Book Review

"Deafness is a desire for communication, and gayness is a communication for desire; they are opposite sides of the same coin of love."
         -Raymond Luczak

The word that most immediately comes to mind in the course of reading Eyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader: is "democratic." This refers not to the genres included - for the majority of the pieces are autobiographical - but to the variety of the voices that comprise the anthology. For anyone who thought that deaf gay,' lesbian, bisexual and transgender culture was monolithic, Eyes of Desire 2 is a real eye opener. Editor Raymond Luczak made a decision to invite people of all sexual orientations from around the world to share there stories in this book and, as he says in the foreword, "It didn't matter that these people didn't seem to have a lot in common, but here they were, struggling to find ways to express themselves."

Eyes of Desire 2 is democratic in another way as well, it represents the rank and file of the deaf glbt. The reader expecting Marcel Proust or James Baldwin is going to be disappointed. The book's virtue is not in its virtuosity. This is not a facile or dismissive observation. It takes only a moment of browsing through an old high school American literature text to realize that the writers included there, whatever their literary merits, were not representative of the workaday individual who was too busy living to write. For that a student would have had to search through archives. Luczak's anthology, however, gives just such a ground's eye view of twentieth century Deaf GLBT culture.

Eyes of Desire 2 is divided into five broad subheadings: coming out, family & friends, identity, love & desire, and community. One always wonders in opening works from writers of a minority culture who the intended audience is. Is it addressed to the members of that culture or to the audience that really does not yet understand that culture? Because Luczak includes such a multitude of points of view, the fact that there is an editor making such choices at all is obscured. With his selection of "Black Deaf Pagan Lesbian Tomfemme" by Lanetra Williams as the first reading in "Coming out", the initial section of the anthology, Luczak tips his hand, however. Had he been trying to draw in the audience that was unfamiliar with the BGLT culture, he might have lead with the second piece, Dominic McGreal's "The Most Important Thing" a much more conservative piece that leads the audience into the deaf gay world a bit more gently. Williams' pugnacious piece, like a Jerry Falwell sermon, is unlikely to convert the unconverted. That being said, no reader with an open mind should be put off by the initial selection. Eyes of Desire 2 has a great deal to offer.

An entire section of the anthology is given over to identity. The works in this section do not really reflect on disability politics itself as in say, Tobin Siebers recent Disability Theory, but recount specific attempt of individuals to understand themselves or to find others to whom they can relate. Most of the selections focus on sexual identity. Some such as "A Minority of One" by the anonymous author listed on as "Little Lion-Hearted" relate truly rare situations. In this case, it is a condition called Chimerism a condition of having incomplete physical structures of both males and females, which the authors describes by saying, "I should have been born twins, but I was somehow fused back into one body." Most of the writers, however, are dealing with circumstances to which a greater number of readers will be able to relate. Possibly the statement about identity with the most universal feel from Elise Roy, a human rights policy advocate, comes in the first section of the book:

Now that I am older, I have struggled with whether being deaf really is a disability, whether I identify myself as Deaf or deaf, whether I am a butch lesbian or just and lesbian, and many other self-identity categorizations. I have come to realize that you need to accept and enjoy the fact that you never know who you will be the next day; that you will always struggle with who you are, and that your identity will be in constant flux.

In a social context, of course, identity involves someone else to identify with, and in this regard Brian Lloyd of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf makes an important point in his article, "Rainbow Students":

Role models are important for everybody. GLBT role models are even more important for GLBT individual because they are hard to find. I believe that serving as a role model of GLBT individuals is an important responsibility.

One need not be a behaviorist to agree with Lloyd. Once individuals are comfortable with their identity in the way that Roy suggests, almost implicit in that acceptance is the obligation to help others. Certainly African Americans and members of other minorities have dealt with this impulse for a long time. In Lloyd's case, the realization of the importance came about when a student he was counseling made Lloyd aware of the fact that without knowing it, he had in fact was the role model.

Eyes of Desire 2 is not the kind of volume that a reader snuggles up to with a hot cup of chocolate and reads straight through. More than likely, they will skim the contents for selections that might interest them: "I am a Deaf Gay Teacher," "You Sign Like a Girl," "A Journey in Iran," or "Cyborg Drag Queen." The anthology works rather like a collage in which, by the piling on of images, a picture emerges but that picture is going to mirror the reader's own mind and will be different for each. To be sure, Luczak has his own opinions, and these are hinted at in the foreword, but he does not attempt to interpret for the reader.

It is fortunate that Luczak, a playwright and poet himself, slips in a few selections representing creative literature. As a translator of sign language poet Clayton Valli, it is only natural that he has included Valli's most celebrated poem "A Dandelion." One of the books most interesting pieces is Kristen Ringman's "Darkness: Coming of Age in India," a novel excerpt. Drama is represented by a scene from Language of One by Drew Emery and Lewis Merkin. Luczak includes two original poems of his own as well as poetry by Shane Gilchrist ” eHorpa and Aaron Justin Eddy.

Just a Lloyd advocates the need for models in the GBLT community, GBLT writing that is to rise to something more than testimonials of raw experience and actually become literature needs these models as well. Luczak's inclusion of these more creative pieces, though admittedly not the purpose of the anthology, is a step in that direction.

Deaf culture writer John Lee Clark expresses this admirably in a recent essay when he asserts, "We hold a great treasury of possibilities in our own life experience . . . Any disabled writer who writes what she knows, carving out visceral parts of her life, her very being, and sews them together with her imagination is, right there, ahead of a lot of other writers. . . I hope that more and more disabled writers will do the same, because the collective narrative on the human condition desperately needs our voicesóreal, bursting and soaring."

It goes without saying that Eyes of Desire 2: A Deaf GLBT Reader is not for everyone. However, those who are so close-minded that curiosity would not prompt them to even consider checking it out are not going to be reading Wordgathering in the first place. Like Forest Gump's infamous Whitman's Sampler, with Eyes of Desire 2 you never sure what you're going to get. Some pieces a reader will like and some pieces they won't. But isn't that true of all literature?

Eyes of Desire 2 is published by Handtype press and is available at www.handtype.com.