Tag Archives: Deaf

Longing for A Deaf Community

Longing For A Deaf Community

A review of Raymond Luczak’s “Mafia Butterfly” in Nothing Without Us (Renaissance Press, 2019)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Raymond Luczak’s “Mafia Butterfly” is pure Deaf Pride. Luczak explores the powerful intersection of femininity and Deafness with a character who turns off her hearing aids so she doesn’t hear catcalls, who challenges men who try to reduce her to her body, and who recognizes that the second she speaks and they recognize she is Deaf and uses sign language, they realize that “suddenly they’re not in power”. 

Luczak points out the double violence that Deaf women experience, both because of their Deaf identity and because of their gender identity, having his character comment on the ableist, sexist comments that “Deaf people are supposed to be great in bed because they don’t know how to say no” and that because of her Deaf identity, she is perceived to be “all about the body”. He explores the frustration at a family that refuses to learn to communicate with her, pointing out that she decided to take speech therapy for her family’s benefit but they won’t take time to learn ASL. 

Luczak gives the reader insight into the joy that people in the Deaf community experience when they are able to connect and use ASL with his character saying “when I tasted the forbidden fruit of Sign, I suddenly realized that I had been sleeping all my life in a cocoon”. ASL is not just a way of communicating – it is transformative, bringing his character life. She experiences pride in her identity, describing herself as “I wasn’t just deaf; I was Deaf. Capital-D!”. Deaf identity was powerful for her, allowing her to find a history, a culture, and a language. 

Yet Luczak also explores violence between members of the Deaf community and bullying by people who assume positions of power. Luczak’s narrator experiences rejection from the community she sought and the identity she needed. 

Luczak gives the reader insights into ASL when he translates signed dialogue into English, preserving the cadence and ‘voice’ of ASL in his writing with statements like “Himself same-same m-a-f-i-a decide maybe you nothing. If happens, worry not. Himself run Deaf community not.” Luczak uses these lines to speak to an audience that knows ASL, while also bringing DeafWorld closer to the hearing world and letting hearing readers experience the need to translate for once. Simple acts like this bring notice to the audism (hearing-centric nature) of our world and the expectation of Deaf authors to translate from ASL for a presumed English reader. 

“Mafia Butterfly” is a tale about the need for a Deaf community. It’s a story about resistance not only to the violence of a sexist, audist world, but also violence within the Deaf community toward members who don’t have the same access to Deaf resources. His narrator asks “why are many Deaf people so afraid about being judged when they choose to befriend a new Deaf person? Can’t they see that it isn’t healthy to dismiss people they barely know? We need more Deaf friends” 

To discover more about Nothing Without Us, go to https://renaissance-107765.square.site/product/nothing-without-us/117?cp=true&sbp=false

To find out more about Raymond Luczak at https://www.raymondluczak.com

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SubErasure Poems

SubErasure Poems

By Derek Newman-Stille

There is a constant problem in theatres. Hearing people demand that subtitles be turned off because they are “distracting”. The privilege their comfort over any access by D/deaf or hard of hearing people. It is an act of audism and it is an act of erasure.

I decided, since I often can’t access films without subtitles, I would create poetry made exclusively from subtitles. I would use hearing erasure to comment on the lack of inclusion of those of us who need subtitles.

Although I am dealing with text on a screen (subtitles), I decided I would interact with this screen text as text, using techniques from erasure poetry to construct a narrative out of what is hidden between the text on the screen.

Since subtitle representations of non-speech sound – generally represented like this “[crashes]” – often try to make sound effects translatable for the D/deaf and hard of hearing community, I thought they would be fascinating as a primary text. I wanted to see the narrative they create in order to convey the soundscape to a D/deaf or hard of hearing audience.

In these poems, I explore mostly horror, action, and science fiction films since they tend to have the most fascinating renderings of sound as subtitles.

I included some speech subtitles from the films that I watched, while relying primarily on the renderings of sound as subtitles.

Erasure poem provided a space here to comment on audism, the entitlement of hearing audiences for films, and the erasure of D/deaf and hard of hearing experiences. These poems are meant to point out erasures, exclusions, and gaps constructed by a hearing world.

Click here to see the first poem: SubHorror

Click here to see the second poem: SubAction Under the Surface

Click here to see the third poem: Off Screen

 

Deaf Planet

Deaf Planet

A review Kelsey M Young’s “Understanding” in Tripping the Tale Fantastic: Weird Fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers (edited by Christopher Jon Heuer, Handtype Press, 2017)

Imagine a planet entirely populated by Deaf people. Imagine all of the possibilities for Deaf inclusion and accessibility with an entirely Deaf planet. Now imagine that there is one city where the oral method is forced on everyone. That is where Kelsey M Young situates the story “Understanding”.

