Halberstam offers a legitimate criticism of the white-urban-queer-hipster in In a Queer Time & Place. I think she’s definitely right in problematizing “uniqueness as radical style” and considering its relationship to capitalism(19). These kinds of questions, I think, always need to be raised.
But, from an admittedly “white-urban-queer-hipster” perspective, I also think that she paints a pretty unfair picture…one that’s out of place in a book that otherwise “tr[ies] to make sense of the ways that new gender communities make ‘room’ for themselves” (20).
Here’s most of what Halberstam has a problem with:
“Many young gays and lesbians think of themselves as part of a “post-gender” world and for them the idea of “labeling” becomes a sign of an oppression they have happily cast off in order to move into a pluralistic world of infinite diversity. In other words, it has become common-place and even cliched for young urban (white) gays and lesbians to claim that they do not like “labels” and do not want to be “pigeon-holed” by identity categories even as those same identity categories represent the activist labors of previous generations that brought us to the brink of “liberation” in the first place” (19).
I understand the problem that Halberstam has with this sort of thinking. For one thing, the notion that “labels” can so easily be cast off can make it easier for us to forget the privilege that we have because of those labels. Similarly, the idea that a “post-gender” world is even possible within Western society potentially erases the facts of sex- and gender-related oppression.
But I also have some problems with her description because I’m not sure that it’s an accurate account of how these queer youth view themselves and the world. Basically, I think that Halberstam unfairly ignores the processes by which these “young gays and lesbians” (she picks “labels” for them) come to identify as queer. Not that my experiences are representative of anything but my experiences, but most of the young “queer hipsters” that I’ve met or known have never expressed the views that Halberstam would attribute to them. Since I can’t speak for them, though, I’ll just pose some broader questions.
What about queer hipsters (seriously…I don’t know what other term to use) who don’t actually think of labels as something that can be “happily cast off,” but instead feel uncomfortable claiming any label because of societal pressure to be one thing or the other/choose an identity and stick with it? What about queer hipsters who express their gender non-normatively with specific, maybe political intentions? And does evading labels always have to mean that privilege and history go unacknowledged, as Halberstam seems to suggest?
As usual, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it.