Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Play with ASL, Play with Fire

At some point we must have given the green light.  We must have nodded our heads and said yes, you can play with our language. At the very least, we let it happen and didn't say anything. Then.

And we are seeing just what comes of that negligence on our part. Did we think it was someone else's job to speak up for and defend our language when it is abused?

Maybe we told ourselves that it would be good, that there would be wide-sweeping benefits to having ASL shared and experienced by hearing people who otherwise wouldn't. That those benefits would trickle down to us eventually, someday. Maybe we told ourselves, clamping down on our own unease, that the ends justified the means- because we could see, even then that our language was being used while completely absent of Deaf people and the community it came from. 

We are learning, slowly, that this is just one more lie we have been told, that we were too willing to believe.

That was then.  

This is now.  

In ever-increasing numbers, Deaf people all over the world are standing up to the abuse of their language, often to the bewilderment of most hearing people and even some Deaf people who have grown used to and complacent about such widespread cultural appropriation of sign language for the financial gain of hearing people and organizations.

Baby signs for hearing babies. Pseudo signing mascots on stages for hearing audiences, with nary a Deaf person in sight. ASL music videos by hearing people. ASL books, videos, and websites run and profited by hearing individuals.

I can almost sense the backlash already.  Don't be so serious.  Sign language isn't serious.  It's just a language like any other language.  Lots of people play with language. Sign language is an especially beautiful and visual language, so of course people want to play with it. No need to be so militant about it.

And here's my response: until every Deaf child is exposed to sign language, until every parent of every Deaf baby is told that their child is not a defect but rather a gift, until those same parents learn ASL to communicate with their children, until every classroom is providing true access to Deaf children, until every interpreter is indeed qualified and certified in every sector, until access for both children and adults is so ingrained and commonplace that it is no longer something we have to fight for.... then I will stop taking it seriously.  Because I will know then that our language is taken seriously. That we are taken seriously.

But we are not.  Our language is taken from us, denied to us, and then played with for amusement by the same people who would oppress us.

Until the day comes when this stops, as someone so succinctly said- I know that sign language is not meant to be played with.  It is for one thing and one thing only, to deliver a message. 

And that message is, get your hands off it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

8 Interpreter Types You Should Never Date

Note: This is a satirical piece. With enough truth in it to make us all cringe.

Really? You're dating an interpreter? Of course you are. How original of you. Don't mind my eye rolling here, do go on and tell me all about how ahmazing this interpreter is that you're dating and having sex with.  Good. For. You.  

Except... really? Are you sure you want to be dating that interpreter.  Because you do know what you are getting yourself into right? And odds are, this isn't going to end very well. Interpreters and Deaf folks dating one another is generally speaking, not one for the record books in terms of longevity. Yes, I know. You are the exception. This time is different. They're not like that. They "get it."


Oh, honey. That look on my face? Yes, that's pity coupled with a little oh-dear.

Because here's what wisdom, experience, and observation have taught me: Sometimes Very Bad Ideas are kind of fun at first, but unless you two break the mold, this is going to unfold in one of several, but predictable ways.

There are always types too.  Lets figure out which type you are dating and/or having sex with.

1. The New ASL Student (Who Wants to Become an Interpreter)

This one shouldn't even be included in this list, because technically they're not interpreters. Except in their enthusiasm for the signs they are learning, they have convinced themselves that THEY WILL BECOME AN INTERPRETER. Adorable.  For like two seconds.  Because after you are done having sex with them, you will realize you have.nothing.to.talk.about. Because lets be real, they can't really sign that well can they?  So moving right along here....

2. The New ITP Student 

This one is a lot like the New ASL Student but with slightly more street cred. They may have staying power here. At this point you need to figure out a couple things like: Are they with you just for status and bragging rights? Because nothing says status in an ITP class like an ITP student interrupting her teacher "No, that's not true. My Deaf girlfriend said..."  Trust me, this is a real thing.  Hard to believe but it's.a.real.thing.

So you're not being used for status? Awesome. Second thing to figure out - Now are they actually any good? This is an important point and maybe a little difficult to ascertain if you're eyeballs deep in their nether regions, you might not be paying attention to what they're saying.

 Are.they.any.good? I don't mean in bed, can they freaking sign? Are they fluent?  Because if they're good, and they're good in bed, and decent human beings... and they rock your world in a very special way, you'll want to consider keeping them around.  However...  the rubber hits the road if they become the next type-

3. The Shitty Interpreter: 

It's really awkward (for the rest of us) when they suck.  And they're always with a specific kind of Deaf person too.  The one who teaches ASL in bars, the one who collects newbie signers like action figures they line up on the bedroom windowsill. These are the Deaf folks who pimp out their ASL the way some people use walking a dog through the park to attract girlfriends. There are boundary issues for days and days- because their Deaf partner will tell them "OF COURSE you are ready to interpret that play."  They are so not ready to interpret that play. That shit is just awkward. What do you say to either one of them "You suck and you're stupid?"  People, c'mon, just staawwwwp.

