Incoherence—the refusal to make sense—is a concept central to Noble’s writing on trans theory, one that I think is worth investigating closely.
In “Trans-Culture in the (White) City: Taking a Pass on a Queer Neighbourhood” (2009), Noble alerts the readers to the dangers of essentialism, gender categorizing and fundamentalism for queer spaces. Noble points out that various queer spaces in Toronto have “moved in more fundamentalist and gender panicked directions when trying to navigate the challenges posed by transed bodies”, by having, for instance, men “prove” their manhood (by exhibiting their penises) as a condition of entry into men segregated spaces such as bathhouses. From an initial “don’t ask don’t tell” policy, these bathhouses have moved to a “dick at the door” policy. In other words, access is granted “as long as the embodied hegemonic fiction of phallic masculinity is preserved”. Non-operative FtM might well pass as men in many men segregated spaces, but would likely fail the full-fledged-penis test. This practice, meant partly to ensure security, confronts us with a series of questions:
“how big does a dick need to be to count as a dick? Do guys with smaller dicks avoid such spaces because of the harm done by such a policy? Are such practices producing and then normalizing standards of sameness that are no different than heteronormative beliefs about masculinity, which such spaces are supposedly built against? Where is queer desire in that equation? Where are queer bodies?”
This, Noble believes, is an example of normalizing coherence: the expectation that a stable, unchanging and undisputed gender identity and a sex neatly coheres together.
The gay and lesbian movement, Noble argues, has lost its queerness. “What happens”, Noble asks, “when an incoherently sexed, destabilized and indeed, trans sexed body finds itself in the midst of definitively gayandlesbian demarcated space, such as a ‘gay and lesbian’ film and video festival? The answer: a hostile, violent and very ironic eviction of the strange, the queer, the irreducibly different”. Fundamentalist gender economics essentially “materialize only binarized notions of sex” so that gender variants or genders that require more complex or nuanced explanations are met with the violence of gender-panic. “Queer” it would seem “is beginning to become an unusable term” (2006:12). Hence Noble’s call for a post-queer politics and cultural landscape, which, alternatively, could be termed a re-queering of queer.
A politic of incoherence, Noble adds in Sons of the Movement (2006) “refuses hegemonic fictions of ontology and presence” (126). It refuses, among other things, identity politics, the idea that a certain subject position—lesbianism, to name only one—serves a ground zero of social action. Hand-in-hand with incoherence—and central to Noble’s work—is “intersectionality”. Intersectionality is precisely what undoes easy assumptions about class, gender, race and sex segregations Queer practices, Noble believes, generally fail to embrace intersectionality. This post-queer politics advocated by Noble is also one of trans-incoherence: “an intersectional, post-queer politics of incoherence as a strategy of resistance” (12).
For Noble, the trans body doesn’t simply move from one gender to another, but, rather, remains in movement, in construction, in becoming. We can see he an importance divergence with other trans theorists, who insist on the stability, coherence, and wholeness of the trans subject. This focus on flow and becoming is shared by David Ruffolo in his book Post-Queer Politics (2009) but this will the subject of another entry. Nobel is here in agreement with J. Halberstam's remark regarding trans identity understood as "crossing over": "Obviously, the metaphor of crossing over and indeed migrating to the right body from the wrong body merely leaves the politics of stable gender identities, and therefore stable gender hierarchies, completely intact" (1999: 560).
Anchoring my project on Dorothy Arzner is an exploration of gender through Trans Studies. Here I post snippets of my research on the theoretical aspects of Trans Studies.