I never once heard, “You made the right choice when you turned around.” The mountain just won’t let go. (Clare 10)
As I read through Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride, this line on page 10 stood out to me the most, and I think it ties really well into the discussions around normativity that we’ve had through the semester thus far. While there is an expectation and a normative belief that if someone is climbing a mountain their goal must be to reach the top, I think Clare is smart to push against that. While it’s subtle, I really think Clare sees the mountain as an allegory for societal norms. Similarly to the way Michael Werner pushes back against heteronormativity, I think Clare is making a broader point about normativity in general. Looking at the peak of the mountain as the normative ideal we are pushed to pursue, Clare is pushing against those societal beliefs by suggesting perhaps we don’t need to strive to fit ourselves into a place where we’ll never be able to truly find a home.
It’s a surprising versatile metaphor as well. While Clare uses it primarily as a personal anecdote around disability, I would argue the metaphor of the mountain can be applied in a number of different places just as effectively. Personally, I found parallels between Clare’s use of the metaphor and the climbing of the corporate ladder, where we are expected to strive for the top but never give ourselves the time to realize that perhaps another path would have been better; that maybe we should have turned back instead.
Especially within a queer context, the metaphor of the mountain speaks to a conflict of personal identity versus societal expectations that is very powerful. But even so, I think it’s important to note that Clare’s metaphor is not only applicable to his own non-normative, queer experience. It is also flexible enough to speak to a wider, broader range of experience that is not only present within queer communities, but outside them as well, pointing to a larger world of problematic norms through the mountain of normativity that must be addressed.