Nobbs & Queer Time

Albert Nobbs by George Moore and In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives by Jack Halberstam. Both of these works dealt extensively with the fluidity of gender performativity, at the intersection of temporality and space.  Nobbs self-identifies as a perhapser. I read this as one who may or may not, one on the margins, within the liminal. This is echoed within Halberstam’s understanding of the flexibility of bodies. This runs in opposition to a reading of the oft rigidity of the very same bodies and how they are read in public life. This presentation and performance of gender is dependent upon the temporal and place-bound gaze that falls upon these trans individuals.

Moore speaks to the idea that Albert due to the clothing that Albert wore, they “smothered the woman in her; she no longer thought and felt as she used to when she wore petticoats” (Moore, 2011, Loc 393). This holds parallel to the idea of clothing making the man in the Halberstam piece when speaking about Brandon Teena with the violent betrayal at the hands of his once friends who disrobe him in order to find out if Brandon is truly a man. I also find resonance in the dialectal opposition of space between the conversation with Brandon and with Albert. Halberstam speaks quite a bit about queer-space, and particularly queers privileging urban space. Albert lived in what seemed to be quite a posh hotel, and Albert himself (herself? the character never to my knowledge identifies as trans and both pronouns are used) speaks to having worked at “the biggest places in London and all over England in all the big towns” (Moore, 2011, Loc 305).

On the other hand, Halberstam speaks to Brandon being representative of all “other rural lives undone by fear and loathing, and his story symbolizes an urban fantasy of homophobic violence as essentially midwestern”. (Halberstam, 2005, pg. 25). While Moore writes from an Irish context, the urban/rural dialectic still stands strong. The urban fantasy of Nobbs plays out to fruition, but the loneliness that Nobbs encounters is also one that is a part of the urban queer experience according to Halberstam.

Nobbs represents a “nonthreatening and nonadult masculine sexuality” particularly in his reluctance to show affection when he responded to his love interest that “isn’t the time for kissing when one is wedded?” (Halberstam, 2005, pg. 62; Moore, 2011, Loc 610). This lack of aggressive sexuality is often portrayed in the media embodied in transmen. This is perhaps not only untrue about transmen, it also presents a narrow expectation of masculinity, that many may fall into. This is a dangerous and deadly transgression that we, in contemporary times, in particular, must put an end to.

On the whole, I really enjoyed Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. I did find a few places in which I did not quite agree with some of the things that he was saying. The first of these was in the wonderful chapter about Austin Powers, The Full Monty, and king comedies. I really enjoyed his analysis of these films, and in particular how he showed from an academic standpoint why the Austin Powers sequel did not live up to its predecessor. One thing I found to be troubling was the assumption of sexuality (both specific and in general) of the perpetrators of schools-yard shootings in the 1990’s. He speaks to Arkansas and Colorado in specific, and while I don’t know about the Arkansas one, I believe that Halberstam was speaking to Columbine in specific. I don’t pretend to know about the sexuality (or lack of) in the victims. Halberstam sums them up with the construction of “adolescent white hetero-masculinity” (Halberstam, 2005, pg. 126).

I believe that “adolescent white hetero-masculinity” is dangerous and presents many challenges to a society in which purports to be equitable. Halberstam presents following this passage narrative about the lampooning of masculinity, to the point of absurdism, and to great effect. I don’t see how he makes a reconnection to the great point he is trying to make about ensuring that we “are asking some hard questions about the forms of white masculinity that we encourage and cultivate in this society” (Halberstam, 2005, pg. 126). These indeed are great questions that need to be asked, and I wish that he had returned to make this point more apparent toward the end of his literary analyses.

Later on in the Halberstam text, he makes a statement, one of which resonated so fully with me it gave me pause. He writes “I plunged into punk rock music, clothing, and rebellion precisely because it gave me a language with which to reject not only the high-cultural texts in the classroom but also the homophobia, gender normativity, and sexism outside it” (Halberstam, 2005, pg. 155). I made my move toward social justice through politically charged punk rock music in the mid to late 1990’s, and I have always credited this (along with a healthy dose of the X-Men) to have nudged me into the path on which I travel to this day. As a closeted queer in a poor neighborhood in New Jersey, deviance was only acceptable through music, and I found my heroes through gender-defying rock stars like Davey Havok.

Finally, one last point that Halberstam made that I found contrary to my own thoughts on research, is found on page 163. He states that that “rarely does the queer theorist stand wholly apart from the subculture, examining it with an expert’s gaze” (Halberstam, 2005, pg. 163). This seems to me as if he is stating that one can only produce meaningful research as an expert, which can only come from an outsider’s perspective, quite the positivist thinking! I found this shocking as it seems to be in conflict with the majority of what he has to say. I read him as largely post-structuralist, and not in line with an old guard approach to methodology and research. While I have quite a bit more to say about Halberstam’s work, I will take a note from him and close with much more still to be said.

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