“Understanding” brings attention to issues with schools who forced the oral method of communication on Deaf students. It is a reminder of the power of audism and the history of banning students from using signed languages. Although situated in a science fictional world on a distant planet, Young’s story is about the oppression Deaf students have experienced in school systems that force their audist ideas of language on the population. Young brings up issues like teachers hitting the hands of students for using manual languages, students being forced to sit on their hands to avoid signing, students struggling with comprehension when their teachers only use vocal languages, and the feeling of isolation that comes from being constantly othered.

“Understanding” is situated in a place called Milan, where signed languages are forbidden and the people who use them are called animals and subject to deportation. Even though Eyeth is a colony planet for Deaf people, the community of Milan treats sign language as a crime and forces its Deaf population to use a combination of hearing aids and speech reading. Young hints at the possibility that at some point in the past of this planet, it was ruled by people who used American Sign Language (ASL or Ameslan as it is called in Young’s story) and therefore ASL carries a lot of stigma.

Young’s tale is about a teacher who risks everything to teach a student manual languages since he is struggling with oral language, bringing attention to issues with our own history of forcing Deaf students to learn by oral method and also bringing attention to the teachers who resisted school policy to help their students succeed. This is a powerful story of Deaf Futurity that also recognizes the continuing presence of past (and continuing) oppressions.

To discover more about Tripping the Tale Fantastic: Weird Fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers, go to http://handtype.com/books/tripping/

Deaf in the Desert

Deaf in The Desert

A review of Nilah Magruder’s M. F. K. (Insight Comics, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

Nilah Magruder’s M.F.K. Is another comic that features the trope of the lone Deaf person in a hearing world. Magruder emphasises the image of Deaf isolation by opening her comic with her character Abbie wandering alone and lost in the desert because the creature she was riding through the sand dunes had just died. She is discovered in the desert by hearing people Jaime and his grandfather and brought back to a village that is resistant to outsiders.

However, the small, conservative village that Abbie finds herself in doesn’t discriminate against her because of her Deaf identity, rather they fear her because she has otherworldly powers. She is from a select group called Parasai, a small group of people who are capable of wielding special powers. Abbie finds herself at the centre of a conflict between various Parasai rogues and the villagers, and that sense of isolation is made even stronger as she realizes that she can’t fit in with either of them.

Rather than being culturally Deaf, Abbie uses a hearing aid, which serves as a contrast to the rest of the world that Magruder creates that doesn’t seem to be technologically advanced enough to produce a hearing aid. Yet, somehow one of the villagers is able to fix her hearing aid without having any knowledge of the technology or what it does.

M. F. K. Is a comic of complexities and uncertainties, exploring ideas of social isolation and rejection.

To find out more about Nilah Magruder, visit http://www.nilahmagruder.com

To find out more about M.F.K, visit http://www.mfkcomic.com

Sign Police and the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.

A review of Roz Rosen’s “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse” in Deaf Culture Fairy Tales (Savory Words, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

The fable of The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse is one about craving what one doesn’t have, and about discovering what is most valuable. In Roz Rosen’s Deaf Culture version of the tale, Town Mouse convinces Country Mouse that he isn’t getting enough quality food, so he convinces his Country Cousin to join him in town, allowing him to see the generous feast offered by the wealthier family that Town Mouse stays with.

Of course, there is a drawback to all of the wealth of food and beverages… the house is guarded by guard dogs who prevent the use of sign language. These “Dog Sign Police” begin to bark and attack the mice whenever they use sign language, forcing them to repress their language if they are going to stay on the premises. Country Mouse is forced into a debate about whether he is willing to give up his language in order to experience the luxury of food or whether he values his language and right of expression enough to go back to eating beans, corn, and stale bread. 

Rosen expresses the idea that one’s cultural expressions and language are another essential part of life, a fundamental need that is as strong as the need for food and water. 

To find out more about Deaf Culture Fairy Tales, visit http://www.savorywords.com/dcft-by-roz-rosen-2/

Beautifully Deaf Swan

Beautifully Deaf SwanA review of Roz Rosen’s “The Ugly Duckling” from Deaf Culture Fairy Tales (Savory Words, 2017).

