Jack Halberstam

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Jack Halberstam
Jack Halberstam 03.jpg
Jack Halberstam, 2011
Born (1961-12-15) December 15, 1961 (age 60)
Other names
  • J. Jack Halberstam
  • Judith Halberstam
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley (B.A.)
University of Minnesota (M.A., Ph.D)
OccupationProfessor, author
EmployerColumbia University
Known forQueer philosophy

Jack Halberstam (/ˈhælbərstæm/; born December 15, 1961), also known as Judith Halberstam, is an American academic. Since 2017, he has been a professor in the department of English and comparative literature and is the director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Columbia University. Previously, Halberstam was a professor of American studies and ethnicity, gender studies, and comparative literature, and the director of The Center for Feminist Research at University of Southern California (USC).[1] Halberstam was the Associate Professor in the Department of Literature at the University of California at San Diego before working at USC. Halberstam is a gender and queer theorist[2] and an author.[3]

Focusing on the topic of tomboys and female masculinity for his writings, his 1998 book, Female Masculinity, discusses a common by-product of gender binarism, termed "the bathroom problem." This outlines the awkward and dangerous dilemma of a perceived gender deviant's justification of presence in a gender-policed zone, such as a public bathroom, and the identity implications of "passing" therein.[4][5] Assigned female at birth, he accepts masculine and feminine pronouns, and the name "Judith" in addition to "Jack," for himself.[6]

Halberstam lectures in the United States and internationally on queer failure, sex and media, subcultures, visual culture, gender variance, popular film, and animation. Halberstam is currently working on several projects including a book on fascism and (homo)sexuality.[7]

Early life, education and gender identity[edit]

Halberstam earned a B.A. in English at the University of California, Berkeley in 1985, an M.A. from the University of Minnesota in 1989, and a Ph.D. from the same school in 1991. Halberstam is Jewish[8] of Bohemian descent.[9]

Halberstam goes by the pronouns he/him and the name "Jack",[6] but says that he is "loosey goosey" and a "free floater" when it comes to his gender.[10] He says "some people call me Jack, my sister calls me Jude, people I've known forever call me Judith" and "I try not to police any of it. A lot of people call me he, some people call me she, and I let it be a weird mix of things."[6] He says that "the back and forth between he and she sort of captures the form that my gender takes nowadays" and that the floating gender pronouns have captured his refusal to resolve his gender ambiguity. He does, however, say that "grouping me with someone else who seems to have a female embodiment and then calling us 'ladies', is never, ever ok!"[10]


Female Masculinity[edit]

In Female Masculinity (1998), Halberstam seeks to identify what constitutes masculinity in society the individual. The text first suggests that masculinity is a construction that promotes particular brands of male-ness while at the same time subordinating "alternative masculinities." The project specifically focuses on the ways female masculinity has been traditionally ignored in academia and society at large. To illustrate a cultural mechanism of subordinating alternative masculinities, Halberstam brings up James Bond and GoldenEye as an example, noting that gender performance in this film is far from what is traditional: M is the character who "most convincingly performs masculinity," Bond can only perform masculinity through his suave clothing and gadgets, and Q can be read "as a perfect model of the interpenetration of queer and dominant regimes." This interpretation of these characters challenges long-held ideas about what qualities create masculinity.[11] Halberstam also brings up the example of the tomboy, a clear case of a youthful girl exerting masculine qualities—and raises the complication that within a youthful figure, the idea of masculinity expressed within a female body is less threatening, and only becomes threatening when those masculine tendencies are still apparent as the child progresses in age.

Jack Halberstam lecturing on Trans* Bodies at the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona), on February 1, 2017

Halberstam then focuses on "the bathroom problem." Here, the question of the gender binary is brought up. Halberstam argues it is an issue when there are two separate bathrooms for different genders, with no place for people who do not clearly fit into the binary. The problem of policing that occurs around the bathrooms is also a focal point for examination of the bathroom problem as not only is this a policing on the legal level, but also on the social level. According to Halberstam, the social aspect makes it even more difficult for people who do not adhere to binary standards to use public restrooms without encountering some sort of uncomfortable, or even violent, situation.

