer…that to be respected you need to be as white, skeletal, screechy, fake, and in line with hegemonic notions of beauty as Lady Gaga. The fact that a fellow trans man, an academic, and so-called ‘feminist’ is championing this ridiculous parody of pop music is repellent to me in every way shape and form. Why hasn’t Mr. Halberstam written “The Feminism of Katy Perry: How ‘I Kissed A Girl’ Represents True Lesbian Desire” or “The True Trans Feminism of Chaz Bono: He’s Not As Misogynist As He Seems!” I have no idea. Both of these book ideas seem as ludicrous as his Gaga screed. Oh–wait; I do have an idea–the universities are filled with Gaga worshipers who don’t want to hear about kissing girls (even in silly ways) or transitioning (even in Chaz Bono’s patriarchal way). No, they want to be reassured that they can worship Alejandro and Fernando kissing while starving themselves, spending all their time creating telephones out of their hair, NEVER have to think about the “ickiness” of lesbians while still adoring “cute gay boys” and “drag queens” while still convincing themselves that they are good feminists.

  5. I think I’ll have to go with… Bad Romance… haha.

  6. My favorite Gaga song – “Teeth.”

    And I love notions of queerness as a practice of failure – I feel like as a fat queer bi femme, I fail at womanhood AND heterosexuality AND lesbionics every single day!

  7. Rejecting conventional ideas about success is not the same as failure. Try getting laid off, failing to pay your bills on time, failing to get timely health care… Queers, feminists, bohemian types, we have always had our own outsider visions for how life should be. It might be witty & clever to call our unconventional decisions a “failure” to meet expectations but it is also a total load of shit that trivializes the real problems and actual struggles in our community.

  8. Rarah ahahah Roma ohmlala….bad romance :)

  9. My favourite Jack moment was at the Queer Matters conf in London in 2003ish when Jack, in response to a slightly sexist Michael Warner, was all ‘do you ever notice how lesbians are never sexy’. it was a good moment.

    otherwise, queer art of failure.

  10. The Queer Art of Failure is where it’s at.

  11. I <3 <3 <3 The Queer Art of Failure, though Female Masculinity is a close second.

  12. I really love all of In A Queer Time and Place, and also “Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine.” This looks like a great book!

  13. Aahh!! So excited about this giveaway. I even registered for this book on another site (Goodreads) and did not win. So, I love Jack’s (and friends) Bully Bloggers blog (http://bullybloggers.wordpress.com/) and I think my last “Jack” read was the review of Friends with Kids. I quite enjoyed it!

    Also, I love to dance around in my man panties to “Judas!”

  14. WHAT’S THAT SMELL? it’s YOU AND I. <3

  15. I’m still in love with Bad Romance. All the way. Not actually too familiar with Halberstam directly (outside of knowing titles of works), so I’m stoked for this giveaway!

  16. I got to see a talk by Jack on Gaga feminism at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and it was nothing short of incredible. I’m staying on queer time and LOVE the Queer Art of Failure. Low Theory blows my mind and Jack is a HUGE queerspiration for me.

    I also like to play Lady Gaga on my ukulele, so naturally I NEED this book.

  17. Not an article, but a portion of Halberstam’s “Female Masculinity”–JH’s reading of Cleo/Set It Off.

    Gaga Song: Alejandro.

  18. I love Edge of Glory and Poker Face is a close second.

  19. I am a fan and follower both of Bevin and Halberstam. Some of my favorites include The Queer Art of Failure and Female Masculinity but probably my favorite article was from the 2010 public feminism throw-down between Jack and Susan Faludi. Justifiable Matricide: Backlashing Faludi By Jack Halberstam is the best! You can see the article on Bully Bloggers and I would really recommend watching the video embedded there from the Gender Studies and Body Politics Session 3 at The New School.

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