A Quiet Foghorn: More Notes from a Deaf Gay Life (Raymond Luczak)

Reviewed by Kathleen Champlin

Luczak’s remarkable book mixes childhood memories with descriptions of an adult life that includes loving romantic encounters and thoughtful reviews of media about the Deaf community. These elements blend together to create a complete portrait of a man who is Deaf, gay, an artist, and outspoken about his right to inhabit all of his identities.

In fact, Luczak brilliantly captures the importance of inhabiting our real identities as he recounts a conversation with a Deaf friend. Luczak and his friend had passed a pair of radical fairies (identifiable by dress) on the street in Washington D.C.

My Deaf friend said in ASL, transliterated here in English,

“These-two weird!”

“Not think s-o.”

“What? Why?”

“Them force people stop expect-expect everyone look same. I-f everyone require look behave same year-round, same hearing people, then no room Deaf people finish.”

In other words, all marginalized groups suffer from members of mainstream society’s ability to marginalize. If we exclude people who fall outside any norm, then we help to create marginalized groups. A just and equitable community needs to include everyone. Or, as Luczak puts it: “Second-class citizenship hurts, period.”

Luczak’s work is filled with examples of second-class citizenship that many d/Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing individuals will personally relate to. As a deaf woman, I found the book’s opening sentences especially memorable.*

Everyone knew I was different the second I opened my mouth and made a sound. The second before I had looked like them: I had a perfectly formed mouth and a set of good teeth.

My hearing grew progressively worse when I was a teen and college student, and I went completely deaf in my early twenties. I’ve often thought about titling my autobiography Hi, I’m Deaf. Would You Mind Writing That Down? because my first conversations with shop assistants, potential friends, classmates, and co-workers invariably begin with an awkward description of my communication needs. I’m very familiar with the experience of passing for able-bodied until conversation begins and equally familiar with seeing reactions from those who thought they were talking to an able-bodied person.

Hard-of-Hearing and d/Deaf readers will also recognize many of the other experiences that Luczak describes including the sense of exclusion at family dinners, the ubiquitous “I’ll tell you later,” and the “freak” look. Most of all, they’ll recognize the experience of finally losing patience with being “nice” and making sure that able-bodied people are “comfortable” in our presence. For the majority of disabled people, that moment of finally getting mad is ultimately a productive moment, the moment when a person begins to see structural ableism, not alleged personal limitations, as the problem. As Luczak puts it:

I have been seen as a freak for so long that I’ve become numb to such subtle shifts in behavior.

But is being numb a good thing?

I am tired of feeling numb. I speak up more and demand eye contact. I find myself feeling more emotions far more quickly than I ever did as a child.

With this simple and deeply personal statement, Luczak also issues a call to arms. He encourages all marginalized readers to move past second-class status, to speak up about needs, and to help create a world where inclusion is a matter of course. Luczak even suggests a way forward for those who need to change the world in order to fit into it. As he says:  “Artists are true warriors. They fight conventionality so that others don’t have to.”

Luczak enacts this warrior spirit in his biography, which reminds gay and disabled readers that they are not alone. Luczak writes openly about living as a gay man, about the reactions of his family members, and about his awkward relationship with the church. His reviews of common media about the Deaf community also fight conventional perspectives. (The Tribe, a Ukrainian film whose director seems to have mistaken signed languages for pantomime, is particularly in need of proposed alternate narratives.)

Along with its warrior spirit, Luczak’s work is most memorable for celebrating life. Descriptions of natural wonders – bike paths, the shore of a Great Lake, or a dog rolling around on its back to enjoy a new carpet – appear in every chapter. Descriptions of love – for dogs, for friends, for the artistic, Deaf, LGBT+, and fairy communities that Luczak shares, and for romantic partners – make each chapter memorable.

*I agree with Luczak and Gallaudet UP that the Deaf identity should be about language and community membership rather than medical definitions. I use “deaf” to acknowledge that I’m not very good at ASL. I’m also aware that verbal speech is a magnet for privilege because it causes some people to think that I’m more “normal” than primarily ASL users.

Title: A Quiet Foghorn: More Notes from a Deaf Gay Life
Author: Raymond Luczak
Publisher: Gallaudet University Press
Date: 2022

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About the Reviewer

Kate Champlin (she/her) is a late-deafened adult and a graduate of Ball State University (Indiana). She currently works as a writing tutor and as a contract worker for BK International Education Consultancy, a company whose aim is to normalize the success of underserved students.