Reading Gloria Anzaldúa, Reading Ourselves . . .
Complex Intimacies, Intricate Connections
It’s not on paper that you create but in your innards, in the gut and out
of living tissue—organic writing I call it. . . . The meaning and worth of
my writing is measured by how much I put myself on the line and how
much nakedness I achieve.—Gloria anzaldúa,
“Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers” (1981)
Whenever I listen to my students or other readers as they engage with
Gloria Anzaldúa’s writings, whether they’re discussing her poetry, fic-
tion, or prose, I am struck by the profound ways that her words resonate
with so many different types of people—not with everyone, of course, but
with a surprisingly wide range, including many who do not self-identify
as Chicana, Latina, feminist, lesbian, and/or queer. They are shocked by
the intimacy of Anzaldúa’s insights; they feel like she’s speaking directly
to them, like she’s describing their own deeply buried secrets and beliefs.
They acknowledge the many differences between their embodied locations
and Anzaldúa’s–differences including but not limited to her campesino1
upbringing in South Texas; the specific forms of alienation and oppres-
sion she experienced due to her health, color, culture, gender, economic
status, and sexuality; and/or her complex relationship to language. But
when they read Anzaldúa they feel a sense of familiarity more intense than
that experienced with most other authors.
I attribute Anzaldúa’s ability to generate such complex intimacies at
least partially to her willingness to risk the personal,2 to put herself “on
the line” and strive for an extreme degree of “nakedness,” as she asserts in
“Speaking in Tongues,” quoted in the epigraph to this chapter. Anzaldúa
performs radical acts of self-excavation; stripping away social masks and
conventions, she bares herself in her writings. By plunging so deeply into
the depths of her own experiences, no matter how painful those experi-
ences might be, and by exposing herself—raw and bleeding—she ex-
ternalizes her inner struggles and opens possible connections with her
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