4. The Helper Interpreter

There is a special breed of hearing people that flock to helper roles in the Deaf community- teachers, audiologists, interpreters. You can identify them by their cloying sweetness and naivete. For some reason a bunch of them are white, young girls from upper middle class backgrounds who grew up notoriously sheltered.  They just want to help poor Deaf folks.  You come across this type? You Fucking Run. Because they will help you incessantly. You'll never get a word in edgewise. They'll tell you all about the real world (which is ironic considering their own limited experience.) They'll always know what is best for you, what you should wear, what you should say, where you should work, what you should do with your life. After all, they're just trying to help you. You want a paternalistic relationship with unequal power dynamics? Have at it. You don't? Motherfucking.Run.

5. The Church Interpreter

Sigh. The Church Interpreter is a sad breed of interpreters who date Deaf folks to save them. They're a bit like the Helper Interpreter and the Shitty Interpreter combined into a potent cocktail of Oh Hell No They Didn't.  If an interpreter admits to volunteer interpreting for their own church, and it is clear that their talents are not God-Given (i.e. they suck).... and they're super religious.... I'm fairly certain this is going to be a dud for you in every way. You two can pray about it together, if you like, but it might be easier all the way around to skip this one.

6. The Really Good and/or Hot Interpreter 

Somehow, against the odds, you are dating the Holy Grail of interpreters- you are dating THE interpreter in the community. The hot one. The good one. (Or if you hit the mother load: the Hot -and- Good Interpreter).  Yeah. This on the surface sounds like a good idea.  Yeah.  Except its not.  Because every one will either:

1. hate you
2. envy you
3. both.

Why is that? Because of scarcity principles. The more rare these mythical creatures are (the really good/hot interpreter), the higher their stock rises. And you'd better be some kind of special if you want to keep these ones around and interested for the long-term. Or super secure.. Because they will have more panties thrown at them than Taylor Swift and Adam Levine, combined. Save yourself the heartbreak and settle for a good, but not amazing, interpreter.

Also objectifying? Super creepy. If you're with them because of their status... you know that's not okay, right? They are real human beings with actual feelings. Don't date the hot/good interpreter unless you like the person they are behind the job/image. They can smell star fuckers and see you coming from a mile away.

7. The 9 to 5 Interpreter

These are the interpreters who swore they would never date a Deaf person. Because Deaf people are kind of jacked up and they have too much vicarious trauma to not be triggered by the way you breathe (too loudly). They clock in at their jobs, clock out, go home and have a beer and don't see another Deaf person again until their next job at the Social Security Administration, or at school the next day, or in a tiny booth waiting for the next Deaf caller. For them, interpreting is a job. It pays the bills.  For them Deaf folks are work.

 They would never in a million years consider bringing work home with them and into their beds. That wouldn't be professional, nor would it be fun.

Buts lets say they have a few too many beers one night, their better judgement gets left behind on the job... and you two hook up.

They're going to make you stay home with them. And hell no they won't go with you to the Deaf Club, because socializing with Deaf folks would violate their professional boundaries that they've worked so hard to maintain.  Your friends will never see them and they'll become like unicorns- oft head of, but never seen- a fantasy of your own making. 

8. The CODA Interpreter

Oh. Shit. You are in trouble.  First of all, they probably sign better than you, which just hurts in a special kind of way. Second, they KNOW the shit you are going to do. They can call it in their sleep. You're going to call them from the other room. You're going to ask them to make phone calls for them. You're going to ask them to interpret for their doctor appointments. You're going to drag them to every goddamned Deaf event. They.know.that.shit.  They grew up with that special brand of fucked-up-ness that Deaf people do behind closed doors.  They have baggage and trauma for days, that you are going to specifically trigger, constantly.   And let me tell you, they are going to tell you ALL about it. All the time.  They are the authority on Deaf folks. They are more Deaf than you are. And every time you try to call them out on their hearing privilege, they're going to tell you just how long and hard their hearts bleed Deaf. You can't win.  Do yourself a favor, buy them earplugs (trust me on this), and get yourself some soft slippers that don't shuffle.  You'll thank me later. And if you are determined to date an interpreter, this is the best one out of the bunch.

Or...Just date Deaf folks and save yourself the grief people. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Taking Back Responsibility for What is Ours: Bringing Interpreters Back into the Fold

I took some time off to percolate. Now I'm back.

The feedback and the speed at which some of Deaf Wordsmith posts went viral surprised me.  Clearly, while many didn't agree with all/some of the points in previous entries, there was resonance. Y'all shared like crazy. And conversations were had.  For that, I am grateful.

But I also was tasked with taking a look at my anger.  That familiar chip on my shoulder. Yeah. It's there. It's a real thing.

Here's my take on that- I think anger is much maligned and not so far removed from kindness and love as we have been led to believe. I've done some work around it and here are the things I've come up with so far.

For many Deaf folks, interpreters are our first line of defense ,where the hearing world and Deaf world intersects. Interpreters are at the forefront of some of our most intense, scary times where we encounter "The System."

And when things go awry with interpreting it affects us. Deeply.

It hurts. Behind the anger is hurt.

I do think that the responsibility of access in the Deaf community is a shared one.  It does not rest of the shoulders of interpreters alone. So this post is for my Deaf brothers and sisters, and not for interpreters really. If you are an interpreter, I invite you to read along and mull these things over in private. Share this if you like, with your fellow interpreters, but give the platform to us.