The Queer Art of Failure[edit]

In The Queer Art of Failure (2011), Halberstam argues that failure can be a productive way of critiquing capitalism and heteronormativity. Using examples from popular culture, like Pixar animated films, Halberstam explores alternatives to individualism and conformity. L. Ayu Saraswati calls The Queer Art of Failure "a groundbreaking book that retheorizes failure and its relationship to the process of knowledge production and being in the world."[12]

"Telling Tales: Brandon Teena, Billy Tipton, and Transgender Biography"[edit]

"Telling Tales" is an essay concerned with the politics of "passing" as well as the ethics of transgender biography. The essay discusses how women who "pass" are often accused of being deceptive, and they are subjected to brutal violations and murder. Halberstam poses questions about who controls narratives that circulate about the lives of transgender people. The paper discusses "transgender biography as a sometimes violent, often imprecise project, one which seeks to brutally erase the carefully managed details of the life of a passing person and which recasts the act of passing as deception, dishonesty and fraud" (Halberstam 14). The essay also provides a brief transgender history that is accompanied by a definition of terms such as female masculinity, transsexual, realness, the 'real', female-to-male transsexuals (FTM), butch, and femme. The author thinks that trans bodies have a certain illegibility, and he is suspicious of "experts" who try to read, document, and pin down "lives filled with contradiction and tension" (Halberstam 20).

This essay is also an earlier iteration of a book chapter published In a Queer Time and Place, where his interests lie in cultivating something akin to a queer “archive of our own” whose entry is, in many ways, delimited by queer subcultural producers, theorists, and all those agents who tarry the line between the two. His archival practice is, in some ways, barred against those agents indebted to cultural logics that would reenact the violence of transgender histories. However, this closure of who can and should not write transgender biography isn’t an identitarian concern inasmuch as a cautioning against the “willful biographer” who reads for the lie (Halberstam 28). His archival practice might also understood as an ethics of transgender biography, manifesting as the refusal to read for the lie and a commitment to read for the life.[13]

Gaga Feminism[edit]

In Gaga Feminism Halberstam uses Lady Gaga as a symbol for a new era of sexual and gender expression in the 21st century. The book has been noted as "a work that engages in the theorizing of contemporary gender relations and their cultural narratives, and the practice of calling for a chaotic upending of normative categories in an act of sociopolitical anarchy."[14] Halberstam describes the five tenets of Gaga feminism:

  • Wisdom lies in the unexpected and the unanticipated.
  • Transformation is inevitable, but don't look for the evidence of change in the everyday; look around, look on the peripheries, the margins, and there you will see its impact.
  • Think counterintuitively, act accordingly.
  • Practice creative non-believing.
  • Gaga Feminism is outrageous ... impolite, abrupt, abrasive and bold.[15]

Halberstam uses contemporary pop culture examples such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Bridesmaids, and Dory from Finding Nemo to explore these tenets.

Other works[edit]

In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, published in 2005, looks at queer subculture, and proposes a conception of time and space independent of the influence of normative heterosexual/familial lifestyle. Halberstam coedits the book series "Perverse Modernities" with Lisa Lowe.[16]

Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability, published in 2018, examines recent developments in the meanings of gender and gendered bodies. Through dissecting gendered language and creations of popular culture, Halberstam presents a complex view of the trans* body and its place in the modern world.

Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, published in 1995, Halberstam examines monsters as cultural objects and views the gothic as a means of producing monsters, due to conditioned fears caused by the shared sense of otherness and difference.

Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, published in 2020, traces the ways in which wildness has been correlated with queerness and queer bodies in this alternative history of sexuality.

