Hearing new voices

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Anthology of gay deaf writers illuminates intriguing queer subculture

By Kathi Wolfe

Jon A. Kastrup, a deaf gay man, has loved art since his youth in the 1970s. Yet, Kastrup became a mechanical engineer and a lawyer because he felt the need to prove himself in the hearing world. He later found happiness when he moved to San Francisco and became an artist. “Would I have been an artist if I were hearing?” Kastrup wrote in a recent essay, “I do not know. I could have stayed on as a lawyer … dealing with money-grubbing clients.

”Kastrup is one of more than 85 deaf and hearing people who tell their stories in “Eyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader,” a new anthology edited by Raymond Luczak, a gay deaf writer. Contributors to this wide-ranging collection include R.N. Taber, a British gay and partially deaf librarian; U.S. performance artist Terry Galloway, who’s finishing up her memoir “Mean Little deaf Queer;” Kavo Sharma, a deaf Hindu lesbian, who writes about drug addiction and recovery; and “Grygon,” a hearing asexual who, according to the contributor’s notes, “draws inspiration for her art from the deaf and sexual communities.” (The essayists distinguish between being culturally “Deaf,” communicating by sign language, and others who are small-d “deaf” who communicate through lip-reading.)

“Desire” is an engaging portrait of a relatively unknown part of queer culture. The essays, poems and interviews in the anthology are a mosaic of the lives of gay and trans deaf people, who encounter prejudice based on their deafness and sexuality in the gay and hearing worlds.

As is so often the case with people who live at the intersections of identities, struggles for dignity and self-awareness are complex, involving various parts of the self. For example, “Ocean” is a Gallaudet University graduate and an ordained Wiccan high priestess.

“I’ve been blessed to deal with the burden of being double marginalized as a member of both [the Deaf and Pagan] communities,” she writes, “as well as the beauty that comes in merging my identity with my spirituality.” Yet, “sexuality is one of those things that defy any kind … of labeling.”

FINDING WAYS TO merge identities also comes up in an essay by the anthology’s editor, Luczak, who came out in 1984. Early on, he learned of an “old tradition” from “Buzzy” Contrerio, a member of the Capitol Metropolitan Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf.

“They hosted ‘eye’ parties back in the days when it wasn’t as acceptable to be out,” Luczak writes. “They never said the word ‘gay’ … but they pointed to their eyes discretely to indicate that a certain person … might be ‘one of the family.’”

“Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay and Lesbian Reader,” an anthology edited by Luczak and published in 1993, was an invaluable first look at queer deaf life. Yet, as Luczak writes, this collection was compiled before the advent of “accessible and affordable technologies” such as e-mail, when more people were hesitant to be open about their sexuality.

“Eyes of Desire 2” offers an updated and more diverse view of this cultural subset. Transgender and intersex voices are included, there is more of an international perspective, and more of the contributors are comfortable with coming out.

This collection is an intriguing showcase of how the writers, often facing discrimination, seek to connect with others. Some of the best pieces in the book are those with a pointed sense of humor. Mel Whalen’s essay is an amusing response to being asked, “What are the benefits of being deaf?” She skipped church as a child because “they couldn’t figure out how to make it accessible,” Whalen writes, “… but I didn’t miss the guilt … that so many religions install.”

As with many anthologies, the writing is uneven. Some pieces such as Galloway’s or the excerpt from “Reading Lips,” a play by Michael Conley, are of a high literary quality. In other essays, the writing is pedestrian, though the stories are worthy of attention. Despite this caveat, “Eyes of Desire 2” is an intriguing compilation of seldom-heard voices.

© 2007 The Washington Blade | Reprinted with Permission

7 thoughts on “Hearing new voices”

  1. Good article. Made me cringe a bit about the “unequal writing” bit. It was a nice way of saying that some of the writing is bad. I haven’t read the book yet so can’t say but it’s understandable when you think about the fact that English is a foreign language to most deafies.

  2. Wish you guys updated your news blogg more frequently. I use to come here everyday to check it out but not updated enough so lost interest. Now only check it once in a while.

    Also, you need to get the facts straight. Jon A. Kastrup was never a lawyer. He never passed the BAR. He failed repeatedly. To work as or call yourself a lawyer you must pass the BAR. It is misleading and unethical for him to call himself a lawyer. It makes me wonder what else he’s lying about. Did he ever really work as a mechanical engineer?

    I have not read the book yet. I plan to borrow from my friend when he gets it and I will let you know what I think of it.

  3. Sam:

    I am working on getting the books to bookstores, but it’s a slow process. :-( I was quite surprised to see that Amazon doesn’t plan to ship copies until December 24th! But naturally, if you’d like an autographed copy, please don’t hesitate to go to the web site for the book (I’ve included it right under my name for your convenience), and check it all out!

    Thanks for asking.

    Sincerely,

    Raymond Luczak

  4. Jon A. Kastrup is NOT and has never been an attorney. He did go to law school but repeatedly failed the Bar exam.

    Shame on him for lying. Shame on the authors of both the book and the article for not double-checking facts.

  5. S.G.:

    Editing this anthology was a huge job by itself, so I had to take on faith what people told me. :-/ Fact-checking over 85 writers would’ve taken me another six months on top of the two and half years it took me to do this book!

    That said, I do not know anything more about Mr. Kastrup’s situation beyond what he’s shared in his writing. I felt that he had something to say about being a Deaf GLBT artist, which is why I chose to include him in the book.

    Sincerely,

    Raymond Luczak

  6. If you go to law school and get a J.D. you are a lawyer. When you pass the bar then you get to call yourself an attorney. If he called himself a lawyer as opposed to an attorney he is NOT lying.

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