In 2007‚Äôs The Marrow‚Äôs Telling:¬† Words In Motion‚ÄĒa collection of poetry and prose‚ÄĒdisability activist Eli Clare examines the way bodies carry history and identity over time.¬† In particular, he maps the physical ramifications of his Cerbal Palsy, rural heritage, gender transgressions, queer sexuality and abuse survival. Identifying as ‚Äúa white, disabled, rural, mixed-classed, English-speaking, ftm-spectrum genderqueer who lives as a guy,‚ÄĚ Clare says, ‚Äúthe only ethical way to name myself is to acknowledge the ways I‚Äôm privileged as well as marginalized.‚ÄĚ
Clare is the author of 1999‚Äôs Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation, heralded as a landmark text in the formation of queer/disability studies.¬† He once walked across the continental United States for peace, coordinated a rape prevention program and co-organized the first-ever Queerness and Disability Conference. He works for the University of Vermont ‚Äės LGBTQA Services.
Available this month, The Marrow‚Äôs Telling represents Homofactus Press (homofactuspress.com)‚Äôs dedication to work by and for trans and genderqueer men.¬† Upcoming events to promote the anthology includes Clare‚Äôs Oct. 27 presentation at the University of Michigan: ‚ÄúGaping, Gawking, Staring: Living in Marked Bodies.‚ÄĚ
Earlier this year, Clare was the keynote speaker at the Forge Forward conference, where he addressed his concerns with those who ‚Äúname their transness a disability [or] a birth defect.‚ÄĚ
Primarily rising from who use, or wish to use, medical technology to transition, Clare argues that the cure terminology, ‚Äútakes for granted that disability is an individual medical problem ‚Ä¶[and] runs counter to the work of disability rights activists who frame disability as an issue of social justice. Many of us aren‚Äôt looking for cures but for civil rights.‚ÄĚ¬† Furthermore, he says, ‚ÄúWhile I want to respect the people who frame their transness this way‚Ä¶Disability in no way assures decent health care. Instead [doctors] trivialize and patronize us‚Ä¶and sometimes even think we‚Äôd be better off dead.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIn short,‚ÄĚ Clare summarizes, ‚Äúif trans people are going to use the rhetoric of disability to explain their experiences of gender and bodily difference, they‚Äôd better‚Ä¶understand the real lived experience of disability, not rely on oppressive stereotypes or undermine the political work of disability activists.‚ÄĚ
Instead of focusing on medical intervention, Clare suggests a politics of self-determination that would allow trans communities to, ‚Äúseparate from a medical establishment that still functions as a gatekeeper in many trans people‚Äôs lives.¬† We desperately need a health care system based upon‚Ä¶the valuing of what each of us knows about our own bodies, and upon the idea that health care is a human right, not a commodity to buy and sell.‚ÄĚ
Still, Clare believes that trans people can learn from the disability community by reaching ‚Äúdeep into the lived experiences of our bodies‚ÄĒwhether they be trans, disabled, neither or both, [questioning] the idea of normal and the notion of cure, [resisting] shame and the medicalization of identity, and [embracing] bodily difference while understanding that for many people medical technologies are important, even essential, tools.‚ÄĚ
Clare also believes that ‚Äúcrip activists need to understand that trans people have a stake in disability law and not disown us‚ÄĒas happened [with] the Americans with Disabilities Act, when Jesse Helms specifically wrote [out] transsexuals.¬† Disability lobbyists and activist didn‚Äôt protest [because] they wanted their bill to pass.‚ÄĚ
Passages of The Marrow‚Äôs Telling confront Clare‚Äôs traumatic childhood, but he admits, ‚ÄúI struggled with my decision to write about childhood sexual and ritual abuse, but‚Ä¶to not write about violence in this context would be supremely dishonest. Much of my work arises from the traditions of political and feminist poetry where storytelling as witness is particularly important.‚ÄĚ
Like so many other LGBT individuals, Clare fled his small town along Oregon‚Äôs coast for more urban environments.¬† While he insists the flight, ‚Äúliterally saved my life,‚ÄĚ he says, ‚ÄúI lost so much too: a daily sustaining connection with a geography that I still call home‚Ä¶[and] the rootedness that comes with decades‚ÄĒor actually generations‚ÄĒ lived in the same house or down the same road. It‚Äôs hard to talk about these losses without sounding nostalgic or romantic [but] the losses are real.‚ÄĚ ¬†
Note:¬† trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall (firstname.lastname@example.org) provides marketing and publicity for Homofactus Press, the FTM publishing house behind The Marrow‚Äôs Telling.