Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Fans, Pronouns, and Stories that Win Hearts: An Interview with Elisha Lim

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I first met Elisha Lim years ago at a Ladyfest event, where I was invited to read. For those of you who’ve never attended the feminist arts festival, it’s kind of like a giant love-in. Its organizers, including Elisha, made me, a new author at the time, feel like a star. Elisha is known for this kind of generosity, and a spectacular talent for writing and illustration.

Elisha is the author of 100 Butches, a genderbending comic. Elisha's work was voted “best lesbian's lesbian art” on the authoritative queer site afterellen.com, and has been published in Bitch Magazine, Curve, Diva (UK), LOTL (Australia) and Xtra (Canada). Elisha will be collaborating with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha on the graphic novel 100 Femmes, and in December will launch 100 Butches with Magnus Books in New York.

F: Tell us a little about how you identify as an artist. Do you consider yourself an illustrator first and writer second? Or both at the same time?

E: I think my reputation is as an artist, but I think of myself as a writer. It's been a delight and fortune to be received as an artist - but I think that it's really the stories that are winning hearts. I can name a hundred visual artists more brilliant than me in exactly my genre and field, but I feel very proud of the stories; I think they're unique.

F: I think readers sometimes respond more to us as people/our identities more than for the actual work (especially if they are new to the work). Do you ever have that experience? How do you feel about it?

E: What an awesome question! I totally do agree about that. I could write a book about that question itself. Is it the culture of celebrity? Myself, I know that I respond more to both Margaret Atwood and Rob Ford for their fame, reputation and caricatures, more than I do to their respective careers. I'm not proud of that, but I also feel that it's a bit inevitable in my consumer culture.

And so I don't blame anyone for doing the same. I've had people say they love my work, and then call it anything from 100 Butchers to 100 Bitches. But I often think it creates a dangerous and unearned power imbalance, where I get a great reception and better treatment just for being "known." It's easy and terrible to value ourselves on a scale of achievement, and I think it often abuses ourselves and each other.

At the same time, I know that there are also some titles really worth bearing. I know that I look upon some folks in my community as super-qpocs. I love my queer people of colour role models: Claude Boulanger, Richard Fung, Syrus Ware, Leah Lakshmi, Punam Khosla, you, many others. I think of folks like you as beacons and representatives. When I greet any of you with an extra-special smile, it might not be for what you do specifically. I might not have an accurate idea of what you do at all - haha! But I recognize you as being on the front-line of representation, carving out space for me in the hallowed halls of straight cisgender white supremacy.

I feel pride, admiration, strength and almost safety around you guys. Lord knows it would be my dream to fill the same role for other folks, regardless of how intimately they know my comic panels.

F: I recall that you went on tour before your book came out. What was the biggest thing you learned from that experience?

E: That was a terrific time. What did I learn? Amongst many things, to always be respectful to fans. I've seen other cult writers dismiss and mock their fans, and at first I thought that it was funny, but I don't anymore. A fan might seem oddly starry-eyed, but it's because they're hard-working activists, artists and survivors, and so they appreciate what I have to say. I learned that the hard way, and I never want to forget it.

F: I heard about the Xtra! Pronoun Debacle, where they didn’t want to refer to you as “them”, your chosen pronoun. What happened with that? Any insights you’d like to share?

E: That was wonderful, I had 1,350 people sign a petition for Xtra! to publish my chosen pronoun. It wasn't successful but I felt really supported by my community.

F: What are you working on now? Any new projects?

E: Yeah! I'm working on my annual wall calendar, and this year's theme is Sissies - portraits of folks who are proud of their feminine sides. I'm also proud to be touring Gay Genius, the first American anthology of queer comics, and to have a comic in this issue of Bitch about trans-misogyny.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Farzana Doctor

Farzana Doctor is a Toronto-based author and the recipient of the Writers' Trust of Canada's Dayne Ogilvie Grant for an emerging gay Canadian author (2011). Her first novel, Stealing Nasreen, received critical acclaim and earned a devoted readership upon its release in 2007. She is currently touring her second book, Six Metres of Pavement (Dundurn 2011).

Go to Farzana Doctor’s Author Page