Deaf Writers on Access, Audience, and Achievement.

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Right, so where was I?

Oh! I hadn’t barfed or burped in front of some legends of queer literature, and I’d made it through my reading, and the whole of Naked Heart now stretched before me with zero sense of stage fright, imposter syndrome, or anxiety.

After the reading, I trotted over to Buddies in Bad Times, and settled in to enjoy my first panel of the festival. Deaf Writers on Access, Audience, and Achievement had been calling to me since I first saw it appear on the list, and I couldn’t wait to attend.

Of the four presenters, I’d only really encountered one: Raymond Luczak. Alongside Luczak, for the first time I got to encounter Sage Willow, Maverick Smith, and Carlisle Robinson.

Now, a sidenote before I begin: I used to be somewhat decent at ASL. I qualify that by saying I never quite had proficiency with the actual syntax and structure of ASL, but was capable of communicating with a Deaf young man I used to babysit, and his father, who was hard-of-hearing. I took college courses while I was in high school to make this happen, and worked with the family. Looking back, I probably drove the kid nuts wanting to learn more signs and practice with him when really he just wanted to play with his Transformers, but it was a really solid time in my life in no small part because I’d met the family immediately after moving to another nowhere town, and I knew no one in my own age bracket for months (until high school started).

As soon as the panel began, I realized that those skills—at whatever level they might have been—were pretty much atrophied into non-existence. I could catch maybe one thought in five, and in no time had admitted this to myself and was beyond grateful for the interpreters. Kudos for Naked Heart there, as I can count on one hand the number of literary events I’ve been to that brought interpreters, and I wouldn’t even use my thumb.

The discussion was engrossing, and I loved the intersections at play between the Deaf community and the queer (and especially) trans community that were brought up.

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Crappy photo is crappy. My apologies to the panelists.

Carlisle did an incredible job of describing the active role of engagement those of us can have in the lives of others. It was also Carlisle, I think, who—as a visual artist—mentioned that it’s perfectly valid to keep the ‘in-jokes’ (for example, something funny in Deaf culture that doesn’t ‘translate’ outside). You may want to think of how (or if) you make it accessible, and I liked that—it’s a theme that comes up in writing any culture, and context can be king, but sometimes trusting a reader to figure it out or look it up is fine, and Carlisle mentioned the use of a footnote in one strip, for example. Nothing has to be censored out of a narrative if it’s a part of a culture.

Raymond brought experience and anecdotes about placing ones self in various positions when seeking publication—and also how there’s a hunger for voices you might not even realize exists. He specifically told of people who have contacted him years after a publication to tell him how much the words meant to them, and that was a very moving moment in the panel. Be that from a gay reader or a d/Deaf reader, the result is that presence and experience of encountering someone-like-you in prose, and it’s incredible.

Maverick, closer to the start of a publication career, brought a very gentle reminder of how important it is to find and lift from within, and I really loved that note. Maverick had a real “gentle” vibe going on, and it was quite sweet. I want to seek out some of their work.

And, last but by no means least, Sage made me want to be her best friend immediately—Sage has this incredible charisma and attacks identity from so many different angles her answers to any given question had me rethinking all manner of topics.

I couldn’t possibly give you the whole play-by-play, and this doesn’t go anywhere near enough into how incredible the panel was, but I hope it gives you a slight glimpse of how much value there is in these literary events where we can bring people together who don’t often get time together in any environment, let alone a creative, open,  and queer one.

All this to say, I am so glad I took the opportunity to gain access to voices I don’t often manage to encounter. That can be said of the whole of Naked Heart, but if I had to narrow things down to one panel that I found the most personally rewarding, this was it.

I’ve often flirted with including a hard-of-hearing or Deaf character in stories, and out of real anxiety that I would fail on some obvious level, I’ve held off. After the panel’s answer to that very question—how do they feel about representation from outside the community—I’m actually feeling a lot more confident. Their answers were almost word-for-word what I always say when folk ask me about writing queer characters when they themselves aren’t queer. Read up. Educate yourself. Treat the character as a human being. It sounds basic, though it is work, and above all else, don’t make a character who is there to be that identity only.

That character who has been sitting in the back of my head for so long? He’s not inspiration porn (many reminders not to go there, writers). He’s a human being, not a token. So I’m going forward with the character.

Of course, likely I’ll screw something up. But if I learn, and do better, and follow all the damn advice I give to people who are writing queer characters when they’re not queer? I’ll listen to the feedback, and course-correct.

Yeah, that.

Great panel, and huge thanks to Naked Heart for having accessibility.

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