By Derek Newman-Stille

The Ugly Duckling is a tale of non-conformity, family rejection, and self discovery, so it makes sense that Roz Rosen re-wrote it into a Deaf fairy tale to explore dynamics of exclusion and rejection. Rosen’s Ugly Duckling is a tale that brings attention to the medicalization of Deaf bodies, and Mother Duck, perceiving something to be different about her Duckling decides to invite in a doctor, who diagnoses him as Deaf, telling her that this is “bad news” and that the Duckling will need constant listening and speaking therapy as well as medical interventions. Mother Duck takes this medical advice and subjects her child to medical procedures and speech therapy to try to force him to learn to speak English and speech-read. When the Duckling isn’t learning speech fast enough, the doctor, appropriately named Doctor Quack for his quack ideas, forces the Duckling to have his wings bound so that he is forced to rely on vocalizations. This procedure mimics the experiences of many Deaf youth who were taught the oral method and forced to sit on their hands to prevent them from signing. 

The Duckling internalizes the ableism around him, eventually wanting to conform to the expectations of his parents, siblings, doctor, and duck society around him. He keeps his binding on even when he is at threat by hunters and allows his flying to atrophy. Despite all of his attempts to conform, he continues to experience isolation and loneliness, finally abandoned by his family to freeze to death in the winter. 

Fortunately he is rescued by a human being and his Deaf cat. The Duckling is introduced to Deaf culture through the cat, who he has an instant kinship to through their mutual Deafness. The cat tries to help him through the damage already done to him through an audist culture, and begins to teach him to embrace who he is, learn to fly, and learn to communicate without vocalizations. 

Rosen expresses the idea, as she does in many of her Deaf Culture Fairy Tales that there is a universal connection through sign language – that Deaf people recognize each other through a sense of shared identity, and that they can find a way to communicate with each other even if they come from different cultural backgrounds and different animal groups. Through this transformative tale, Rosen focuses on the liberating quality of being part of a Deaf community and the escape from audist norms and assumptions about Deaf people. She brings attention to issues with the treatment of Deaf children by hearing parents and the isolation that comes with being treated differently from the rest of the community. “The Ugly Duckling” is a tale of taking pride in one’s self and one’s difference.

To find out more about Deaf Culture Fairy Tales, visit http://www.savorywords.com/dcft-by-roz-rosen-2/ 

Interview with Elsa Sjunneson-Henry

Interview with Elsa Sjunneson-HenryBy Derek Newman-Stille

I was pleased to encounter Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s work through the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction project currently underway with Uncanny Magazine and am glad that we were able to talk about speculative fiction and the power of writing disability. I want to thank Elsa for taking the time to chat with us here at Dis(Abled) Embodiment and for her powerful responses that both enlighten us as readers and empower us.


Q: To begin our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: I’m a partially deafblind bicoastal raised speculative fiction writer and editor. I also work in tabletop games and do some theatrical design support work. My platform is more or less broken into three parts: I’m a writer, an editor, and an activist. All three intersect one another, and I work hard to not let them get too disparate. 

Q: You do work in both theatre and creative writing. How do these art forms speak to each other? Does your theatre work inform your writing and vice versa?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: I was having a conversation about this recently. My job in theater is as a dramaturg, which means I’m basically the researcher for a show. I create books for show staff, information about what a production history might look like, the setting (if it’s historical, it might include a brief for actors) and information on design choices for the tech people. It really informs how I prepare to write novels, or short stories, because I tend to create book bibles for my worldbuilding. Reference books for fictional worlds are how I got my start, and they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. 

Q: How do you identify or engage with the topic of disability? 

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: When I was a teenager I did not identify as disabled the way I do now. But these days, I’m proudly disabled. What that means for me is that I’ve engaged with this part of my identity pretty publicly, as an activist, a creator, and an editor. I don’t shy away from talking about what it’s like to be me, but I also don’t shy away from being honest about what I need or desire from the world. 
A lot of my work recently has been as an activist. I’ve been working to get better access to government representatives for disabled people like myself, because equal representation is deeply important to me. 

Q: What are some of the pitfalls and tropes that authors frequently get into when writing blind identities?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: The biggest pitfall is what I call the Daredevil Problem. A blind character who doesn’t need any of the trappings of blindness because their powers are able to circumvent the reality of being blind. In the TV show, Daredevil doesn’t need his cane to fight; he “sees” in red. His senses are so strong that we don’t need him to really be blind. 

