Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2012-09-18

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

2012-05-30

SUMMER BEACH READS: Kate Bornstein’s A Queer and Pleasant Danger

Hey friends! I’m starting a new blog series about Summer beach reads–I’ve got a nice stack of books to recommend for you.

To kick this Summer series off, I have the honor of hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Kate Bornstein’s new incredible memoir

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Kate Bornstein is probably one of the sweetest and kindest humans I have ever met. She is iconic, inspirational, and gorgeous. In her memoir she describes herself as a puppy dog and I think that is absolutely correct; she brings that level of joy and excitement to interpersonal interactions and onstage.

The book is what I would describe as a “Chatty Memoir,” the kind that is written as though she’s sitting across from you lounging in your living room telling you her life story. It’s so engaging. She often addresses the reader as a pal, telling us to go ahead and google things while she waits. I’ve read a lot of Kate’s theory and seen her perform and keynote events but never got the full scoop of what she’s gone through. I mean, the process of getting to be a charming babe like Kate Bornstein is no less than spectacular. She went to an all-boys prep school and is one of the only two women degree holders from Brown University prior to 1970. She totally could have been a Normal and she isn’t. She chose to follow her truth and live an extraordinary life, often with great opposition, but by following her heart she came out on top.

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And beyond just telling us the who, where, what and how of her life, she’s extremely revealing about her process. Not just some of the deepest parts of her personality (as Kate says in the book, “Life’s better without secrets,”), like her diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, but also the internal process of what it was like to be here. She cracks open her heart and shows us the internal realities of growing-up and adulthood prior to transitioning, many ongoing touchstones of what it was like knowing she was “girl,” how she related to it and how she either leaned into it or away from it with facial hair, sex, weight and clothing. Her lifelong battle with anorexia, how she learned to starve herself and then how she learned to think she could be pretty while being voluptuous. What it is like as a cutter, the pain and relief and how she used it to get through. Vivid plans for suicide attempts.

I’ll be honest, parts of it were a little hard to read, but for me not the ones you might think. She describes the above processes in detail and I found those confessions comforting–we’re raised in this culture not to talk about that and not a lot of artists are brave enough to talk about all of this at once.

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Me, Kate and her girlfriend Barbara Carrellas at Rebel Cupcake.

What I found hard to read was the huge section on Scientology! You guys, don’t ever take that free personality test! Did you read that 26 page article in the New Yorker about Scientology? I did and it freaked me out. I learned even more about what goes on in Scientology from this book and I had a crazy nightmare a few nights ago while in this section that Tom Cruise was trying to kill me. Kate’s memoir will convince you to never take that personality test for real.

Another thing that stuns me about how awesome Kate is as a human and a writer–the perspective of compassion she writes the book from. Having compassion for ourselves and others is probably one of the best places to live a life of peace. (I learned that from my friend V’s last blog post and it has changed my life.) There is a sweetness to Kate’s memoir that is as kind and charming as Kate herself. No matter all of the awful things she’s gone through, she’s come out of it stronger and more interesting, and to maintain that perspective of compassion is truly inspirational.

I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Queer and Pleasant Danger ASAP and schlep it with you to the beach. It’s so worth the weight of a brand new release. (And it’s also available for Kindle or whatever other e-reader you use!)

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Kate reading the section from the memoir about being a 24/7 slave to a Butch/Femme couple in Seattle on an iPad. Maybe an iPad’s not great for the beach, but whatver, read it en route.

I leave you with this quote I found incredibly touching from Kate’s mom. “No matter how your world falls apart–and honey, that’s what happens: we all build ourselves a world and then it falls apart–but no matter how that happens you still have the kind heart you’ve had since you were a child, and that’s what really counts.”

SPECIAL BONUS FEATURE: Here I am introducing Kate and she reads a little piece from the memoir. This video shot by Rebel Cupcake videographer Laura Delarato!

But you don’t have to take my word for it! Here are the other stops on the blog tour:

Monday, May 28th: en│Gender

Tuesday, May 29th : io9

Wednesday, May 30th: Queer Fat Femme (That’s Me!)

Thursday, May 31st: Large Hearted Boy

Friday, June 1st: Random House Blog

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2009-04-20

The Queer Fat Femme Stop on the Femmethology Blog Tour

Today is my day on the Femmethology blog tour! It’s like we’re riding a virtual pink sparkly magic bus and I’m up front showing you what’s to your right, to your left and just past that next building over there if you squint a little and that UPS truck gets out of the way!

