Imagine my surprise

Friday after my last class of the semester, I went to the library on-campus to check out a couple of disability studies books to read over the next couple of slow weeks. After finding the books I was looking for, I started to browse the other disability studies books on the shelf. One of the books that caught my attention was called Unruly Bodies: Life Writing by Women with Disabilities. My first thought was “Oh, I wonder who’s included here.” I turned the book over to read the back cover, only to find much to my surprise that I was one of the writers being written about. Kind of flattering but also kind of weird at the same time. So of course I had to check the book out and read the chapter to satisfy my curiosity.

It’s funny reading academic writing about my writing. Because I’m not really an academic, the language of post-modernism and post-structuralism isn’t familiar or easy for me, all of which is to say that some of what I read doesn’t make sense to me. And some of it is just different from my intention. Of course there is nothing new or surprising to me that readers’ responses to my work differ from my writerly intentions. I’m bemused by some of the differences. I’m claimed as a self-defined “feminist hick,” and certainly I claim the word feminist and explore the word hick, but I don’t put the two together. But here’s my favorite: “Exile and Pride respells its authors name, presenting her as Eli rather than Elizabeth Clare….” This framing of my name change differs so immensely from the way it actually happened at the time.

In 1998 when I was working with South End Press to finish Exile, I had just started using the name Eli, some folks knew me by my old name and others by my new name and still others were making the slow transition from old to new. It was an awkward, uncomfortable, and exciting time, acknowledging my trans self and bringing that self into the world with a new name. I lived a somewhat double life, juggling two names, two pronouns, two restrooms, and more external perceptions of my gender than I care to count. I struggled long to figure out which name I wanted on the cover of Exile. On one hand, I had been publishing in periodicals under my old name for over a decade, and I was still trying on Eli. On the other hand I adored being called “Eli,” and it had started to truly fit. In the years since the publication of Exile, I’ve been more than grateful that I decided upon my new name for the front cover. And now my new name is no longer new but simply my name.

Telling this story isn’t meant to judge one academics reading of my name change but to remark on the difference between internal experience and external reality.

Annette Marcus said,

March 26, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

As an old Holly Near fan, of course I had to read this entry!

One of the things about being a writer who is read and discussed, is that you actually get to experience the sort of fun house mirror effect of your words going out into the world and being reflected back with so many different variations.

I know this is, in fact, what all communication is like, but I like to hold onto the illusion that what I say and what I mean are being received by the people I talk with. Really, publishing writing is the bold act of letting go of any sort of control. Liberating and scary, I would think.

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April 15, 2016 @ 6:02 am

I love this post very much.It is that you actually get to experience the sort of fun house mirror effect of your words going out into the world and being reflected back with so many different variations.

agen domino said,

May 14, 2016 @ 10:32 am

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