The other one is, of course, that most sighted creators of blind characters assume that total blindness is the norm. Which it isn’t. Blindness exists on a spectrum of experiences, and not acknowledging that in our fiction is deeply frustrating. 

Q: What are some ways that your own work disrupts these tropes?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: When I’ve written fully blind characters, I make sure that they intersect with the adaptive devices that would work best for them. Not all fully blind people use guide dogs, some use white canes. Some, like Daniel Kish, echolocate. I try as best as possible to show a wide variety of blindness narratives in my work, because the individual experience of blindness is as much about the way a person interacts with it as what works best for them. 

Penny, my blind FBI agent from Seeking Truth uses a guide dog, because her guide dog is a part of her techniques for her job. Tara uses a white cane because she lives in New York City. Different needs for different women. Same disability. 
Disrupting the common narrative of blindness is one of my goals as a writer and editor. 

Q: Deaf characters are rarely explored in literature. What are some issues that authors tend to get into when writing Deaf characters?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: Much like with blindness, there’s a falsehood that D/deaf characters are completely D/deaf 100% of the time. I also think we don’t see a lot of Deaf culture, we see assumptions of how it manifests, but we do not see people who are engaged with (or not engaged with) Deaf culture in meaningful ways. But I suspect the latter will have to come from Deaf authors. 

Q: What do you do with your own writing of Deaf characters to create more empowering narratives?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: I try to push envelopes. I just wrote a story with a Deaf marine, who uses technology and sign to interact with the world around her. She’s still fully able to participate in the military practices that she has signed up for, and in fact is incredibly good at her job. I try to make sure that my D/deaf characters are just as interesting, and badass, as hearing ones. 

Q: What are some ways that we, as disabled authors, can challenge and disrupt tropes and assumptions about us? 
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: I think if you live on the sliding scale of disability (like I do) wherein your disability is not the “expected” representation, it’s really important to show people what disability looks like on a wide array. 
I also think we as disabled authors are hungry for stories that many people can’t imagine us wanting. I heard it said recently that disabled people probably don’t want to write horror, because it turns us into victims. My perspective on that is different. I see horror as a place where we can triumph. When the world grows too dark, we can use our canes or guide dogs. When the word loses sound, we can sign. When people are confronted with sirens whose songs compel us into action, we may be able to turn off our hearing aids. 

Sometimes, being able to lose a sense or knowing how to cope with its loss is a skill we want. 

Q: You have written about ways to engage in acts of resistance and civil disobedience in your essay “Rise Up, Act Up”. What are some ways that we can resist ableism through acts of civil disobedience?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: Check out National ADAPT for starters. They’re incredible inspirations to me (and I mean that in the best way possible. Sometimes that’s a dirty word in disability politics, but not here). Witnessing disability and civil disobedience in action is incredibly important. 
If you want to get active, I suggest starting there. 
I think it’s important to remember that not all people with disabilities can or want to participate in civil disobedience, and while that’s not what you asked, what I’m about to say might sound like it excludes people with invisible disabilities, but I hope you understand it’s not meant that way. 

Civil disobedience for me is about more than just the political action of marching, or resisting, it’s about being visibly disabled in the course of that fight. Disabled people are often erased from political conversations, left out from where we’ve always been. I could probably do a whole essay on this, but the fact is, we’ve always been here. National ADAPT has been around since the 1970s, Helen Keller was a dedicated Socialist. Disability and activism come hand in hand, and by being disabled – even invisibly – in public, while participating in a march, or a civil disobedience actin, you’re being visible as a disabled person. That matters. That’s powerful. Because people don’t want to see us sometimes. 

Q: What role do the arts have in disability resistance?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: The ability to write about ourselves is an act of resistance. The ability to force people to see from our perspective is an act of resistance. I identify my participation in Disabled People Destroy as an act of defiance almost. I’m saying I’m here, and that I’m not willing to go away. It feels similar to when I march in a protest, or participate in civil disobedience. We don’t get anything done by asking politely, we get things done by defiantly existing. By creating worlds we want to live in we’re not asking to be included, we’re making it happen. 

Q: You are involved in Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. What are some ways that science fiction can respond to ableism and challenge systemic disempowerment of disabled people?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: Let’s start by envisioning futures where disabled people exist. 
We have Miles Vorkosigan. Miles is great. I’ve been re-reading the books recently as I’ve been preparing for Disabled People Destroy. But despite Miles’ boundless energy, Miles is not enough representation for all of us. First of all, Miles is white. He’s male. Yes, he’s disabled, but I have to ask what Miles would have been like if he’d been a woman (don’t worry, I plan on writing about that soon.) 
We need disabilities at all intersections of genre. In our cyberpunk, in our hard scifi, in space, behind wardrobe doors, in alternate history. We need it, and critically looking at why disability hasn’t been included is something I hope to bring out of the non-fiction section of the Disabled People Destroy issue. 