For my Deaf brothers and sisters, I ask you to engage in this conversation publicly, with one another. I ask you to weigh in, to add your thoughts to this discourse.

We Deaf folks need to do a better job at some of this stuff too. We need to reclaim some things we have relinquished.

Interpreter Training Programs:
We are no longer raising interpreters like we did decades prior, and this is to the detriment of our people and interpreters alike. Interpreters used to be home-grown; they came from us and absorbed our values and ways of being. CODAs were instrumental in this.  That is our responsibility, raising interpreters, and we have turned it over to the interpreter training factories. We have turned over quality control and oversight to institutions of higher learning corporations who are more interested in profitability than they are in serving our Deaf communities.

Many interpreter training programs these days are being run like a big business, far removed from the heart of the Deaf community that its administrators, teachers, students, and graduates purport to serve. We have handed them the keys to the kingdom and we walked away, unconcerned  There is often very little oversight and understanding about what happens behind those classroom doors. Teachers in these programs send wave after wave of students and new graduates into our Deaf spaces, meetings, appointments, events, plays,  happy hours, and gatherings. For many, if not most, of these students and new graduates we are their first encounter. We are the first Deaf person they have met. We are the first large gathering of Deaf people they have come across.  Nothing in their lives, previously, has informed them or prepared them for what they are encountering.

That is frightening.

The results speak for themselves- interpreter quality has consistently gone downhill year after year. These hearing students and recent graduates are so far removed from our communities that often the ranks are flooded with those who do not possess the skill set and cultural competency needed for the work they are called to do. They do not know us.  How can they interpret for us? The lack of skill set goes far beyond the "Newbie Interpreter" grace period that assumes all new interpreters need time to get better. They are missing something even more fundamental, they do not have Deaf hearts.

Internalized Oppression:
The ramifications goes deeper than this. The result is really a symptom of a much larger problem. At the very core, we have lost our way as Deaf people when it comes to interpreters.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the role of CODAs here.  In the past CODAs, along with Deaf people have worked together to raise interpreters.  And CODAs remain a crucial part of this problem and the solutions we need to find. But that is a post for another day.

We have learned to assimilate and internalize hearing values, including sparing the feelings of those we care about/depend on at the expense of our understanding, which has reduced the opportunity for giving and receiving important feedback.   This assimilation has not been voluntary, admittedly. It has been forced upon us. And ultimately this assimilation has contributed to the declining quality of interpreters in the field who are unable to grow their skills without that much-needed feedback. Because we are putting individual interpreters and their feelings at the greater expense of our understanding and access. We have spared the few at the expense of the many. And we are paying for it dearly. Deaf children will pay for it even more.

Educational Interpreters:
Mainstream culture, that more and more Deaf children are being raised in, has contributed to this internalized oppression and certainly has contributed to the glorification of interpreters. Interpreters for many of these children are seen as a friend, a life preserver... the only hearing person in the classroom who literally understands them. This creates an unhealthy emotional and physical dependency, and a blurring of boundaries that many carry into adulthood. It is difficult for many of us from this background to confront interpreters or to understand that we deserve the best when it comes to access.

 We have not done a very good job of letting Deaf children in mainstream education settings know that they are entitled to quality interpreters. They are entitled to better access. They are entitled to competent, skilled, clear interpreting in the classroom provided by experienced, certified interpreters.  Deaf children are among the most vulnerable members of our community and yet they are not given the very best access.

Deaf folks, historically, have fought more for improved access in medical settings, in court settings, the video relay industry, as well as entertainment venues. We have not demanded that educational interpreters be held to the same, if not higher standards than we hold professional, certified interpreters to. In fact, we have not demanded that our Deaf children deserve the best, period.  That is shameful. We must do better.

Going Forward: 

We have work to do. And we have ignored our responsibility to lead this work for too long. We need to bring our interpreters back into the fold, raise them from within our community, and pass on our values and language the old fashioned way.  We need to care again about the quality of interpreters and not be afraid to use tough love when the occasion calls for it.  We need to let interpreters know that education exists both inside and outside the classroom walls. We need to remember that interpreters are not there to be glorified or vilified, but to be treated as human beings with both flaws and potential, and to treat them with the dignity we all deserve. It's time to bring them home. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Debunking Nice

Disclaimer: Can we all get on board with the idea that no ideas belong to us? This post is heavily influenced by ideas that are not my own. These ideas didn't originate with me.  The ideas in this post come from LGBTQ folks from people of color, from people in my every day life that I talk to, from threads I'm reading online,  from Deaf folks of all dots and stripes of life, and from folks who have been doing social justice work longer than I have been alive. The ideas below have been talked about in more eloquent and nicer ways than I'm going to do so.

Nice is a tool of the oppressor to keep us silent, docile and submissive. Nice keeps the status quo nicely in check, while nicely stomping over the bodies of Deaf folks who are pissed off. 

I am -over- being nice.  OVER it.  

And I am over y'all telling folks that we need to not humiliate/shame interpreters who are working and struggling because "that is not nice."    

You agree with the content/ideas in/behind this, but not the method? 

Oh for fuck's sakes.  

What happened to honesty? To directness?  What about being clear, concise, and getting to the damned point?  How about mutual accountability. Accountability doesn't happened in the hallways, y'all.  It doesn't happen during private conversations without witnesses, y'all.

