July 1998

Peter-Shane A 21 yr.-old Irish Deaf student doing ACCESS at Kingsway College, London, England. And is involved with young Deaf people in London & England and the development of young deaf rights in England (and Ireland).


"This Strong Beam of Light"

Life is a bag of laughter and fun.

Was watching 'Wednesday Night Live' (that new chat tele-show) and a caption appeared when the camera went on a absurd-looking woman saying "lesbian mother",

It made me think as there are no subtitles (close captions) on my aunt's television.

We Deaf people came a very long way to be where we are now. So much has happened in the past few years. We have qualified Sign Language Interpreters. We have many Deaf people studying at university. Job vacancies in the Deaf Community are taken by Deaf professionals.

Are we in the Deaf version of Shangri-La?

Not for some.

I was reading a really good book "Eyes of Desire" by Raymond Luczak . I loved his foreword captioned "This Strong Beam of Light" -- there's a wee excerpt from it for this column...

"IN THE BEGINNING, deaf people and gay people existed in freedom. They thrived on the art of gestures and the art of sensuousness until various religions -- with religious documents interpreted by people who needed to control their own fears of differentness -- swept through human civilizations. Deaf people came to be considered sick, and were cast out of society's arms. Such oppression has continued for centuries. Lesbians, considered witches, were tied to burning stakes. Deaf people were considered slow learners and unemployable except for the most menial chores. Doctors and surgeons experimented in unthinkable ways with the sex organs and brains of people identified as desiring sex with their own gender, or as having the inability to hear and speak.

Little by little, the occasional but scattered glimmers of hope for deaf gay people converged into a strong beam of light. This beam has weathered hundreds and hundreds of world-renowned psychiatric experts, whose articles describe homosexuality as a "pathological disease" for which a cure must be found at all costs. This strong beam of light has also survived Alexander Graham Bell's pervasive obsession with speech as the only viable method of education for the deaf. In 1880, Bell applied his considerable weight at the International Congress of the Educators of the Deaf to make the use of speech, not signs, the organization's objective. This move was shocking, for Bell himself was a fluent signer; he'd married a deaf woman who, it was said, could speak (and knew sign language), and he was the son of a deaf mother. Not only that, deaf teachers were excluded from the vote. Fantastically rich from his invention of the telephone (originally an attempt to create a hearing aid), Bell poured money into the oralist cause, and sign language as a method of communication with deaf children in their education was suddenly discredited. Waiting and waiting, we signed and loved behind closed doors until the 1960s.

The 1960s brought forth tiny rebellions that soon ballooned into signs and banners waving high in the clouds for all to see. Dr. William Stokoe of Gallaudet University, Washington DC, showed that American Sign Language (ASL) was hardly "barbarian," that in fact ASL fulfilled every criterion of a natural language, and that ASL was a true language. And if ASL was a language, there had to be a deaf culture. In addition, there was a sudden swell in the number of deaf babies during the rubella epidemic of the mid-sixties: they would become part of the Deaf President Now (DPN) movement at Gallaudet in March 1988. As for gay people, on June 28, 1969, their cloistered history of whispering and furtiveness was thrust directly into this strong beam of light. For a long time, the police had been raiding one gay bar after another in New York's Greenwich Village, alleging that the bars had no liquor licenses to operate. But on that night, something snapped. The drag queens who frequented the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street fought back and sparked the three-day Stonewall Riots. Their rage was so intense that they even tore out parking meters to throw at the stupefied cops.

Pride became the password for both deaf and gay people in the 1970s. Deaf gay people's pride grew more and more open, in public with both ASL and homosexual desire coming out more and more from the closets of shame. They discovered that the straight deaf community was not too fond of them, so they formed their own chapters of the Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf (RAD); the RAD chapters also helped start the tradition of hosting a national conventions every other year. Technology soon made deaf people less dependent on hearing people when using the telephones: TDDs (Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf) got smaller, cheaper, and easier to use. And the deaf community quickly coined abbreviations to help cut down on the cumbersome typing on the keyboard: GA means "Go Ahead," SK means "Stop Keying," QQ means ?. and SMILE means just that. And every day closed-captioned television programs, videotapes and laser-discs became more common. Deafness is not a handicap, but limited information accessibility is. Most deaf people are looking forward to the day when videophones are affordable and clear enough to catch their signs. Too many deaf people are embarrassed by their "broken" English. In the 1980s, AIDS struck. The number of that first generation of openly deaf gay men shrank horribly, and in some cities, local RAD chapters folded. Misinformation and mis-education was the norm with AIDS organizations in their relationships with deaf people.

