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What has inspired you into writing?
My deafness has caused me to become a writer. To understand what I meant by that statement, I need to explain my background a little bit. I grew up in a hearing family of nine children. My hearing loss wasn’t diagnosed until I was two-and-half years old. I was not allowed to learn sign language. Out of my relatives the one person who really understood me was my grandmother. To my recollection, she and I never talked much, but every Sunday after Mass, she made a point of looking into my eyes while pressing a shiny penny onto the palm of my hand. She’d somehow understood that I needed complete attention whenever we spoke. With kids making a lot of racket, it was very easy for anyone to look away distractedly while talking to me, but not my grandmother. I was eleven years old when she suddenly died of a stroke. No one in my hearing family sat down to explain what death truly meant. I was a bit lost. What was going on? Then it was time to do my speech homework, which was to try writing two or three limericks, a five-line poem with a specific rhyme structure; I was given the assignment before she died. Somehow, in that last Sunday of October 1977, something inside me broke open. Here, I’d probably thought, I can say something. Did I talk about my grandmother’s death? No. That happened years later, but in hindsight, I realized I had latched onto writing as a way of trying to comprehend the confusing vagaries of my hearing family.
What struggles have you faced as a Deaf writer?
While I do share the same struggles that hearing writers have in trying to get published, I don’t think it’s been that much of a struggle as a Deaf writer in that arena. However, in some literary circles, it does help to network with other writers, editors, and publishers. This is where I’m at a huge disadvantage. While I can certainly speak and lipread, my nasal voice and communication needs does seem to make a few hearing powers-that-be pause. Do they really want to hang out with me and make accommodations for me, as in being in a quieter space, standing in better light, and so on? I love meeting people big time, but it’s harder when certain powers-that-be have decided not to interact with you when they see you’re deaf. Do I get mad about that? No. I just continue to keep writing and becoming the best writer I can be. Hopefully they’ll have to stop ignoring me and start seeing me as their equal. Of course, I’m not counting on anything. Audism (and ableism) is deeply embedded in our culture.
What are you looking forward to when you come to Toronto?
I’ve been to Toronto once in the summer of 2007 when my play Love in My Veins was performed, and I loved the city. One of the things I want very much to do is to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario, drink something warm and yummy in a Tim Horton’s, and walk around the city.
What are you hoping to gain from the Naked Hearts Festival?
I’m hoping to make new friends, reconnect with old friends, discover new writers, and create new memories. (I should mention that as the editor of Callisto: A Queer Fiction Journal, I’m always on the lookout for new writers who might be interested in submitting their work to Callisto.)
What are you hoping to bring to the Naked Hearts Festival?
I’d like to help bring a greater awareness (and appreciation) of Deaf culture onstage, whether through my ASL translations of poetry or participating on a panel discussion as a Deaf gay person.
I noticed that the first edition of Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader (Alyson, 1993) is no longer in publication – is there any way to bring the book back into publication? If so, what steps are required to bring this book back to the shelves?
Yes, Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader went out of print when Alyson Books folded. I’d love to reprint the book, but I don’t have the original layout files. I’d have to create it from scratch. Not only that, I don’t have access to the original picture files that were used in the book. I haven’t done anything about the book mainly because not enough people have asked for a copy of the book. Would anyone make enough money to break even on such a reprint of Eyes of Desire? It’s an unfair question, but it must be asked. Its sequel, Eyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader, has also fallen (only temporarily!) out of print. I’ve been so busy these days that I haven’t had time to look into reprinting the book. I’ve been meaning to create an e-book out of EOD2, but given its variety of poetry, fiction, and plays, formatting that would be a huge job. It’s a 400-page book.
What piece of advice do you have for an aspiring Queer Deaf Writer?
There are now many more places where a Deaf queer writer can get published compared to the days when I was starting out. I’m not saying that it’s easy to get published, but many more journals and periodicals are more aware of the LGBT community, and more likely interested in reading about the Deaf queer experience. Hopefully, as time goes on, Deaf people won’t be seen as novelties but as people truly accepted as equals to hearing people.
Any other piece of information you’d like to share?
Just like how many hearing LGBT people resent having inaccurate generalizations made about them, so do Deaf people about themselves. If you’re hearing, don’t let the fact that you don’t know ASL stop you. Many of us Deaf people have adapted to interacting with hearing people, so it’s your turn to adapt to interacting with us. Who knows, you might make even more new friends!