How about we just let shit get real. You know: Like how Deaf folks do it.  Most of the time? Some of the times?  Okay maybe we won't delve into the slowly dying value that is directness in the Deaf community. But it's a value that serves a damned good purpose and needs to make a revival, stat.

Since when is the individual feelings of ONE person more important than the community they have chosen to serve? A community with collectivist values.  If an interpreter in any of the following scenarios . . .
1. Won't take feedback. Ever. 
2. Continuously breaks Codes of Conduct
3. Sucks. I don't mean "has a bad day" but SUCKS. 
4. Is new and inexperienced and enters shit-storms on a regular basis

All y'all need to tell them. Promptly. On the spot.  In front of folks. Repeatedly. And not nicely .Clearly. So there is no room for doubt. You are doing them a favor.  It is a damned gift. You are not the asshole. You are the person letting them know that they're fucking up.  

This individual versus collective is coming to a head here. It's time to stop worrying about individual people's feelings and worry more about the collective Deaf community you are serving/hurting.  It's time to stop playing nice and start getting real familiar with the big picture. 

The interpreter industry is in shambles.  Interpreters left to their own devices have made a unholy mess of things.  There are so many problems no one knows where or how to start to come up with solutions. Y'all fucked that shit up really good. REALLY good. 

And now you want to be nice?  Dude. Stop it. Get over it. You lost the right to niceness a good, long time ago. 

Because what I think you mean is kindness. Kind and nice are two different beasts. Let's be kind and make shit happen. Lets be kind and loving and turn things around.  Lets be loving, honest, and real with people.  Let's call people out AND call them in at.the.same.time.  Lets challenge while we support.  Lets get over our addiction to being nice and not stating the obvious. Lets move past the facade of social niceties and make room for real, actual growth.  

Because love, real love, isn't about being nice and staying silent in the face of dysfunction, oppression, and fucked-up-ness.  Love demands you take action.  Love demands you speak up. Love requires you to stop being so damned nice.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Accountability: Clean Your House

I wonder sometimes what it is like to be an interpreter.  For a very specific reason; I wonder what it is like to see someone in your own field take jobs they're not qualified for, again and again.  I wonder what it is like to team with them.  I wonder what it is like to interact with them.

It must be hard.

And I want to know, would if I was one of you, would I hold them accountable?

Because here is the thing, when I have left my doctor appointment, my meeting, my conference... I don't know how you act with one another. I really don't.  I don't know the inner workings, the intrigues, the political back channels.

I know what it is like to be your client, but I don't have the slightest clue what it is like to be among you when you are among yourselves.

Do you guys hold one another accountable? Do you approach folks and let them know they are out of line? And if that person-to-person feedback does not work, what do you do? Not what can you do. Nor what should you do. But what do you ACTUALLY do.

Because if I have not made it clear, if Deaf folks have not made it clear to you . . . we expect you to hold one another accountable. We expect that if personal one-on-one feedback is not effective, that something more is done.

I suspect, because it is your job, you know far more interpreters than I do. And you come across far more bad interpreters than I do.  Most Deaf folks are alone in the room with one or two interpreters and hearing non-signers.  But we're not using interpreters every day.  You however, are working several times a week, if not almost every day.

Sometimes I see a really wonderful interpreter, someone I admire, paired with an interpreter who is terrible.  And afterwards a conversation occurs:

Good Interpreter: So. How did that go for you?
Me: Okay. You were fine. They were not.
Good Intepreter: Yes. I noticed.  I am sorry.
Me: I will let the (whoever) know not to hire them again.
Good Interpreter: That's a good idea. I encourage you to do that.

But they do get hired again. Just (hopefully!!!) not for me.

 And while I appreciate the check-in I do wonder... why are you not saying something to your team? Or maybe you do?  Do you do it later when I am not around?   Do you let the agency know? They hearing folks who were in the room with me know?  Or is it just on me, always? Because it shouldn't be.  This is your profession.  I would hope, and I do expect that you maintain oversight over quality control too.  That you hold one another accountable.

Because it would be really nice to see you call out your team when they suck, in front of me and the hearing non signers. It would be nice for me to see this conversation play out:

Good Interpreter: So how did you get this job?
Bad Interpreter: They agency sent me.
Good Interpreter: I think you were not qualified and not a good fit to take this job. I encourage you not to take these kind of (medical/theater/legal) jobs again.  It's unethical. I will not work with you again.

And this conversation:

Good Interpreter: Excuse me every one. My team is unable to do their job properly right now and is not qualified for this job.

I know right? WHOA.  That sounds hard. It really does. But Deaf folks can't be the only ones policing the interpreting field.  We all need to hold one another accountable, together.  Otherwise it's just really hard and accountability becomes a buzz word we say but don't practice in the real world.

I am tired of being the "angry" Deaf client. The one who is always complaining about their access or lack thereof. I would like you to be the angry interpreters and hold one another accountable, in the moment, in front of us so we know it is happening. And keep doing it when we are not around.

Because no matter how much I respect you personally, no matter how much I may regard you as a potential ally... if you are not visibly and diligently holding folks in your profession accountable, it makes it difficult for me when I do go to the agency and when I do let hearing folks know. I wish my word was enough, but often it is not. I need your help too.

