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

You are here

Self- Hatred

The Unknown's picture

Hate is a strong word, one that should be used sparingly to express a passionate, profound feeling. The definition that is given for hate by the Oxford English dictionary demonstrates the profound force and intensity of this term: “An emotion of extreme dislike or aversion; detestation, abhorrence” (Oxford English Dictionary 1). Clare discusses how hatred is used to marginalize people, make people feel ashamed of their different abilities, force people to accept certain identities, and isolate groups and individuals. Unfortunately, hate cannot always be ignored. Due to everyone’s strong will to belong and be accepted, marginalized people discard their identities because they are forced to accept and believe that they are and were wrong, unnatural, and inhumane, thereby condemning one’s past and current view of his or herself which is the definition of self- hatred.

Eli Clare gives power to hatred and its ability to erase self-proclaimed identities. Hate causes marginalization and loneliness through targeting and excluding groups based on circumstances that they cannot control. Outcastes are told for various reasons that they do not fit into the societal “norm.” In order to be apart of society, they must change who they are and their identities. Through the process of shedding these parts of themselves, oppressed people must come to the understanding that the identities and language they once clung onto represent evil, ugliness, and savageness. The rejection of themselves in order to find a place where they are included and accepted is self-hatred.

Eli Clare explains how hatred can be so extensively imposed on marginalized groups through the use of language that they are forced to accept shame:

The body as home, but only if it is understood that language too lives under the skin. I think of the words crip, queer, freak, redneck. None of these are easy words. They mark the jagged edge between self-hatred and pride, the chasm between how the dominant culture views marginalized peoples and how we view ourselves, the razor between finding home, finding our bodies, and living in exile, living on the metaphoric mountain. Whatever our relationships with these words-whether we embrace them or hate them, feel them draw blood as they hit our skin or find them entirely fitting, refuse to say them or simply feel uncomfortable in their presence-we deal with their power every day (12).

In this passage, Clare concludes that individuals are exiled based on identities that they did not claim, but were named for them. These identities were created by the oppressive, “dominant culture,” rooted in anger, hatred and a desire for disassociation from people who are seen as or assumed to be different, strange, queer, freaky, or crippled.            

Clare’s personal experiences provoke him to reclaim and define himself using some of these terms, for instance queer, transgender, and dyke. At the same time Clare refuses to accept other terms because of the context in which they were used in his life. The words Clare chooses to adopt are used to demonstrate his defiance, pride, and to associate himself with a group of people. He goes on to explain that people’s varying relationships to these and other words such as redneck, crip, freak, gay, bi, handicapped, retard, monkey, defect, cause them to view the influences of the individual terms differently. Even though some words pierce more than others, Clare reminds his readers that is important to remember where they come from, why they are used, and that they impress heavily on the lives of people who do not fit into a narrow, social structure.

The language used about and toward the oppressed causes people to define themselves in restricted ways. As they begin to accept them, the terms take on a powerful role- shaping ideas, looks, attitudes, and language. Differently-abled people, minorities, and outcasts do not define their diverse abilities or lack there of, but instead they are characterized and classed together. The terms that they are forced to pick and choose from and/or decide to adopt are not complex enough to describe people’s multi-facetted histories and identities. These definitions are discomforting.

Many ostracized people fight their self-proclaimed and given labels so they do not and cannot be associated with people who are not accepted into society. They feel that if they succeed in this separation of association with people and the language used by the majority to describe them, they will be accepted into a rigid, social framework. Their goal is inclusion through self-denial, rejection of old identities, and shame. This rejection is a statement and expression of self-hatred. The dismissal and humiliation of one’s past, which nonetheless shapes people’s present mindsets and personalities, and the desire to connect is the seed of self-hatred.

Whether people accept them or fight against them, discriminatory words carry weight and meaning. Eli Clare discusses the effects of hateful words and stereotypes on oppressed people: “Some bodies are taken for good; other bodies live on, numb, abandoned full of self hate. Both have been stolen… Stereotypes and lies lodge in our bodies as surely as bullets. They live and fester there, stealing the body”  (13). These words are omnipresent. They follow people around telling marginalized groups they are contorted and abnormal.

Though people experience a strong feeling of hatred, their desire to connect is stronger. Marginalized groups feel alone, as if they have no control of how they are perceived, and do not consider the possibility of being accepted how they are.  In order to belong and connect, these marginalized people are told that the only way they will be accepted is to shred any trace of who they are and were: their current and past identities. To disassociate from these identities, one needs to believe and understand that those aspects of themselves are and were wrong, unnatural, inhumane and must be changed and buried. The only way to accept that these identities are false, immoral, or incorrect is to condemn one’s past and one’s current view of his or herself. This condemnation is self- hatred.

