I read Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader edited by Raymond Luczak for my Intro To Deaf Culture class this past semester. I had gotten this book from our library towards the end of last summer and had been reading it off and on. When I found out we had to do a written book report I emailed my Prof. and asked could I do mine on this one. I also had to do a presentation to the class about the book. I picked the book as a bridge between a culture and community I know well to one I was unfamiliar with. While reading the book there was nothing I couldn’t relate to. The stories had the added experience and perspective of growing up both LG within the larger straight world and growing up deaf/Deaf and/or becoming deaf/Deaf while living in the larger hearing world.
In my class I was introduced to the word audism. Seriously, had never heard it before. “Most people are familiar with the concept of homophobia, but many may not be so with the idea of audism. Simply put, it is discrimination against Deaf, deaf, or hard of hearing people because of their hearing loss or their choice to use sign language to communicate. ” (1)
The similarities between our two communities is a comfort to me. As LGBT people we have been given the number 10%. I think it’s more like 40% and have thought so since I was 17 in the mid 90’s. I think the number is way too small an estimate. I don’t want to leave out all our closet cases :p But back to 10%. That means 90% of the world is straight (not that there’s anything wrong with that *smiles*).
90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents.
Which is another way of saying that 10% of deaf children are born to deaf parents.
Which is another way of saying that 90% of children born to Deaf Parents are hearing.
Lots of folk think it’s abnormal to be queer. Lots of folk think it’s abnormal to be deaf. Some of us grow up in situations that are hostile to our very beings. Some of us feel that we can’t be ourselves. Love and accepted for who we essentially are. The perpetual other. Our self-esteem, self-image, social development are effected. So much to overcome. We come from every background. Every gender. Every race. Every nationality. Every class. Every economic status. We cover the full spectrum of humanity. The Rainbow Web. I think this is why there is such a large percentage of LGBT American Sign Language Interpreters.
For me, interpreting is something I decided to pursue as a practicality. I started medically transitioning last June. It’ll be a year!! tomorrow. Because of what was going on in our economy and because the way the world at large treats transsexuals, I felt I needed to have a skill. I realize now that I am plenty skilled. But I digress. I’ve always wanted to learn sign language. When I was younger my brother and I watched Reasonable Doubts (NBC) starring Marlee Matlin and Mark Harmon. I thought Marlee was so beautiful and was fascinated watching her sign. I also grew up in Los Angeles and Compton. The gangs used signs to claim their territory, define themselves, separate, and kill. I see the perversion of this use of sign (My Professor told me about a black deaf kid in Long Beach, I think, that was gunned down in a driveby because he was signing and other gang members thought he was a member of a rival gang) but when I was a kid I was fascinated by the power of it. That hand gestures meant something. The power of language. The power of communication. I thought school would be the best place to transition. The safest place for me to transition. American Sign Language is a beautiful language I’ve always wanted to learn and I could be an interpreter. Good pay. Specific skill. I could communicate with people without having to talk. Blah blah blah. Meet a bunch of different type of people. Freelance in hospitals, courthouses, schools. I could be of service and help people and I could do it part time. I could be an interpreter and do other things. Hang out. Write. And I would never be bored. All true. All good.
Going to school, learning ASL and learning about Deaf Culture has influenced me and enhanced my life in so many ways.
I’ve met awesome awesome people. My confidence is way up. I’m more in touch with my core (soul/source) than I’ve ever been before. American Sign Language is a heart/soul language to me. Born from the natural desire to communicate, connect, share, and express. It has survived and thrived despite all attempts to demean and destroy it. Because of my Professor who is so proud to be Deaf and who loves sharing his history and culture with us..well it made me more proud of my multiple identities and history. My most explored and developed aspects of self are about growing up and growing up queer. So a lot of the time I’m seeing things though these filters. A child’s perspective and a person who’s always been outside of what is common or commonly sanctioned, as far as sexuality goes. These filters color my world.
My Intro to Deaf Culture class also made me want to explore my least developed identity. My racial identity. It is my least developed because it is a very old, deep, wound. I didn’t want to be consumed by the grief and the anger and hatred associated with it. I didn’t think I could overcome it. When I was younger I hated adults. I thought they were stupid and cruel and hypocritical and ruined the world out of laziness, carelessness, and lack of imagination. When I was about 13, I realized we were all like that. It took me that long to admit to myself that kids suck too. And that adults used to be kids…When I was 16/17 I hated hets for pretty much the same reasons. Some of my friends and I would use the term Breeders. Which to me, meant, mindless animals. When I left that 1st class, I wanted to fall down, curl up, and weep. My Professor talked about how language and community go hand in hand. It’s how we pass on our history, how we connect generations, how we express ourselves, how we develop our culture, pass on information, share experiences, thoughts, dreams…How identity and language and culture are linked. I have always felt English to be a foreign language. I will never know my family’s original language. I could wail forever for our loss. Stolen. I think of the sea and our journey of vomit, death, sores, rape, beatings..being taken from home, and forced and forced and forced to be and live somewhere and some things we are not. I could drown in all that fear and sadness. How do you hold on to who you are when it’s been taking away from you so violently, with such cruelty? Doesn’t assimilation annihilate? We speak in a language of those who have enslaved us. How can I tell my story, piece together the fragments of my soul with this language, and not hate. Forced upon me, as in no choice, no option, as a child, as a descendant of slaves. Rules of grammar, syntax that I know so well and don’t know at all. I break the rules with intention and sometimes with ignorance and indifference. This is how it is. English is my first language. Would I have chosen this foreign language as 1st choice to express the contents of my soul? No. But there are so many ways to express our souls. There are so many ways. Integration heals.
Learning ASL and about Deaf Culture made me have more respect for English as a language. Language as malleable. As living. As a way to communicate and connect. This is why I play with words. Why I make things up. It starts with desire and love and wanting to be whole. To piece together the fragments. To weave a web of love. To create family. To create peace.
A black classmate and I talked before the next class about how we felt about hearing a bit about Deaf History. From the 1880’s til about the 1960’s in US schools Deaf people were not allowed to use sign language. The oral method was king. Speak only. Speak English only. Speech being superior to signing. English being the superior language. This belief and enforced methodology caused so much harm to deaf students. The repercussions are still being felt today. And we talked about never saying it or thinking it again about spanish speaking people we encounter every day. We would never say again, why don’t they just speak English? We talked about it how it stemmed from jealousy. How they could slip into communication with each other and have that connection and how we could never have that. We felt left out.
The recognition that they still have their language and culture and they should nurture it and preserve it.
I came to this understanding in school. On the first day of class. Education is liberating. And school has mostly always been a safe place for me to grow. I realize that this is not the case for many people. And this has turned out longer than I ever intended.
What I will say before I close, is that we are all connected. We are a rainbow web. Nothing is done to the other that does not affect the other. We are each other. We are The Others. Let’s love Each Other. Let us love one another. Let us love one an(d)other. This is a time where we can be the I and the we in perfect supportive harmony. This time now. The time is now.
Peace and blessings ya’ll
(1) from an interview with R. Luczak by Lamda Literary. The capitalization of the word “Deaf” refers to Deaf people who use sign language as a primary means of communication versus deaf people who choose not to sign.