08 May 2009

Book Review: In a Queer Time and Place

Judith Halberstam is an American Professor of English and also has written Female Masculinity and The Drag King Book. In A Queer Time and Place discusses a number of topics involving sexuality and queer subjects. One of the topics of her book that I found interesting related to her discussion of metronormativity.

Halberstam takes Michael Warner's heteronormativity (Fear of A Queer Planet) and reshapes it to describe the "normalizing" of urban sexual identities while abnormalizing rural sexual practices and identities. She takes the stories of several tragic FTM transgenders, like Brandon Teena to show how urban LGBT identities have allied with urbanism to create the belief that rural = homophobic. Halberstam shows how the movie Boys Don't Cry ended up changing Brandon Teena's story into one where she lacked any choice in her life -- a passive victim of rural homophobia/transphobia. Halberstam points out, though, that Teena moved to the rural Falls City, Nebraska town and was not forced to live there.

Halberstam inverts the metronormative binary to show that, for Brandon Teena, the benefits of the small town outweighed the drawbacks and that there is more to rural life than just homophobia. Halberstam then moves on to discuss female masculinity in modern art and I found the rest of the book to drag on -- perhaps because I'm not that really into modern FTM or lesbian visual art?

One area that Halberstam didn't really put much effort was describing all of the reasons why someone might avoid a big city that would have a more supportive environment for FTM life than a rural backwater like Falls City, Nebraska. Most young people who do not quite fit in in the province move to the city to take refufe from the social imprisonment of rural life. She does not really analyze what would motivate someone from a bigger town or city moving to a rural village.

In Teena's case, where it appeared that some level of deception by Teena was afoot, the dynamics that motivates some to move to a more rural insular life help shed more light on the connection between the mode of production (social and economic) and the cultural life of LGBT communities. I don't think Halberstam got there and it would be interesting, particularly in the Philippines and other countries where rural life is really a question of agricultural production while urban life is not. (And maybe how those different mode of production affect gender.)

The version I read was a 213 page paperback published by New York University (January 1, 2005), ISBN-13: 978-0814735855. It is written in English. . The least expensive copy of the book can be found at abebooks.com.


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  2. I thought Teena moved to a rural place because he was practically an unknown there? That no one will recognize him as a she?

    Here in the Philippines I think the rural people are more conservative and that for a Lesbian moving in the provinces being her true self (living in with a partner/woman) might be considered as taboo, unlike living in the metro.

    What do you think?

  3. Same thing in the U.S. that was the part of Teena's story that didn't make sense and that the two Hollywood movies didn't explore. Why would she go to an even smaller, more conservative rural village as opposed to a more anonymous, liberal city because she'd be an unknown in both. Halberstam doesn't really get into that much, but one thought was that she wanted to be the big "boy" fish in a little pond, as opposed to just being Teena in the open sea. But that's just my opinion.

  4. Thanks for this review. I was really looking forward to reading this, but I can't seem to find a copy in our local bookstores.

    Also, I hope you don't mind if I link you up to my blog (kyusireader.blogspot.com). Your entries are really insightful.

  5. Thanks. These books are not available at any my local bookstores either and I typically resort to ordering them online.

  6. perhaps someone should write a similar book on gay men and focus on their motivations into moving to the big city. and setting the research within the philippines would even be more interesting. :)

  7. i think from a materialist perspective, one need not speculate too much on the underlying causes. the much more capital intensive space of the city produces greater variety and economies of scale that support the existence of small, insular subcultural groups that rural economic life can't support. but, of course, most people that move to big cities do not see it in these terms necessarily and an ethnography on the topic would be fascinating.