Eli Clare claims that his self-hatred and that of others who have been ridiculed based on race, sex, sexual identity or preference, physical or mental differences, are a response to being told they were lesser, incapable, retarded:

But even as I veer away from the simple and neat argument, the one centered upon the ways oppression can turn around and thrive in the bodies/minds of oppressed people, I must pull my self-hatred out of the bag. Even though the answer to my question about the word freak is bigger than self-hatred, I need to stare down the self who wants to be “normal,” the kid who thought she could and should pass as nondisabled, the crip still embarrassed by the way her body moves. I can feel slivers of shame and isolation still imbedded deep in my body. I hate these fragments (110).

People who have been discriminated against have been taught to hate themselves, to not have confidence in their abilities, and to give into their abuse. Their shame becomes entrenched in their bodies, enveloping them. They are pressed to hate that they are separated as well as what separates them from the dominant culture. Hate can be blinding and vast.

Hatred suppresses identities and diversity. Hatred is a form of subjugation. Those considered others are encouraged to fit into a mold that they have not chosen and does not include them to escape exclusion. These others are forced to choose between accepting who they are and being accepted into society. Unfortunately, acceptance by society is constricted by harsh criteria that many people cannot fit into. Hatred guides this “right” way and directs people to narrow, conformist ways of thinking.

The extreme disconnection between the differently abled and everyone else, results in isolation. Furthermore, the abilities and identities that people are born with are often difficult to change. This failure to conform and be received by the majority causes an internal feeling of exclusion and isolation. This feeling of detachment is potent and influential in Clare’s narrative and becomes infused in his body, mindset, and practices. Clare struggles with his identities as they are related to other belittled groups. Marginalized groups feel the need both to overcome their differences, and alternatively accept failure, face being cast away, or disassociated.  

Self-hatred thrives where people are hated for circumstances that make them stand out from the dominant culture, and often these aspects of one’s personality cannot be changed. Isolated groups feel alone, as if they have no control of how they are perceived, and do not consider the possibility of being accepted how they are. Whether being hated for being crippled, gay, a womyn, identifying as transgender, or not being white, the will of people to connect and relate is more resilient than their association and feelings about certain identities. The possibility and experience of loneliness that isolated people have seen and felt can be so devastating and debilitating that marginalized people are willing to erase parts of who they are and were to be apart of a common mold, to be included.

To disconnect from parts of oneself, one needs to believe that this old self was abnormal, perverse, irregular, ugly, and incapable. To reject old identities and the pride associated with these identities means admitting shame about one’s past and the personal characteristics of one’s past. This overwhelming shame is self- hatred.

The author decides to use the word hatred to describe stark contrasts among marginalized and dominant groups and how these differences influences people’s perceptions of themselves. Hatred is used to explain Clare’s reflection on a society in which he finds himself struggling to conform to and rebel against. He intentionally uses this strong word to convey the intersectionality of institutional problems that diverse oppressed groups and individuals confront daily. The word hate is woven into self-hate when Clare describe his own embarrassment associated with his past, as well as ideas about his own image, shame and losses that come from taking on new identities, and the feeling of never belonging.

The word “hatred” or “hate” is used extensively throughout Exile and Pride: disability, queerness, and liberation. Though the word takes on different meanings it is continuously used to express the author’s anger and outrage with the racist, sexist, and classicist system he finds himself in. His stories of pain and exile illuminate the pages with self- hatred. He constantly compares society’s perspective on marginalized groups and the use of hatred and derogatory terms and their limitations with his own views and experiences. In this way, Clare seeks to shed light on the complex, painful issues of gender, disability, and deep-rooted oppression that pervade society and his personal encounters.

Clare gives a vivid and convincing picture of the devastating and pervasive effects of being hated for not being part of what is perceived as the “Norm.” Clare's frustration with having to constantly combat these derogatory stereotypes being thrust upon him and others with whom he identifies causes him to consistently use the word hate. Whether one accepts the hatred or attempts to rebuff or repel it or both, it has a large role in shaping the identity of the objectified victim. The will to belong, to connect, to be apart of the majority forces people to change their identities that set them apart in order to be considered, “normal” and accepted. The process of changing these identities forces people to confront and be ashamed of who they are and who they were, whereby internalizing the hatred that has been inflicted upon them. This is the idea of self-hatred.


Works Cited

Clare, Eli. Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. Cambridge, MA: SouthEnd, 1999. Print.

"Discover the STORY of English More than 600,000 Words, over a Thousand Years."   Home: Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 1 Jan. 2014. Web.  24 Sept. 2014.             <>.