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Jon A. Kastrup, a deaf gay man, has loved art since his youth in the 1970s, yet became a lawyer because he felt the need to prove himself in the hearing world. He found happiness when he moved to San Francisco and became an artist. “Would I have been an artist if I were hearing?” Kastrup writes 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. Contributors include R.N. Taber, a British, gay, and partially deaf librarian; U.S. performance artist Terry Galloway; Kavo Sharma, a deaf Hindu lesbian, who writes about drug addiction and recovery; and “Grygon,” a hearing asexual who “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.)
The essays, poems and interviews offer an engaging portrait of a relatively unknown part of queer culture, a mosaic of the 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.”
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.'”
The first Eyes of Desire anthology was published in 1993, as Luczak writes, 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, with transgender and intersex voices included, and there is more of an international perspective.
As with many anthologies, the writing is uneven. Some pieces such as 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 always worthy of attention. Despite this caveat, Eyes of Desire 2 is an intriguing compilation of seldom-heard voices.
Reprint courtesy of the Washington Blade.