Eli Clare Shares His Story

On Tuesday, April 7, the Center for Women’s Studies hosted a Body Shame and Pride Brown Bag in celebration of the weeklong Queerfest, with writer and activist Eli Clare. Clare described himself as white, disabled and genderqueer and gave a poetry-style speech about his struggle with identity and shared his opinions on body image.

Clare began his presentation with his experience of body shame during a week-long cycling trip with his partner.

“All week we’ve been dealing with this crap, folks assuming he’s my caretaker, chaperone, guide, talking to him but not me,” Clare said.

Despite being engulfed by a sense of desolation and feeling wronged, Clare was hopeful because he knew that he was not the only person for whom shame has become a part of life.

“Shame is an issue of health and wellness, community and family, deeply personal and overtly political. It’s hard to know where to begin, because built into the sheer bodily experience of shame is a deep, deep isolation that evades language. I want us to find places of resistance, places where our bodies, families, communities become home,“ Clare said.

He also talked about how the obsession with cure turns disability into something that needs a medical solution and ignores issues of social justice. Clare  challenged the naming of disabilities. He said that the use of the word “defect” and words like that tend to result in the belief that one’s body is defected, consequently resulting in shame.

To Clare, community is the key to overcoming body shame. 

“Fostering resistance and finding places where shame is no longer home requires so much in so many different realms. I’ve come to believe that community is one of the keys. Shame feeds upon isolation. If it were a toxic weed grown out of control, isolation would be its rain and fertilizer,” Clare said.

Clare said that there are many “tunnels through the thicket.” For example, naming body differently can foster comfort and joy. Moreover, there is no definitive end to this struggle between body hate and love, and there is no complete passage between shame and pride. He encouraged everyone to think about shame in collective and political ways by building a safe and welcoming place.

“Let’s pay attention to shame as both a community issue and a health issue. Let’s create the space to make our bodies home, filling our skin to its very edges,” he said.

Sophomore Sharon Nicol, an intern at Center for Women’s Studies, felt that Eli Clare perfectly addressed the theme of this year’s QueerFest: Intersectionality. 

“On our campus, marginalized identities are consistently erased, especially disabled and genderqueer bodies. I am really grateful that, at least in that moment, those identities were given a voice that couldn’t be ignored,” Nicol said.

First-year Jinsuh Cho was also one of the students who attended the Brown Bag and appreciated Clare’s discussion.

“The part I liked the best was when he said that hope comes from feeling hopeless. I was feeling stuck with some issues right now, and that part really helped me to think positively about not being able to find a breakthrough,”

Cho said.