Gaga Feminism – J. Jack Halberstam
J. Jack Halberstam, Ph.D., 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.
A BIG thank you to J. Jack Halbertam and Beacon Press, for guest contributing to The Qu! They are kicking off their blog tour for Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal. This colorful landscape is populated by symbols and phenomena as varied as pregnant men, late-life lesbians, SpongeBob SquarePants, and queer families. So how do we understand the dissonance between these real lived experiences and the heteronormative narratives that dominate popular media? We can embrace the chaos! With equal parts edge and wit, Halberstam reveals how these symbolic ruptures open a critical space to embrace new ways of conceptualizing sex, love, and marriage.
Check out his contribution below:
Over the last few weeks, most of the nation’s mainstream media was firmly focused on that uniquely American circus of the Democratic and Republican national conventions. While each party struggled to find new cliches to tell voters what they would do to pull us out of the mess that they have all collectively made of the economy, of health care and of education, various speakers also tried to locate themselves as one of the people, as “just like you”! Of course, for the Republicans this meant, actually, I am not at all like you mostly because I make millions of dollars and pay very few taxes but for the Democrats this new universalism-we are all parents, all suffer adversity, we all love our families-now, for the first time, extended openly to, as Obama put it, “the gays.”
And just at the moment that “the gays” were brought into the warm and fuzzy heart of the Democratic party, NBC rolled out its own welcome mat to the “the gays” in the form of its new sitcom “The New Normal.” With political legitimacy looming in the form of the widespread ratification of gay marriage, increased cultural visibility could not be too far behind. So now that “the gays” are getting married and having kids, joining the ranks of the fatigued, the miserable, the familial, we also get to have our own shows about the misery of marriage, the drudgery of the household and the superiority of our offspring.
My new book, Gaga Feminism, wants to put the very concept of “the new normal” firmly in its place. For the Gaga feminist, in fact, the end of the normal is in sight and we don’t want the same old norms packaged back up for us and sold to us again as new norms! How do we know that the normal has reached an end? Well, the central features of “the old normal,” as relayed to us by Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and other brainiacs, had to do with the circulation of ideas about deviance and pathology that were so pervasive that people self-regulated their actions, their desires and their aspirations to conform to some fantasized, idealized understanding of what was “normal,” usual or conventional. Nowadays, we no longer really believe in either the existence of a clear class of “deviant” individuals and nor do we believe in a norm, or have a clear sense of conformity. The family now comes in diverse formats from queer to divorced to multi-generational to polyamorous; and our desires and orientations also barely fit the prescribed boxes of homo and hetero. Simultaneously, our supposedly stable gender designations of male and female are shifting on their axes to the point that we need new classificatory systems.
Gaga Feminism begins the project of reclassifying embodiment in the 21st century. And believe me, I am not at all alone in thinking that some of the cornerstones of our understandings of bodily identity are transforming all around us. Articles in the media recently have discussed the radical redefinitions of fatherhood that accompany the age of sperm banking and this new focus on fatherhood has produced new studies of the male body and its contributions to reproduction – whether scientists are discussing the possibility that older fathers are more likely to produce autistic offspring or whether they are using “epigenetic” research to explain how the health and habits of the male greatly influence the health of their offspring, we are certainly in the midst of a massive paradigm shift in terms of our understanding of parenting.
While a show like NBC’s The New Normal simply wants to reassure everyone that what is new looks a lot like what is old, that gay male parents are just as caring and concerned as their heterosexual counterparts, the truth is that all around us the world we knew is crumbling and reassembling in both promising and scary ways. If you want a glimpse of some of these new futures separate from the reassurance that they will be newly normal, read Gaga Feminism and learn about pregnant men, heteroflexible women and the end of normal.
What is the new normal? you may ask…is the new normal single-headed households? Families living below the poverty line? Food scarcity? Underpaid teachers and overpaid bankers? Not exactly. The “new” normal is what happens when the fabulously wealthy and over-educated gays, mostly gay men, become parents.
Be sure to check out the next stop of the blog tour tomorrow at Beacon Broadside!