You need to clean your house.  Get rid of the cobwebs and dust, and haul out the trash.  I
t's long overdue.  Someone needs to open up the windows and air the stench out. You've collected too many bad interpreters in your profession. They need to go.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Mutuality of Respect (And Trust)

You and me, we need to go on a hike. Strap on your boots and bring your water bottle.  I've got the first aid kit.  You bring the sunscreen. We're going to hike through some rough terrain, through the woods.  And we're going to talk about respect.

We often talk about respect as a two way street.  Equally traversing between two parties. And this works well if the playing field is level.  But it is not. So how does mutual respect play out on uneven playing fields, between Deaf folks and interpreters?

Not very fucking well. Lets walk in peace for a bit and let that sink in.  

I'm going to go off, ahead of you, into the wilderness of tangents. Wild, tangled vines of things that interlink and connect. Hopefully we'll see the trees, the forests, and the vines as we walk through these woods together. 

I see interpreters wishing there was more respect for their noble profession.  And I see interpreters wishing there was more respect and trust from Deaf folks being sent in their direction.  Especially the trust bit.

This open grove looks like a grand spot to stop for a bit and catch our breath. 

So here I am. And there you are.  We're sitting together here taking deep drinks from our water bottles. The sun is shining down, midday and we've got a long ways to go still. 

I am going to look you straight in the eye and tell you something: Interpreters not receiving enough respect for their profession was never the problem.

The problem has always been that ASL as a language is not valued and respected.  And Deaf folks as a people and culture are not recognized, let alone valued and respected.

It is not possible nor is it even appropriate for ASL interpreters to seek and ask for more respect without this, first.

"How can Deaf individuals trust that there is a modest level of integrity in interpreters if they do not see us learning and emulating models that aim to eradicate stereotypes, prejudices, and the discrimination of Deaf people? - See more at: http://www.streetleverage.com/2014/05/social-justice-an-obligation-for-sign-language-interpreters/#sthash.JgqzH212.dpuf"

And trust is a choice.  It is. It really is.  And if Deaf folks are choosing not to trust interpreters, there is a damned good reason. You and me, we're on this hike together and we're not even half way there.  And I need you to trust me, first, that I know where we are both going.

So let me lead you through the forest here.  Let me be the guide. How comfortable are you putting your profession in the hands of Deaf folks? Of letting us lead, guide?

I'm also going to reclaim your profession from this point on. What I referred to as yours is now mine.  Ours even.  But especially mine. 

Will you let Deaf folks lead our interpreter conferences? Will you let the vast majority of speakers be Deaf folks? Will you have those conferences only in ASL?  Will you let us head RID and comprise a majority of our RID board?  Will you let us re-examine those Codes of Professional Conduct and re-write them from the bottom up?  How about your tests and certifications? Will you let us test you and pass/fail you?  Will you let us be the ones to oversee grievance procedures?

Do you trust us enough? Our knowledge, our skill, our capacity, our motives? Will you be okay with values that are Deaf-centric and Deaf-first and not Interpreter-Centric and Hearing-First?

Will you let Deaf leaders, grassroots and professionals, and Deaf-led organizations lead the way?  And take charge of our profession?  Because it's not your profession any longer.

Somehow, somewhere we lost sight of that.  Nothing that is about Deaf folks can be done by hearing folks.  "Of the Deaf. For the Deaf. By the Deaf." -  these are the wisest tenants in our community.  They have served us well and will continue to do so.

And if interpreters cannot hear those reasons, or respond without getting defensive as their first choice... then we're at a bit of an impasse here.

Two folks, everything being equal, will share mutual respect.  If someone has more power and privilege... respect is coerced by the system. The one with more power must stand down and let the one with less power stand up- then we can begin to respect and trust one another, on more equal footing.

We've reached an especially gnarly thicket in this part of our hike. And we need to hack our way through. Because I can't see the way ahead, and neither can you.  There's a whole mess of tangled, thorny vines; complicated stuff here. And as far as I can see, I'm the only one doing the hacking.  I think I left you back there, because I don't see you next to me any longer. Did I lose you? Did you get lost. Or did we lose each other?

We all participate in the system. Every one of us. Not a single one is exempt.

And we are programmed to help our helpers. To defer to them. To make sure we do everything we are supposed to do to keep them.  We are programmed by the system that we all participate in to help you, because if you go away, if you are no longer there, then who will help us? I am programmed to be your guide, even here on this hike. 

And don't you see how messed up that is? And how utterly devoid of respect it is? And how much it destroys any possibility for trust? We need you. And you need us to need you.  We pay your bills.  This crazy symbiosis is so inherently unhealthy and so inherently oppressive, it keeps us tied to one another through coercion, and not choice. And if trust is the only choice I have here, when nothing is else... I'm not sure I can give it so willingly. 

How can you possibly fight for a future that includes more respect for Deaf folks, their language and culture when you need us to need you?

I don't know.  It seems easier doesn't it, to fight for the profession itself. More concrete.  And nothing changes. Absolutely nothing changes. You'll still be getting paid. And we'll still need you. And you'll be in charge of my profession. 

I hear you saying it's not your fault. That you're not personally responsible. And I get that response.  I do.