Personal life[edit]

Halberstam is one of six children, including Naomi, Lucy, Michael, Jean, and John. Halberstam's father, Heini Halberstam, and mother, Heather Peacock, were married until 1971, when Heather died in a car accident. Heini Halberstam then married Doreen Bramley shortly thereafter, and they had a marriage of 42 years until Heini's death on January 25, 2014, in Champaign, Illinois, at the age of 87.[17]

Halberstam is attracted to women. After a relationship of 12 years, Halberstam has been romantically involved with Macarena Gomez-Barris, a sociology professor from Los Angeles, since 2008.[18] Halberstam has said that he feels no pressure to marry, viewing marriage as a patriarchal institution that should not be a prerequisite for obtaining health care and deeming children "legitimate." Halberstam believes that "the couple form is failing."[19] Macarena had two children from her previous marriage, and currently she and Halberstam are raising them together.[20]

Honors and awards[edit]

Halberstam has been nominated three times for Lambda Literary Awards, twice for the non-fiction book Female Masculinity.

Halberstam was awarded the Arcus/Places Prize in 2018 from Places Journal for innovative public scholarship on the relationship between gender, sexuality and the built environment.


  • Halberstam, Judith and Ira Livingston, Eds. Posthuman Bodies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-253-32894-2 & 0253209706
  • Halberstam, Judith. Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8223-1651-X & 0822316633
  • Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8223-2226-9 & 0822322439
  • Halberstam, Judith and Del LaGrace Volcano. The Drag King Book. London: Serpent's Tale, 1999. ISBN 1-85242-607-1
  • Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8147-3584-3 & 0814735851
  • Halberstam, Judith, David Eng & José Esteban Muñoz, Eds. What's Queer about Queer Studies Now? Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8223-6621-5
  • Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. ISBN 0-8223-5045-9 & 978-0822350453
  • Halberstam, J. Jack. Gaga Feminism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. ISBN 978-080701098-3
  • Halberstam, Jack. Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability. Oakland: University of California Press, 2018. ISBN 978-0520292697
  • Halberstam, Jack. Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020. ISBN 978-1-4780-1108-8

Articles and book chapters[edit]

  • "F2M: The Making of Female Masculinity." in The Lesbian Postmodern. Edited by Laura Doan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994. pp. 210–228.
  • "Technologies of Monstrosity: Bram Stoker's Dracula" in Cultural Politics at the Fin de Siècle. Edited by Sally Ledger and Scott McCracken. Cambridge [U.K.], New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. pp. 248–266.
  • "Queering Lesbian Studies." in The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-first Century. Edited by Bonnie Zimmerman and Toni McNaron. New York: Feminist Press at The City University of New York, 1996. 1st ed. pp. 256–261.
  • "The Art of Gender" in Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose: Gender Performance in Photography. by Jennifer Blessing with contributions by Judith Halberstam. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1997. pp. 176–189.
  • "Sex Debates." in Lesbian and Gay Studies: A Critical Introduction. Edited by Andy Medhurst and Sally R. Munt. London, Washington: Cassell, 1997. pp. 327–340.
  • "Techno-Homo: On Bathrooms, Butches, and Sex with Furniture." in Processed Lives: Gender and Technology in Everyday Life Edited by Jennifer Terry and Melodie Calvert. London, New York: Routledge, 1997. pp. 183–194.
  • "Between Butches" in Butch/Femme: Inside Lesbian Gender. Edited by Sally R. Munt & Cherry Smyth. London: Cassell, 1998. pp. 57–66.
  • "Telling Tales: Brandon Teena, Billy Tipton, and Transgender Biography." in Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion. Edited by María Carla Sánchez and Linda Schlossberg. New York: New York University Press, 2001. pp. 13–37.
  • "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Men, Women, and Masculinity." in Masculinity Studies & Feminist Theory: New Directions. Edited by Judith Kegan Gardiner. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. pp. 344–368.
  • "An Introduction to Female Masculinity." in The Masculinity Studies Reader. Edited by Rachel Adams and David Savran. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002. pp. 355–374.
  • "An Introduction to Gothic Monstrosity." in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism / Robert Louis Stevenson. Edited by Katherine Linehan. New York: Norton, 2003. 1st ed. pp. 128–131.
  • "The Transgender Look." in The Bent Lens: A World Guide to Gay and Lesbian Film. Edited by Lisa Daniel & Claire Jackson. Los Angeles, CA: Alyson Books, 2003. 2nd ed. (1st U.S. ed.) pp. 18–21.
  • "Oh Bondage Up Yours! Female Masculinity and the Tomboy." in Curiouser: On the Queerness of Children. Edited by Steven Bruhm and Natasha Hurley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. pp. 191–214.
  • "Transgender Butch: Butch/FTM Border Wars and the Masculine Continuum." in Feminist Theory: A Reader. Edited by Wendy K. Kolmar, Frances Bartkowski. Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2005. 2nd ed. pp. 550–560.
  • "Automating Gender: Postmodern Feminism in the Age of the Intelligent Machine." in Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Edited by Anne C. Herrmann and Abigail J. Stewart. Chapter 21.
  • "Sweet Tea and the Queer Art of Digression." in Two Truths and a Lie by Scott Turner Schofield. Ypsilanti, MI: Homofactus Press, 2008. pp. 9–12.



