In a Queer Time and Place by J. Jack Halberstam

In a Queer Time and Place  by J. Jack Halberstam ~ Completed March 20, 2015

In a Queer Time and Place by J. Jack Halberstam ~ Completed March 20, 2015

I first read part of In a Queer Time and Place (the chapter titled "The Brandon Archive") in The Feminist and Queer Information Studies Reader (discussed here). It had surprised me to see something by a scholar like Halberstam, who I associate firmly with queer and trans* studies, in a LIS text. It prompted me to seek out this work, and I'm glad I did.

This book uses the life and murder of Brandon Teena, a young trans man who was murdered in Nebraska, as a lens by which to study masculinity, transgender bodies, and small-town America. The chapter in the LIS reader addresses the various artefacts, news stories, and pieces of material culture that have been used by various biographers, journalists, academics, and movie makers in order to reconstruct Teena's life and the situation surrounding his death. In this sense, Halberstam ventures into the archival side of LIS in his exploration of masculinity.

I have never seen Boys Don't Cry, the movie starring Hilary Swank about Teena's life, and I'd only heard of Teena in passing. This book is a respectful analysis of the societal pressures that helped lead to the murder of Teena and his friends, as well as the media frenzy after his death. I'm glad that I sought this book out so I could learn more about both Teena himself and Halberstam's study of representations of trans men in various art forms post-Boys Don't Cry.


Character (50%): Teena is a driving force behind this work, and the character appeal factor is strong because of it. There are (thankfully) many academic works in print looking at transgender bodies and personalities in art and media, but this is one of the few that has a scope that is both so personal and very broadly applicable. The work is respectful of Teena without painting him as a saint. Halberstam tries to paint a picture of Teena's motivations while still being very cognizant of (and critical of) the tendency of many (including himself, in this work) to sensationalize Teena's life and death. It has resulted in a book that is both a scholarly work fully within the field of queer studies but also unusually personal.

Setting (50%): The setting of small-town Nebraska is crucial to understanding the conceptions of masculinity that Teena and the people around him were working within, and thus is a crucial appeal factor to this work. Halberstam, at one point, addresses some of the misconceptions that many (privileged) "metropolitan" queers have about what it is to be queer in a "rural" area. He uses this frame as one way to both understand the motivations of Teena's killers and parse the representations of Teena in various media after his death.

Since this was more of a study than an argumentative piece, story was not a major appeal factor for this book. The language, as well, was not a strong appeal element for me for this work.