If you’d like a preview of some of the work from the book, check out the latest episode of FemmeCast, Episode 8. The first installment in the Cripping Femme series is the essay by Leslie Freeman from the book. “Essence/Artifice”. It’s moving and powerful. Coming up on FemmeCast, Margaret Price’s essay “Not That Girl” will be featured as the next installment of Cripping Femme and part of my courtship themed episode (Episode 10)!

Anyway, lots of people on the tour have reviewed the pdf of the book sent to them or talked about what Femme means to them and all of that. I’m here to talk about some of the authors.

Basically, here’s the deal about anthologies–the authors don’t make any money. Maybe they get a copy of the book and upwards of $50 (the Femmethology authors I talked to got a copy of the volume they’re featured in and according to one author, contributors are paid royalties). Even royalties are dicey because they only kick in once the book is turning a profit and are split! Anthology authors submit for the publicity, contributing to a greater discussion and the chance to have their voice heard, which is super important.

However, in these “troubled economic times” or as I like to call it “The Hateful Bush Economy” it is extremely crucial to support art made for our community, by our community. Since so many of the authors in the book submitted for the love of Femme community and don’t get paid for it, I thought I would throw back a little love at them!


Me and Damien hosting Speaking of Femme NYC. Our next one is scheduled for June 3 at Bluestockings!
DAMIEN LUXE (billed in the book as Hadassah Hill but is giving herself a new name for her 30th birthday) is a NYC based performance artist, writer and DIY media mogul. She’s also my co-Head Madam in the NYC Femme Family and probably one of the most community-oriented people I know. Right now she’s obsessed with getting a van, so if you know of any good deals within driving distance of NYC let her know.

You can buy her cd through cd baby right here, or at her website right here.


CHERRY POPPINS (in the book as Allison Stelly) is a fierce Femme activist, community organizer and dragster from Austin, TX. I met her at a Femme workshop at IDKE in Chicago, in 2004. She has a lot of different projects and performances going on, including being the forefront of the Femme ATX chapter of the Femme Mafia. She’s also sometimes a purveyor of amazing Femme crafts on Etsy (but is on hiatus right now) and her currect passion project is the Queertastiks, a subversive, mixed-gender, body positive queerleading squad using cheer-based performance art and dance as a tool for social justice.

If you find yourself in and around Austin sometime soon, check them out!


LEAH LAKSHMI PIEPZNA-SAMARASINHA is one of my besties, a spoken word artist and writer. My favorite line from any of her poems is “Love is an anarchic bitch”. Too true! She’s finishing up her MFA at Mills College and someday soon her memoirs are going to drop. In the meantime, you can buy her book “Consensual Genocide” at Tsar Books by searching for the title or Leah’s name. Piepzna-Samarasinha is her last name. She also performs her one-woman show “Grown Woman Show” all over the place (and can be booked for your college gig by emailing brownstargirl at gmail) and the tour that she co-curates, Mangos with Chili, is going on a Southern route in the fall, so check our their dates when released. Mangos with Chili is truly phenominal.

Leah also co-founded the Femme Sharks, is a correspondent on FemmeCast and talks really fast because the faster she talks the faster she’ll change the world. That’s my theory.


GINA DE VRIES is a San Francisco-based queer fat femme writer and spoken word performer who has been out and publishing since she was, like, 13. She’s really sweet and earnest and community-minded and really fun to have out at brunch. Her website is comprehensive, and tells you about all of her events, including a monthly sex workers writing workshop. The name from her website (Queer Shoulder) is from the Allen Ginsberg quote “America, I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” Gina proves it again and again by working hard to bring her light and art to the world!

When you see work by the Femmethology authors out and about, snatch it up! Most of them are up and coming and can use the community support.

The rest of the Femmethology tour dates are below, check out what those tour guides have to offer!

4/1. Sugarbutch Chronicles

4/2. Ellie Lumpesse
4/3. Queer-o-mat
4/6. Catalina Loves
4/7. cross-post: The Femme’s Guide and Femme Fagette
4/8. Daphne Gottlieb

4/9. Bilerico Project
4/10. Screaming Lemur: Femme-inism and Other Things
4/13. The Femme Hinterland
4/14. Bochinche Bilingüe: Borderlands Writing and The Vagina Adventures
4/15. Dorothy Surrenders

4/16. Miss Avarice Speaks Her Mind
4/17. The Femme Show
4/18. CyDy Blog
4/19. Sexuality Happens
4/20. Queer Fat Femme
4/21. Sublimefemme Unbound

4/22. Tina-cious.com and Jess I Am (butch-femme couple day!)
4/23. FemmeIsMyGender
4/24. The Lesbian Lifestyle
4/25. Femme Fluff

4/26. Weldable Cookies
4/27. The Verbosery
4/28. A Consuming Desire and Creative Xicana
4/29. Queercents
4/30. en|Gender

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