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Eli Clare event

2009 February 25
by Melanie

I just got back from the Eli Clare talk (which I’m sure the handy dandy Related Posts bot thing will pick up), and my brain is now apparently trained to filter all things gender and technology related. I find myself doing it all day, but obviously this talk provided many points which are relevant to our class. I’ll throw a few out here for consideration, since I only saw Anne there. Be warned, these will get more disjointed near the end, mostly because I stopped being able to read my own handwriting.

  • Eli wondered why he focuses on disability and queer issues during a time of war, as a self-identified peacenik, instead of trying to stop the bombs from falling. He then said that he identifies deep connections between queer issues, disability, and war. Citing “disability turned into a symbol of patriotism” from the pro-war side, and “disability of wartime children and civilians” (E.C.) from the peaceniks, he said that disability has become a sort of double-sided propaganda.
  • Bodies as Objects- Eli showed an image from an old medical textbook containing a line-up style photograph of about half a dozen naked intersex children. These children had black bars over their eyes, purportedly for protection of their identities. However, a quote from Cheryl Chase (a familiar face to us!) speaks to the contrary, saying that the bar “saves the viewer from having to endure the gaze of the subject.” On the cover of Intersex in the Age of Ethics, a book of self-chosen photographs of intersex people, author Alice Dreger collaged several of these images together, plus one of her, naked, in the same pose as the children from the medical textbook with a bar over her eyes. Regardless of this bar, her friends immediately recognized the photo and began confronting her about it. This further illustrates the futility of the black bar as privacy and makes it more about removing humanity and personality from images which are uncomfortable for some people.
  • Bodies that Need to be Cured- a poster from the Muscular Dystrophy Association was shown with a sweet and innocent young girl’s face under the caption “All she dreams about is running…” and the need to find a cure. “Transposing what we believe is right onto those who do not have it.” Eli said that he personally knows no one who is unable to run who dreams of being able to. We are seeing the lack of the ability to run as something which needs to be fixed in order for someone to live a happy and complete life. This can be applied to other things we’ve discussed, like women who are unable to conceive supposedly feeling incomplete as women.
  • Lynn Manning’s poem, “The Magic Wand”, on internal experience vs external perceptions and how we can’t choose how people see us, only how we project ourselves. Also, how perceptions change based on what feature people identify you by the most. Makes me wonder what people identify me as (woman? white? short? bi?) and if they pick something which I would not have chosen for myself (goes back to Hillary’s post on labels).
  • Sensationalized Bodies- “there are few images in dominant culture of bodily difference”, “people are sensationalizing trans bodies rather than seeing them as part of a broader spectrum”, “we are hungry to see representations of our ordinary and familiar lives and bodies”, “my body is just my body”.

At the end, Eli asked us to turn to our neighbor and do an exercise where we answered one of the following questions: “What have the thieves stolen from you?” or “How have you reclaimed your body?” The first, as I understood it, was how your perception of yourself has been altered by our visual culture, or what parts of you are no longer “yours” because they stand for something in society (Eli referenced Supersize Me and weight being used as an indentifier for poor health, when that is not always the case. Here, weight was stolen from people.). The second was much more straightforward, or so it seemed. My partner and I each took turns answering and, because we knew each other, we finished earlier than we might have had we been strangers. So we each tried to answer the other question. Neither of us could. I found that I could answer the first question easily, but I struggled and failed to find an answer to the second. She was just the opposite, not finding anything which she could conceive of as being stolen from her. Can y’all answer both questions? Neither of them?

3 Responses
  1. Anne Dalke permalink*
    February 25, 2009

    A few more resonant passages from Eli Clare‘s talk tonight, to add to Melanie’s notes:
    “Why am I not working fulltime to stop the bombs from falling?”
    “Disability is used a a symbol of patriotism; it is as a symbol of what is wrong with war.”
    “We who walk rather than roll.”
    “The notion of being fixed steals our bodies away.”
    “Able-ism: a profound isolation.”
    “Loss: longing for the ordinary and familiar.”
    “The chasm between internal experience and external perception.”
    “The fluidity of the category: we are all ‘temporarily-able-bodied.'”
    “We are all bodies in motion.”
    On monitoring our language: thinking about things as a “crutch,” of the economy as “crippled.”
    “Privilege is like the air we breathe: we don’t notice it, til it goes away.”

    ” I was genderqueer as a lesbian; I am now genderqueer as a gay male. For me, the transition from female to male was like stepping over a (very important crack) in the sidewalk. And it finally made gender quiet inside.”
    “I don’t want to abandon these stories. I’m glad they exist, and that they are my stories.”
    (echoes here of Sandy Stone on not erasing the stories of transition…)

  2. Melanie permalink
    February 25, 2009

    Anne, I also really liked your question on aging and how it relates to disability. When Eli was talking about how differently we might see things if we were in a society which didn’t see aging or disability as a loss, but instead just a change, it made me think of our class discussions on a world without gender. What if gender wasn’t about losing or gaining traits or features; what if it was just a movement? In Japan, age is something to be celebrated: medals are given for reaching certain ages, free healthcare and examinations for those over 70, and it is common to ask someone how old they are and congratulate them. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single society where disability and non-binary genders are seen in this light.

    Also, something else I just deciphered from my notes: “deep bodily shame is not something we’re born into the world with.”

  3. Anne Dalke permalink*
    February 25, 2009

    Just to keep others in the loop w/ our on-going conversation, a bit more background here: Eli had asked each of us (as Melanie says above) to talk w/ a neighbor about “what the thieves had stolen from us.” Being able-bodied all my life, and just now beginning to face some of the losses of ability that result from aging (you’ve seen me try to rise gracefully from sitting on the floor!) I was so struck by his language. “Who are these thieves?” I asked him. “Why use that language?” He replied that the thieves are systems of oppression. “But time?” I said. “That just…
    Eli’s answer was that how we cope w/ the losses that time brings are social constructions. Aging need not be a loss, in a world where the losses of age are not disparaged. As Melanie says, all this is very resonant to our conversations about the construction of gender (dis)abilities.

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