Just because I give it three stars out of five does not mean I didn’t love it. It was the concepts I loved, not the writing. Because it’s an academic book, it was slow going and plodding. Like all works written by some academics, the sentences can be dense and full of meaning that require multiple reads of the same sentence or paragraph. I hate having to look up words like liminal, preliminal, hegemony, deconstructionism, and postmodernism. It makes my head hurt. But look them up I did, if only to try to get inside the mind of Judith Halberstam, the author.
Here is what I think she is saying and it’s wonderfully trailblazing and original. In no particular order: First, she suggests that the queer way of life establishes an entirely unique, reasonable and freeing alternative to the tyranny of the heteronormative (look that one up) timeline of the mandatory passages that the heterosexual lifestyle requires: birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, marriage, career, children, grandchildren, old age, and finally death with all the attendant obligations, constraints, and rituals. An alter-normative life imposes no such constraints. Adolescence can last as long as you want. The ushering in of the age of child rearing doesn’t have to happen until you are good and ready or never. That’s the queer time part.
Next, (well not quite next but I am going to talk about it next), she shows how the queer subculture, the ways we define ourselves in terms of music, dress, film, all forms of art and style, including the way we express ourselves in general, define the particular way that we construct the space and place, psychically and physically, around us. They are as real as the heteronormative popular culture that no one of us can escape. But the success of our art is not defined by conventional fame, celebrity, and money. She uses the world of transgenderism, genderqueerism, drag king shows, dyke slam poetry, and dyke rock to prove that point. These types of expression and lives could serve to represent an undefined and full of possibility midpoint between a threshold and the establishment of new rituals in our culture. A state where definition and space is undefined and being redefined.
Lastly she pays homage to the queers of the mid 20th century and lesbian folk artists of the 70s who paved the way for the freedoms of expressions and rights (at least in some states and Canada) that queers enjoy today. Using the musicians Cris Williamson and Ferron as examples, she engendered in me a new appreciation for their music that I already love so much.
The clod that I am, I’m sure I have missed the finer subtleties of her arguments. But what I did get out of the book completely captivated and fascinated me.
Here are some choice quotes from the book that I particularly enjoyed:
“…we create longevity as the most desirable future, applaud the pursuit of long life (under any circumstances), and pathologize modes of living that show little or no concern for longevity.”
“…formulaic responses to time and temporal logics produce emotional and even physical responses to different kinds of time…people feel guilty about leisure, frustrated by waiting, satisfied by punctuality, and so on.”
“…time has become a perpetual present, and space has flattened out in the face of creeping globalization.”
“…the transgender body has emerged as futurity itself, a kind of heroic fulfillment of postmodern promises of gender flexibility.”
“…Brandon [Teena]’s death…[is]…evidence of a continuing campaign of violence against queers despite the increasing respectability of some portions of the gay and lesbian community.”
“…the brutality that visited Brandon [Teena]…[was]…also a violence linked to a bourgeois investment in the economy of authenticity.”
“Entertainment…is the name we give to the fantasies of difference that erupt on the screen only to give way to the reproduction of sameness.”
“…gender functions as a ‘copy with no original’.”
“…queer subcultures offer us an opportunity to redefine the binary of adolescence and adulthood…”
“Queer youth sets up younger gays and lesbians not as the inheritors and benefactors of several decades of queer activism but rather as victims of homophobia who need ‘outreach’ programs and support groups…[There is] an emphasis that arises out of an overreliance on the youth/adulthood binary…[that]…encourages young queers to think about the present and future while ignoring the past.”
“The radical styles crafted in queer punk bands, slam poetry events, and drag king boy bands…model other modes of being and becoming that scramble our understandings of place, time, development, action and transformation.”
“Ferron…understands herself to be engaged in a collective project that is rewarded not by capital or visibility…but by an affective connection with those people who will eventually be the vessels of memory for all she now forgets.”
I went to a coffee house performance by Ferron at Sam’s Deli a long, long time ago (like 1976?…so long ago I can’t actually remember the year). It was the first time I’d ever heard of her and it was magic.
That song was the soundtrack to crash and burn of my first marriage…I kept that record and ditched the husband…it was a fair trade, I thought…
One of the important things to remember is music can convey very complex thoughts and emotions in a way we can experience without having to analyze. In fact, like comedy or peeling an onion, dissection leaves you with little or nothing of the actual experience. It is a gestalt…there’s another word for you to look up, sorry.