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Judith Halberstam  

"Comparative Female Masculinities"  

In this short presentation, I want to share models from my work on ‘female masculinity’ on the one hand and ‘queer space’ on the other to propose different models for studying the erotic practices, gendered embodiments and variant sexual identities of so-called “lesbians” and female to male “transgenders” in a variety of cultural contexts. Cross-cultural models of sexuality and gender can be extremely useful in denaturalizing Euro-American notions of embodiment, community and relation but, unfortunately, as we all know, they are too often used to cast Euro-American models as contemporary and liberated while registering queer forms of desire elsewhere as anachronistic. Some of the mistakes made by anthropologists of gender and sexuality when studying gender and sexual variance in non-Western contexts could be avoided by using different methods for gauging the similarity or differences between the various models. For example, while we might not want to presume any particular similarity between tomboys in Indonesia and lesbians in the Midwest of North America, we might be surprised to find that if we use a different standard for comparison, like urban gender variance or rural gender variance, certain structural similarities do exist. For example, a number of different studies show that many rural communities in Russia as well as Eastern Europe feature girls who get raised as boys when the labor of the farm demands male labor. These “men” or “husbands” should be studied in relation to each other, rather than in relation to urban transgender bois in the US .