Female Masculinity

Front Cover
Duke University Press, 2019 M01 5 - 360 pages
In this quintessential work of queer theory, Jack Halberstam takes aim at the protected status of male masculinity and shows that female masculinity has offered a distinct alternative to it for well over two centuries. Demonstrating how female masculinity is not some bad imitation of virility, but a lively and dramatic staging of hybrid and minority genders, Halberstam catalogs the diversity of gender expressions among masculine women from nineteenth-century pre-lesbian practices to contemporary drag king performances.

Through detailed textual readings as well as empirical research, Halberstam uncovers a hidden history of female masculinities while arguing for a more nuanced understanding of gender categories that would incorporate rather than pathologize them. He rereads Anne Lister's diaries and Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness as foundational assertions of female masculine identity; considers the enigma of the stone butch and the politics surrounding butch/femme roles within lesbian communities; and explores issues of transsexuality among “transgender dykes”—lesbians who pass as men—and female-to-male transsexuals who may find the label of “lesbian” a temporary refuge. Halberstam also tackles such topics as women and boxing, butches in Hollywood and independent cinema, and the phenomenon of male impersonators.

Featuring a new preface by the author, this twentieth anniversary edition of Female Masculinity remains as insightful, timely, and necessary as ever.

From inside the book

Selected pages


Beryl Reid as George in The Killing of Sister George 1968 198
Beryl Reid as George in drag in The Killing of Sister George 1968 198
Movie poster for Caged 1950 200
Hope Emerson in Caged 1950 202
Doris Day in Calamity Jane 1953 210
Greta Garbo in Queen Christina 1933 211
Tilda Swinton in Orlando 1993 214
Ana Beatrice Nogueria as Bauer in Vera 1987 216

Mike and Sky by Catherine Opie 1993 34
Jacks Back II by Del Grace 1994 36
Jackie II by Del Grace 1994 37
Dyke by Catherine Opie 1992 39
SelfPortrait by Catherine Opie 1993 39
The Androgyne the Tribade the Female
John Radclyffe Hall and the Discourse
Even Stone Butches Get the Blues
ButchFTM Border Wars and the Masculine
A Rough Guide to Butches on Film
Jeanette Goldstein as Vasquez in Aliens 1986 182
Beryl Reid as George in The Killing of Sister George 1968 184
Robin Johnson as Nicky in Times Square 1980 189
Julie Harris as Frankie Addams in The Member of the Wedding 1953 191
Mercedes McCambridge as Emma in Johnny Guitar 1954 194
Mercedes McCambridge as a street butch in A Touch of Evil 1958 196
Mary Stuart Masterson in Fried Green Tomatoes 1992 221
k d lang in Salmonberries 1992 223
Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon in Bound 1996 228
Queen Latifah in Set It Off1996 229
Masculinity and Performance
Judith Jack Halberstam by Del Grace 1997 243
Sean by Betsey Gallagher 1995 247
Chico Soda by Betsey Gallagher 1996 249
Diane Torr by Betsey Gallagher 1996 251
Dred by Betsey Gallagher 1996 254
Who Loves You Baby? Murray Hill as the Puffy Elvis by Matthew Sandager 1997 258
Murray Hill as Bela Karolyi and Penny Tuesdae as Kerri Strug by Tanya Braganti 1997 260
Murray Hill for MayorThe God Bless America Show at Club Casanova by Vivian Babuts 1997 265
New Masculinities
Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull 1980 274

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About the author (2019)

Jack Halberstam is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and the author of several books, including The Queer Art of Failure and Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, both also published by Duke University Press.

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