Q: What science fiction authors have you read that are writing empowering narratives of disability and what are they doing that empowers us?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: As I’ve just mentioned – Miles. We definitely need to acknowledge Lois McMaster Bujold. She’s set the bar really high for disability in science fiction. 
While not science fiction, both Fran Wilde and Mishell Baker (disabled authors who will be writing essays for me in Disabled People Destroy) are writing gorgeous books filled with disabled characters. They bring me hope. 
I feel like we’re on the edge of seeing more disabled characters in fiction, not just because I’m writing them, but because I see more coming out. I hear from people who are writing disabled characters. It’s coming, and it will be beautiful. 

Q: Science fiction is frequently about imagining new possible societies. What are some ways that science fiction can help us to imagine an accessible world?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: The future, at least in some incarnations is about what we’ve improved upon with technology. Technology should, theoretically, make disabled lives better. For example, reimagine what a blind person’s life is like with a driverless car. Going from a life where you can’t get anywhere without relying on others, whether it be free rides from friends, or mass transit, to a situation where you can go everywhere by yourself – that’s revolution. 
Marissa Lingen’s essay for Disabled People Destroy is a great illustration of this. I highly suggest after you finish this interview that you go read it. 

Q: In “A Place Out Of Time”, you explore time travel for a disabled character. When i read through time travel narratives, i frequently ponder how narratives would be different if i engaged with time travel through my disabled body and consider how many time periods would be completely inaccessible. What was it like to imagine disability history and think through ideas of access and the historical erasure of disabled people for this tale?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: Going back to my first answer in this article about theater and my job in it, I’m a dramaturg. Which means, rather than studying English, I studied history. I dove into history and swam in timelines and studied the stories of the past. And so telling stories about history is in many ways, like coming home. 
I wrote A Place Out of Time in a hot rage. I was reading something, and it erased disabled characters, it actually didn’t even acknowledge them. And I was angry, about where we stood in history, and I wanted to show people what that anger – that loss – feels like. A Place Out of Time is about a lot of things, but for me, most of all, it is about the experience of knowing that your body could fail you, not because it is your body, but because the world around you won’t keep you safe. 

Q: Ableism and misogyny frequently intersect in ways that multiply the oppression of women with disabilities. What are some of the intersections you have noticed?

Elsa Sjunneson-Henry: Sometimes, being a disabled woman is a really unpleasant experience. What I mean by that is, society already sees me as fragile because I’m a woman, and then you add the perceived vulnerabilities of blindness and deafness, and well, you get a whole mess of trouble. Not to end this interview on a low note, but the amount of violent language, personal space invasion, and outright assault that I experience on a daily basis is unthinkable if you’re a man. People assume that your body is a public object to be moved and manipulated at will. Women with wheelchairs experience this too (and I’m not a man, but I suspect men with wheelchairs also have the experience of being moved without being asked.) 
When disability and misogyny combine it’s outright dangerous. It’s something we have to think about on a constant basis, of “am I safe here” and “will I remain safe here” just to leave the house. These calculations are often left out of fiction. 

Intersections of safety, or the lack of it, are vital. We also don’t talk about disability and race nearly enough, and I believe that is also something we desperately need to fix. Disabled people are not all white, nor are all disabled experiences ones colored by whiteness. Disabled PoC have a very different experience of the world and it’s important to listen to them. #DisabilityTooWhite is an excellent illustration of this. 

——
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry is a partially deafblind speculative fiction writer and disability activist. Her short fiction is included in Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, Fireside Magazine, and Ghost in the Cogs. She also writes for tabletop roleplaying games and was part of the ENNIe award-winning staff for Dracula Dossier. Her nonfiction has been included in The Boston Globe, Uncanny Magazine, Terrible Minds, and many other venues. She teaches disability representation at Writing the Other, and recently spoke at the New York Public Library on this topic. She is the Managing Editor at Fireside Magazine. She has a Masters in Women’s History from Sarah Lawrence College, and uses it to critique media representation of disability from all mediums.
Current Projects: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lynnemthomas/disabled-people-destroy-science-fiction-uncanny-m