But you also benefit from it more than most hearing people do who actively perpetuate oppression against Deaf folks .  You get paid to be a part of this system.  So you don't get to opt out of being responsible.  More than any one else, you have a front row seat to the oppression that Deaf folks face. More than any one else you know exactly how messed up it gets out there.  And so more than any one else, we have higher expectations of you.  Because you cannot claim ignorance.  You cannot say you did not know.

You must stand down.  Because the only way out of this forest is through you first. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Jobs You Take & The Jobs You Don't (Love Ya but WTF)

This is a love letter to my favorite terps. The rock stars. The hell-yeah, damn-they're good terps.  The ones I love to watch and oft-request. And fortunately oft get.  I love ya. Truly, madly, deeply do. When you invite me to your parties and include me in your gatherings, I get all kinds of tingly inside. And when you take my jobs, I feel all kinds of validated. You're the best and you wanna work with me? Sweeeeeet!

Now hold up.  Lets put the brakes on this love fest for just a minute.

I'm going to stop writing this love letter to them and talk to you instead. Let me just fold this up for a minute and set it aside. I don't care if you're hearing or Deaf. A terp or not. Or if you're the head of an agency or a regular folk.  I just want to have a little vent session and blow some steam.

Relationships are like that right? Full of ups and downs. My love for rock star terps is hitting a rocky patch right now. Getting kinda hard to write a love letter. Feels fake (kiss-kiss-hug-hug) and hella patronizing. I'm going to toss you a diet coke, and we'll crack them open, sit on my couch, and gush on the latest and not so greatest of my current relationship with terps.

Some context is helpful yes? Most of the rock star terps are working in the private sector where the pay is better. Makes sense. Or they're taking jobs in VRS  for more stability and benefits. (And I guess the pay can't be too shabby either). Many of the top tier, highly skilled certified terps in Washington state have left the public sector in droves, refusing to contract with the state for a variety of reasons, primarily due to a lower pay rate.  I get it.

And .. . It sucks.

It sucks because some of the most difficult jobs and the most vulnerable members of the Deaf community are those who are using interpreters in the public sector. They deserve the very best. Instead of  getting the most qualified and skilled interpreters, they are getting some of the most inexperienced interpreters whose skills sets don't match their needs. Or worse still, they're not getting a interpreter at all. Because there's not enough of them who will agree to take the work.

Now I do need to make a fair caveat here:  There are still a handful of good interpreters who work in the public sector and take those DSHS jobs, and some of them are also volunteering and contributing to the community.  This isn't about them. This isn't even about the mediocire, meh interpreters. Dude, I'll totally write about that another time. For days. Promise.

This is about the ones I love to love.

Sigh. Let me take a sip.  This is hard stuff. I need some carbonation to swallow it down with. 'Cos mostly I just want to hurl.

Lets clarify something here; My rock star, hell-yeah, damn-they're good terps I was writing a love letter to aren't taking these public sector jobs any longer, where they are most needed. At least a lot of them aren't.  Because they don't want to deal with the "BS" with the ODHH contract. Because they won't settle for being paid less than the private sector.  Because of any dozen reasons why working in the public sector sucks.

Whoa. Dude. That's not cool. 

So where'd they go and who is using them? Some of the most privileged folks in our community: Deaf professionals. 

A large percentage of consumers who use these rock star terps are Deaf professionals who are employed by nonprofits and businesses, and have private health insurance.  Some of them are my friends and I've been among them, full disclosure: I have worked for agencies that only hired the best terps. My agency could afford it. And only the best would do for us. This is a problem.

It makes it hard to relate to folks in our community who are getting shitty terps or not getting enough terps all-the-time. It makes it hard for Deaf professionals to get hot and bothered about this ODHH contract and give a damn. We think terps are paid enough. Too much.  And we don't look very far into the complexities of this issue because it doesn't really affect us that much.  Just our clients.

Boom. Just our clients. So who gives a fuck. Hello privilege, come hang out on the couch with us, here's a Diet Coke. You're going to need it to get the rest of this bitter pill down.

So what the fuck?!  My rock star, hell-yeah, damn-they're-good terps are specifically, mainly only taking terp gigs in the private sector, VRS included. They've essentially abandoned the most vulnerable of the Deaf community: The ones who cannot complain and if they do, often are not heard. My friends, Deaf Professionals, are sitting on the sidelines and not doing a damn thing.

This stuff hurts.  My beloved rock star, hell-yeah, goddamn-they're-good terps.... the ones I love and adore beyond reason... I'm just going to pick up my pen and start writing that letter again, because I really do love you:

Dear Rock Star Terps,

Well shit, you're part of the problem.  A big part.  We need you back, in the trenches, taking the jobs you don't want to take, that pay less than the private sector because if you don't, the problem in the public sector gets a whole lot worse and the solutions a whole lot more impossible to find.



PS xoxo

Pretty sure I need to cc this to Deaf Professionals. So here we go.

And Deaf professionals who are used to getting decent to awesome terps, you need to get whole lot more pissed off here. Because if you were getting the mediocre and the meh (or no terps at all) and weren't being included in the solution, you'd be pissed.  You'd mobilize. You'd raise holy hell and galvanize the community and get.shit.done.

PPS: What the fuck people?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Absolute Neccesity of Anger

Here's what I want to say: Get comfortable with my anger.

Think of it as a roaring fire in a stone fireplace. Pull up a chair, grab your hot toddy, and bask in its glow. Your cheeks are going to get rosy, but that's just grand. It looks good on you.  I have a story to tell, and what better place for stories than in front of a roaring fire when the storms of disquiet rage outside the windows.

Lean closer to me. You need my anger. You need it to keep you warm when you are chilled to the very marrow of your soul.  You need it when you are weary and tired of fighting.   My anger will ignite you from within so you can keep going.

Don't be afraid of my anger. It is a bright light in a dark night.

The world is full of brimming chaos and swirling dissonance.  Those howling winds of change and cacophony are going to blow down the very walls of your ignorance and denial.  Good. So it should. But my anger lights the way through and lights the path towards a new way of being.

Don't tell me to simmer down and bank my fire.  Because someday there will be no fire left and the hearth will be barren, cold, with nothing left but ashes. You'll miss my anger then.

Fire is cleansing. So is anger. It burns down what is not needed so new growth can take root.

Every activist knows that the power of anger doesn't come from explosion but from its ability to light other fires so that the warmth of new ideas, and new possibilities can take root in us all.

Don't tell Deaf folks to stop being so angry. It is their anger that will lead us all out of the darkness.  Follow them into the light.  Come closer. Get warm. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothers Day: For Those 'Whose Mother's Didn't Sign

Your mama, she loved you.  When she found out you were deaf, she loved you.  When she consulted with doctors, specialists, speech therapists, audiologists with fear running through her veins... she loved you.

When she didn't learn sign language. She loved you.  When she tried to learn some fingerspelling and signs, and you were embarrassed, she loved you.

Love was always there. And if it was layered with things like grief, regret, fear, worry, anxiety... remember, love was always there.

It didn't leave you at the dinner table when the family talked and you tried to follow in between bites of casserole and sips of milk.  And when you walked away to go read a book, she saw. And she loved you.

It didn't leave you when you sat for countless hours  the sound booth, taking one hearing test after another.

It never left you though you go home now, decades later, and the two of you are like strangers She loves you still.

Loving a stranger-mother who does not sign is hard.  But she loves you through it.  Your anger and your frustration and your sorrow at missing that deep mother-child connection stays with you.  Why didn't she love you enough to give you two the gift of communication?

Her eyes fill with tears. She loved you the best she knew how.  And somehow the two of you have to make that enough.

Meanwhile, the mother-love from other nurturing hands fly through air over the years, lifting you up when your house was a place of resentment.  Those hands from other mothers who signed, who opened their hearts to you let you see what was possible.  And the hands from children your age who loved you through those times carried you as well.  They saved you.

For all the mothers who sign with their children and the children of those who don't, Happy Mother's Day and thank you. You have no idea how precious that gift is.  And for those who don't: we know you love us. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

When Allies Ask You to Fight for Them: Sailing Ships & Trekking Mountains


"Interpreters are an island most of the time"- this quote comes from a woman and and interpreter I admire and think well of. Interpreters are an island; going to and fro jobs, isolated much of the time but occasionally gathering on ships, to sail together for destinations known and unknown.  Sometimes those ships are passenger ferries that connect them to one another as they visit homes.  Sometimes they are commercial container ships, bringing them all to a gathering place to discuss their industry, exchange ideas and lend support.  Other times cruise ships dot the water where much merriment and drinking copious amounts of alcohol takes place.  And finally, sometimes those ships are mighty Rescue Ships, with churning wakes during times of calamity.

Necessity requires them to hop off their islands, and hop aboard these Rescue Ship, picking up other interpreters along the way, gathering momentum with every mile ... steering towards the islands of better wages, better conditions, better contracts, better terms. Around the country, interpreters are boarding these Rescue Ships, refugees seeking a better life on another cluster of islands in the distance.

Deaf folks don't live on islands surrounded by water on every side. We're gathered on the shore on the mainland. We'll stand, watching these terps pick one another up as they sail across rocky seas as they chart for what they hope will be more clear and smooth waters. 

We watch their ships set course away from us, increasing the already far distances that separated us. We turn to one another and exchange various expressions of bemusement, disdain, indifference, concern, curiosity, and open hostility. We're quite land locked, with no ships of our own available to us. And no room on that ship for us.  So we turn our backs, and look to the mountains that hover over us, imposing and seemingly impregnable.  We huddle together as we always have, comparing maps, and sharing resources and survival gear- how do we trek these mountains and reach the other side, where we will be free? Where foes block our way at every pass and every turn. Where our survival does not concern better wages, but the right to exist. The right to things more basic, like language. 

Then a message by bottle arrives on the sand, ,a flare shoots across the sky-  we're asked and sometimes summoned to swim out to the Rescue Ship. They have need of us. Our help is essential.  Our stories and narratives are imperative to their cause. Their plight after all, affects Deaf folks, ultimately. If interpreters are not paid enough, or are not able to earn a living wage, or are asked to work under intolerable conditions the quality of interpreters will diminish, and the pool of interpreters will shrink. They'll simply set anchor on a new island, one that involves better pay in the private sectors, leaving the public sector shipwrecked, or they'll simply find new careers on sandier shores with better drinks. And Deaf folks will be landlocked still. 

