A few years ago, I was lucky enough to go to watch a panel with Raymond Luczak in Toronto, specifically about queerness and Deafness, and I’ve been diving my way through his work ever since. He’s clever and funny and has a turn-of-phrase skill I just adore, and this is so very apparent in “Mafia Butterfly,” included in Nothing Without Us. Here we meet a young woman who was born to hearing parents and who came to signing a bit later in life, but the sheer joy in her expression and expressiveness is like watching confidence walk.
The narrative itself is more of a character monologue, as she explains a bit about her life, and introduces a few key figures, most notably her ASL teacher (who she loves) and then an older man, who she refers to as a kind of Deaf Godfather (in the mafia sense, not the religious one). She spins her tale without losing any of the verve that’s on display from the opening lines of the story, of how this one man nearly destroyed her chances of finding her place in Deafness and the Deaf community, but her strength of character is so evident, and the ASL teacher and the language itself bolster her.
I remember this gatekeeping when I was only barely brushing up against the edges of the Deaf community when I was younger. This story was in some ways a little crushing on that front; to know the barriers can come so strongly from inside the house shouldn’t surprise, though. The entire time I was reading “Mafia Butterfly,” I couldn’t help but see the parallels in queerness in the story (the gatekeeping-from-within is an astoundingly huge problem in the queer community). Ultimately, though, Luczak’s character is determined, and I loved her sense of time: eventually, these gatekeepers will die, and if we make sure the accepting take their place then things will get better.