A Quiet Foghorn: More Notes from a Deaf Gay Life collects twenty-seven essays written by the prolific Raymond Luczak, who has written numerous novels, plays, poems, and nonfiction. While obviously a continuation of Assembly Required: Notes from a Deaf Gay Life, Luczak’s writings here explore new ground rather than being purely autobiographical. Which is not to say that there isn’t plenty of Luczak in these writings: while he continues to examine life through the prism of being a Deaf Gay man, he ventures deeper into both the deaf and queer communities with thoughts on ageism, disability, and the different strata and intersections of each community.
The collection is divided into two parts of roughly equal length. The thirteen essays of the first section (ironically titled “Of Blood, Born”) are connected by ideas of community and are foreshadowed by the question asked on the back cover: How Does One Find a True Family? Clearly as the only Deaf and Gay member of his birth family (he has eight siblings), he is an outsider twice over among his immediate family; a fact intensified by his living with a foster family two hours away while attending elementary and middle school for nine years. That Luczak found his true family among books (“The World Is Full of Orphans”) both queer and otherwise, will not surprise Gay readers; ditto when he writes about joining the LGBTQ+ community for UP (for Upper Peninsula of Michigan) Pride (“A Sort of Homecoming”). A similar homecoming occurred when he attended Gallaudet University and met other signers. While he can speak, he emphasizes that ASL is his true language, and how his hands contain “the truest home of my voice” (“My Truest Home”)–as eloquently depicted in his retelling of a date with another ASL signer (“Hands, Romancing”). Oftentimes the homecoming is a slowly dawning realization, as when he writes, “I had long been a radical faerie before I joined the tribe” (“Chants of Silence”).
The fourteen essays in the second section (“Of Hands, Tendered”) continue to be heavily autobiographical, but examine the audist attitudes of hearing people, especially in media. Several essays are reviews. These essays are among the longest in the book and contain the most valuable insights for a non-Deaf reader. “A is for American: A Book Review” examines the intersection of language and nationalism in Jill Lepore’s A is for American: Letters and Other Characters in the Newly United States. Lepore examines the lives of seven individuals who attempted to use language to unify the fledgling United States during the nineteenth century, either through standardized spelling (Noah Webster), a “universal alphabet” (William Thornton) or a universal sign language (Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet). Luczak is quick to point out that there is no such thing as a universal sign language, and in fact argues against any universal language (“…we need indigenous tongues–and hands”) in another essay, rightly noting that diversity of languages is essential to our own diversity as a species, and indeed for the diversity of the flora and fauna of our planet (“Against a Universal Language”).
He also reviews two movies that prominently depict Deaf characters Children of a Lesser God (“Impositions: On Children of a Lesser God“) and The Tribe (“No More Savagery, Please: On The Tribe“). Admittedly I have not seen either movie (I have seen Children of a Lesser God performed on the stage, albeit thirty-five years ago), so most of Luczak’s analysis on specific scenes went over my head, but his larger points about conventions from the hearing world being out of place in media portraying Deaf people remain pertinent. For example, a dimly-lit room signals romance to the hearing, but to the Deaf it inhibits communication; moreover, the Deaf use their faces (indeed, their entire bodies) while signing to convey emotion, just as speakers use vocal inflection to convey additional information while speaking–to the hearing, this is “overacting.”
Overall, many of the writings in this slim volume are short in length, but this is one instance where I urge you not to judge by size alone (I know it’s difficult, especially for Gay men). All of these essays are packed with astute observation and keen insight, and deserve the widest readership possible.
Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske