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

2012-08-01

50 Shades of Glitter: On Self-Examination and Shifting Desires

I know some folks whose dating histories are full of first timers on the road to Lesbianville. I have plenty to teach a queer newcomer but that just has not been my path, I’ve never been the first queer for a straight person. However, I am often the first Femme folks have ever gone on dates with or slept with. It’s kind of fun to introduce people to what Femme can be and shattering stereotypes. I find most folks who haven’t dated Femmes before me had a lot of really intense ideas about what Femme is or is not and what Femmes do or do not do.

This also has the bummer byproduct of hearing a lot of femmephobic things from folks who are otherwise attracted to me but who are somehow intimidated or otherwise put-off by my Femme characteristics. This has happened a few times and I’m always left wondering if folks really mean they don’t want to date Femmes or they just don’t want to date me. Frankly, I would be less offended if it was the latter because I think most of the time it speaks to unexamined misogyny and Femmephobia to declare that you don’t date Femmes or aren’t attracted to Femme characteristics. Further, just because you might not be into Bevin’s brand of Femme doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be into other brands of Femme.

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Here I am dressed like a gay Narwhal on a queer booze cruise in May. Heather is also pictured.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I see Femme as a diaspora of femininity. There are a lot of definitions of what Femme means to folks, sometimes this is an identity that is static and sometimes it is fluid and only applies some of the time or to some elements of peoples’ identities. I think Femme is a really sparkly umbrella big enough to fit over all of us. Femme is a venn diagram of femininity and empowerment and the way it manifests on different bodies and sexualities is extremely varied. For some Femme is a gender. For me Femme is how I fit into my sexuality but my gender is something else entirely, much more Muppet.

If we’re coming from a place of acknowledging there are so many different ways to be Femme, why is it valid to make a blanket statement that people aren’t attracted to Femmes at all?

I also want to make it clear that this post is as much addressed to Femme-identified folks who don’t do Femme on Femme Action (FOFA) as much as non-Femme identified folks.

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I’ve addressed this tired line before, focusing on debunking Femme as high maintenance. Now I want to focus on shifting desire and whether the idea that one can actually say they all the time never are attracted to Femmes.

Also, gender presentation is such a mystery. Sometimes it changes! And chemistry and desire are such mysteries, but I think desire is the kind of thing that can be cultivated.

I was talking about this with my pal Quito on a boat cruise on the East River a couple of months ago. Quito is someone who I said once their gender was Gonzo and they enjoyed that description. They were really sweet, openly sharing about being intimidated about dating Femmes. Quito said that the Femmes they know are really ferocious and embodied in their identity. Quito’s eyes got big when they said it and there was more and I wish I had taken more notes. But I understood that they were intimidated.

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I really adore Quito so very much.

It’s an interesting statement because while there’s a lot of ferocity there is also a lot of tenderness. Most of the fiercest Femmes I know are pussycats on the inside. I also am reminded of the constant drone of hearing “You’re too much” as a reason to not want to date someone.

I think there’s also an element of inexperience that impedes folks from feeling like moving toward Femmes. Like, if you’ve always done it to the same kinds of folks maybe you don’t know what the experience of certain feminine elements you’re not familiar with is going to do or how it might be different from sex you’ve had before. Maybe you might be bad at it. Maybe it might not be something you like.

For example, one time I got to inaugurate the first time someone had done it with someone who was wearing fishnets. There was some fumbling but it was incredibly hot. I think that’s true for any kind of new sexual experience. I, personally, intend to continue having new and hot sexual experiences well into my golden years. With new and hot things I don’t understand in my present erotic consciousness and new and hot people.* It’s also really exciting and fun to tell the person you’re with that you’re new to something. Perhaps instead of being intimidated by Femme, you confess to your potential new lover “I’ve never done this before.” People love to be the Marco Polo of sex and turn you out. I always give out sexual first time/best time awards when they are earned. Honestly, if I found the right boy scout I’d actually create patches.

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Also doing something for the first time, while fumbly, might just tell you something is not your thing and that’s cool, too. So maybe that’s desire that comes out of trying something that’s not for you.

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And maybe it’s the person who you don’t want to explore with. But if it’s the person just say “I’m not into you like that” or “I’m not feeling chemistry with you” or something along those lines.

But maybe before you say it’s the person interrogate your desire for a second. Are you balking because of them or because you’re feeling intimidated by a new desire? Or feeling some internalized shame for being attracted to femininity and you have some internalized misogyny to work out?

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For every Femme who wears fishnets and heels there are just as many Femmes who wear sneakers and jeans. And also! Also! Femmes who wear fishnets sometimes also are the Femmes who wear sneakers and jeans. For me I feel Femme all the time, no matter what I’m wearing and maybe sometimes people aren’t Femme identified in their sneakers and that’s cool for them. But I think that all permutations of Femme or not-Femme right this second all desireable and can be desireable.

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So, can desires change? Can folks who have never really found Femme attractive or maybe find a Femme attractive in spite of never being attracted to Femmes before shift their desires or get over the shock enough to pursue it?

I was really compelled by this quote by the late Mark Aguhar.

is desire an unacceptable weapon because so many people refuse to believe desire can be controlled

What Mark said popped into my mind a bunch of times while I’ve been pondering this post the last couple of months. I think this can mean a lot of things but here I find it resonates that desire can be directed. Maybe your fear and intimidation by something new is hard to wrap your head around?

Cherry Poppins, a friend from the Bay Area, came to town not long ago and she told me that when faced with a dearth of tops in her town decided to abandon her bottoming only lifestyle and learn how to top in order to get laid. She said she shifted her desire in order to expand her dating pool and it worked. She believes very strongly that desires can change.

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For me, when I examined my internalized fatphobia and began the journey to loving myself and loving fat bodies, I became very attracted to fat people. They were my primary interest for a long time, for a sense of personal safety and kinship. Now my desire is much more body diverse since I can look on a fat person and find them attractive because I am not plagued by my own internalized shame triggered by seeing another fat person.

And I think there’s a lot to plain old chemistry. As someone who has gotten a lot more selective about who I am attracted to (and how much bullshit I will put up with), chemistry can be really hard to find. I don’t want to squander opportunities for hotness with someone because they are triggering something in me that is bringing up shame. I want to work through that and get to a place of hotness.

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There is an undeniable amount of masculine desirability privilege in queer communities. It’s far more socially acceptable in most circles to go after a masculine of center person or a genderqueer person than a Femme. My roommate Damien Luxe is quick to point out this is misogyny and femmephobia at work.

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I wonder if we, as a community and as individuals, start to interrogate our desires and work to unlearn our ableisms/racisms/sizisms/homophobia/misogyny/femmephobia/ageism (etc…) if desire will change? I think it can.

I also think we can be more intentional and mindful with each other in the ways we express our chemistry and desire. I know it would sting a lot less and feel a lot better if folks said something that sounded like they gave a rejection more thought than the same old line of “I’m not interested in Femmes.” It just sounds like a punishment for an identity that is perceived as mutable but for many of us it is absolutely not.**

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Gay Narwhal is not mutable.

*Monogamies permitting, etc…
**Let’s talk about this at FEMME CONFERENCE 2012! Clickie for more information on the conference, August 17-20, 2012 in Baltimore! I’m performing Saturday night and I would love to meet all of my blog readers who are in attendance!!

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