Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Strong, but weakened by repetition

rachelr's picture

While reading Eli Clare there stood out to me many strong and moving images, especially those of his childhood; the rape, being able to move out of “disabled” classes in high school, graduating with a high school diploma and a college scholarship, the physical sacrifices the loggers made, how he worked alongside them loving the feeling of swinging an ax and wearing flannel and overalls. However as the pages on logging continued to mount, and the same description of his rape and the same remarks about high school and into college continued to appear again and again in chapter after chapter I found the potency of the words waning. I found myself only half paying attention and losing focus in the repetitive sections, saying to myself “I know, I already read this…” While I understand the need to not tell everything in chronological order, I wish he had trusted his readers to remember his sharing of experiences and then refer back to them rather than to retell again and again. I don’t know if the reason he did this was to draw as much pity from the readers as possible, to drill these life experiences into us, or some other reason entirely (repetition is mostly used as a persuasive writing technique so I don’t know if we could factor that angle in at all…) but for me it simply weakened the importance of many of his experiences because I simply got tired of reading about them.

That said I did overall learn quit a bit and I would like to highlight some areas in the text that stuck with me. 

On page 117 he writes “…even though I, along with many others, have made queer mine, the word hold intolerable grief and bitterness for a large number of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people.” He then continues to talk about how many “yearn toward true assimilation, an end to difference.” This reminded me of something we read last week (I forget exactly which text) where a man was talking about his feelings towards and his relationships with men, and spoke for something like an hour without saying the word “gay” once. I suppose you could look at this omission either as his stand against labeled genders or as his yearning toward “gender normality” and greater acceptance.

I also marked on page 130 the section where Clare talks about how much a part of gender mannerisms and motion are. I remember watching The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) with my mom and trying to decide whether the “stunt person” playing ‘The Phantom’ in the opening scenes was a man or a woman, and as they are clothed in all black we were basing our guesses on height, build, but primarily on how they moved. I guess it struck me because its one of those things that surprises you (or me at least) when you’re told, but then you realize that you knew it all along. We’ve just been assimilated to it since we can remember.

In the annotation on pages 148-149 Eli notes that “The strict binary divide between female and male has long been defended through biology… [but] we need to learn about intersex experiences and speak out about the ongoing shame, silence, secrecy, and medical abuse intersex people face.” In Behavioral Neuroscience last year we watched a documentary called Dr. Money and the Boy With No Penis. To summarize, twins Brian and Bruce were born and at 7 months they went to the hospital for a circumcision. The electrical equipment malfunctioned and Bruce’s entire penis was burnt off. His parents then decided to consult a sexologist and they decided to change Bruce to a girl through several surgeries. They dressed him in dresses, and gave him dolls to play with which were of no interest to him, all the while never telling him (now her) or Brian what had happened. They twins had sex therapy where the doctor had them do sexual things together to solidify their sexual differences within them. I won’t give away the ending in case anyone is interested in it, but let’s just say it doesn’t end well. This is an example of the conflicting environments- internal and external. Many people’s internal environment does not match with their external one, and increases in the type of external environment (for Bruce it was punishment for aggressive, athletic endeavors and rewards for more feminine activities and expressions) won’t change the internal environment.