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. â€œWould I have been an artist if I were hearing?â€ Kastrup wrote in a recent essay, â€œI do not know. I could have stayed on as a lawyer â€¦ dealing with money-grubbing clients.
â€Kastrup is one of more than 85 deaf and hearing people who tell their stories in â€œEyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader,â€ 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, whoâ€™s finishing up her memoir â€œMean Little deaf Queer;â€ Kavo Sharma, a deaf Hindu lesbian, who writes about drug addiction and recovery; and â€œGrygon,â€ a hearing asexual who, according to the contributorâ€™s notes, â€œdraws inspiration for her art from the deaf and sexual communities.â€ (The essayists distinguish between being culturally â€œDeaf,â€ communicating by sign language, and others who are small-d â€œdeafâ€ who communicate through lip-reading.)
â€œDesireâ€ 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, â€œOceanâ€ is a Gallaudet University graduate and an ordained Wiccan high priestess.
â€œIâ€™ve been blessed to deal with the burden of being double marginalized as a member of both [the Deaf and Pagan] communities,â€ she writes, â€œas well as the beauty that comes in merging my identity with my spirituality.â€ Yet, â€œsexuality is one of those things that defy any kind â€¦ of labeling.â€
FINDING WAYS TO merge identities also comes up in an essay by the anthologyâ€™s editor, Luczak, who came out in 1984. Early on, he learned of an â€œold traditionâ€ from â€œBuzzyâ€ Contrerio, a member of the Capitol Metropolitan Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf.
â€œThey hosted â€˜eyeâ€™ parties back in the days when it wasnâ€™t as acceptable to be out,â€ Luczak writes. â€œThey never said the word â€˜gayâ€™ â€¦ but they pointed to their eyes discretely to indicate that a certain person â€¦ might be â€˜one of the family.â€™â€
â€œEyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay and Lesbian Reader,â€ 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 â€œaccessible and affordable technologiesâ€ such as e-mail, when more people were hesitant to be open about their sexuality.
â€œEyes of Desire 2â€ 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 Whalenâ€™s essay is an amusing response to being asked, â€œWhat are the benefits of being deaf?â€ She skipped church as a child because â€œthey couldnâ€™t figure out how to make it accessible,â€ Whalen writes, â€œâ€¦ but I didnâ€™t miss the guilt â€¦ that so many religions install.â€
As with many anthologies, the writing is uneven. Some pieces such as Gallowayâ€™s or the excerpt from â€œReading Lips,â€ 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, â€œEyes of Desire 2â€ is an intriguing compilation of seldom-heard voices.
Â© 2007 The Washington Blade | Reprinted with Permission