All this has been a voyage of self-empowerment. To empower ourselves further as deaf lesbians and gay men, we must question everything including whatever our own government, doctors, teachers, and parents tell us. If they don't bother to question enough on their own, we are immediately at risk. What they believe to be truths may turn out to be distortions or even lies. And if we don't question them, we may be hurt by their erroneous truths. For example, consider the controversy raging over cochlear implants. Because the right education at the right time is so crucial to a deaf child's language development, it would have made sense for the deaf community to be consulted prior to such momentous decisions as the federal Food and Drug Administration's appalling approval of cochlear implants on babies two years or older -- even though the procedure is obviously far more permanent than hearing aids. (The fact that the FDA did not wait out the required minimum ten-year period of evaluation is even more shocking: They made this decision in a little less than two years.) At least a deaf person can choose to take hearing aids out and be really deaf in the cultural sense, or put them back in to interact with the hearing world. But cochlear implants mutilate the human head with under 25 percent significant improvement in hearing. That right to choose to be culturally deaf has been summarily removed by parents overwhelmed by doctors and "experts." And in their confusions, parents often don't even think of asking to talk with members of the deaf community for a second opinion. Studies conducted on speech perception among children with cochlear implants and among profoundly deaf hearing-aid users show that implanted children hear much less than even profoundly deaf children with hearing aids. What's more, a cochlear implant operation costs at least $40,000. A pair of hearing aids -- if a pair is needed -- costs approximately $1,500. The maintenance of the implant -- including visits to the doctor and the audiology clinic for extensive speech and hearing therapy -- is far more expensive than sending your broken hearing aids out for repair, as well as being far more intrusive in the life of the deaf child. Moreover, the cochlear implantee is stuck with this permanent thing, learning from inside the skull to behind the ear, even though the device could become outdated in a few years. Also, as children's skulls develop, further surgery is required for implant adjustment. The tragedy is that more than 5,000 people, including over 1,000 children, have take this route. If they're not that rich, guess who's paying? Like many other deaf taxpayers, I don't want my money to support such a questionable enterprise.

And so for us deaf gay people, three big words found their way into our vocabulary. Paternalism is the attitude of hearing people who feel compelled to take care of deaf people because the poor things don't know what's best for them. Homophobia is the fear and hatred of gay people. And audism is the attitude of hearing people who make themselves authorities on deafness but do not allow deaf people to be equals in decision-making processes in deaf affairs, including deaf education. With awareness of these three concepts and their implications, we are that much more capable of greater self-empowerment. Yes, it's possible for us to rip up that list of injustices -- by questioning everything. We've proven that already with the Deaf President Now movement at Gallaudet, when we challenged the idea of yet another hearing person running a campus for deaf people. If we are to revel in the prismatic delights of our lives as deaf gay people, we must never give up questioning. It's what guided us forward through the centuries; it has led us to take action one way or another, by coming out to one another, to our parents. And to the world, and by standing up for what we believe. Oh, it is such a joy to be able to see each other's faces without having to strain our eyes in the dark. We do all have eyes of desire. Let us step forward proudly with our hands and bodies into that strong beam of light and see more clearly a warmer and brighter future with our loved ones. I hope this book will serve as a colorful, grim, funny, and sexy reminder of our past, but also as a prism through which our strong beam of light can create a rainbow..."

- Copyright Raymond Luczak

That's it really. It do make you think twice. But when will we reach the equality?

Some good news for gay youths in England -- the Government just passed the bill upgrading the age of consent to the age of 16 making it equal with straight people! Great! That's what Raymond Luczak is implying -- we are trying to create a strong rainbow with our beams...

Peter-Shane, petershane@yahoo.com

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