  1. ^ "Jack Halberstam Appointed as Full Professor | Department of English and Comparative Literature". english.columbia.edu. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  2. ^ Halberstam, Jack (May 16, 2014). "An audio overview of queer theory in English and Turkish by Jack Halberstam". Retrieved May 29, 2014.
  3. ^ "Judith Marion Halberstam". USC Faculty Profile. Retrieved December 15, 2010.
  4. ^ Halberstam, Judith (1998). Female masculinity. Duke University Press. p. 22. ISBN 0-8223-2243-9. female masculinity bathroom problem.
  5. ^ Studies in popular culture, vol. 28, Popular Culture Association in the South, 2005
  6. ^ a b c Sexsmith, Sinclair (February 1, 2012). "Jack Halberstam: Queers Create Better Models of Success". Lambda Literary. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
  7. ^ "BIO". Jack Halberstam.
  8. ^ "Twice Blessed: Jewish and Gay in the 21st Century".
  9. ^ "Jack Halberstam".
  10. ^ a b "On Pronouns". Jack Halberstam. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  11. ^ Halberstam, Judith (1998). Female masculinity. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-2243-9.
  12. ^ Saraswati, L. Ayu (May 1, 2013). "The Queer Art of Failure by Judith Halberstam (review)". American Studies. 52 (2): 179–180. doi:10.1353/ams.2013.0010. ISSN 2153-6856. S2CID 144314369.
  13. ^ Halberstam, Judith (January 2000). "Telling Tales: Brandon Teena, Billy Tipton, and Transgender Biography". A/B: Auto/Biography Studies. 15 (1): 62–81. doi:10.1080/08989575.2000.10815235. ISSN 0898-9575. S2CID 161915460.
  14. ^ "Preparing for the "Gagapocalypse": J. Jack Halberstam's Gaga Feminism - CAP". CAP. November 2012. Retrieved September 14, 2014.
  15. ^ Halberstam, Judith (2005). Gaga Feminism. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. ISBN 978-080701098-3
  16. ^ "Perverse Modernities: A Series Edited by Jack Halberstam and Lisa Lowe". Dukeupress.edu.
  17. ^ "Uncategorized". Jack Halberstam.
  18. ^ "Why Women Are Leaving Men For Other Women". Oprah.com. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  19. ^ Buckley, Cara (October 25, 2013). "Gay Couples Choosing to Say "I Don't"". New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  20. ^ "'Late-Life Lesbians' Reveal Fluidity Of Sexuality". NPR.org. Retrieved March 3, 2022.

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