We turn to one another. Because there is truth in what they say.  Some will risk the long swim, some will drown in the process.  Some will create rafts out of driftwood and debris and paddle their way out.  Others... most, will turn their backs and leave their pleas unanswered. We have our own mountains to climb, and our resources are limited, our people number small, and our gear is scarce.  

Because we know from experience that once we reach their ships, we'll stay for only a while and we'll be thrown off- perhaps will life jackets. Perhaps not.  And if we are lucky, we will return to the mainland, depleted and unable to help our people prepare and set out for the long trek across the mountain. Though we sent reinforcements, it will not be reciprocated. No reinforcements from interpreters will be sent in exchange after their battle is won. They will go back to their islands, surrounded by water, content that the status quo has been saved to live another day. 

I share this parable as a way to explain why Deaf folks don't immediately join the fight when interpreters call on us to help them fight for better wages, better conditions, and better terms for contracts.  It also helps explain the indifference and for some, the anger and hostility Deaf folks feel when we are asked to fight for something when we have our more pressing fights that we often fight alone, without the rank and file of the interpreter community behind us.  

Sometimes interpreters think we don't understand, or that we don't get it.  Or worse that we don't care.  Perhaps they're right.  But I wonder if that's the point. It seems to smack of navel-grazing and self-centeredness.  I think Deaf folks are so busy surviving and fighting battles we did not choose  nor can we opt out of.  Our numbers are so small, and we are so battered, and we have so little left to give that diverting attention, funds, and our talent towards the battles and wars of others will ensure our own defeat.  

For as long as interpreters are sailing away from us, without us (and this is key), for a better life when the power dynamics and income earning power are already steeply skewed in favor of hearing interpreters... we'll never  be able to feel we are on the same side.

Because as long as it is lucrative to choose careers in "helping" professions to support the Deaf community, we will always have hearing people to fill those jobs.  For as long as our bodies and our language provide income for those to profit and live off of, we will always have interpreters, audiologists, surgeons, speech therapists, teachers, counselors, etc. Oppressed, Deaf folks are far more valuable for the industry and jobs they provide, than if we were emancipated.  It makes complete sense why there is not a call to arms for more jobs for Deaf folks by our interpreter allies, it makes sense why there is not wide spread acknowledgement and respect for our language and culture, and it is deeply clear that as long as there are barriers to access, we will see folks more invested in improving the interpreter profession. It is profitable.

Before you ask us to fight with you, can we find a way to build rickety rafts together? Will you fight for a future where your jobs are no longer needed? Can we all live on the mainland and share resources?  Can we trek those mountains together first, before we chart the seas, with Deaf folks leading?  Or can we find ships big enough to carry us all, with Deaf folks at the helms, leaving no Deaf person behind? 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Interpreter Appreciation Day: The Praised & The Invisible

Can I preface this by saying I come from a mainstream background from 5th grade onward. Prior to that, I was in a classroom with no access to ASL for 5 1/2 years. 

This informs my experience as a Deaf person greatly. It informs my opinions of interpreters, in the ways I love them. And don't.  

At times my relationship with interpreters is co-dependent. At other times it is downright toxic . I vacillate between abject adoration and chilly condemnation.  Neither is an accurate vantage point.

At no point though, is it a vantage point of my choosing.  I do not hike those mountains of love and hate willingly, with a map in hand; I am dropped there from the airplane of hearing dominance without a parachute.

Interpreter Appreciation Day has come and gone. It began, incorrectly observed on May 1st owing to the confusion of many, and ended on the actual day of observance, the first Wednesday in May, the official date. Full disclosure: I participated. And I am glad to give shout outs to terps who do good work, in all the right ways.

So, of course (again)  I appreciate interpreters. Not as a whole, not as an entire institution. But on an individual, name-by-name basis. I appreciate those individuals are are among the "good ones."   Those few individuals who are welcome guests in my house.  Whose passports were earned the right way, through humility and recognition that as allies they earn respect through doing the work we ask them to do.

We Deaf folks, especially from mainstream backgrounds, look to interpreters with respect and something more.  We look up, specifically, to interpreters. Not as equals but as folks on pedestals. Or as folks who are beneath us.  They were often our only friend in the classroom. And so the unhealthy co-dependency began for many Deaf folks. We love them/we hate them.

For hearing folks, interpreters are at the forefront of ASL. Interpreters are the literal front-line "ambassadors" of our community . They are the ones praised for ASL and their "performances." It is interpreters who are approached after performances. Whose hands are shaken. Who are surrounded by adoring hearing non-signers, recent converts to the glory and sexiness that is ASL.

Deaf folks are all but invisible.   They're a nameless, faceless member in the crowd. Unrecognized, nearly always. The praise and recognition of interpreters has not resulted in increasing respect and visibility for Deaf folks and ASL.

Because interpreters are sexy right? Well, I do think so. But that's a topic for another time.  Or is it? Can we talk about sexiness?  I don't mean soul-deep, own-it, walk your truth kind of empowered sexiness. I mean that, "goddamn that's hot" objectification- where the person isn't seen, just their potent appeal. In the case of "that interpreter is hot", the language isn't seen. And certainly, Deaf folks aren't seen.  And isn't that the most effective way to de-value a language & culture, and dehumanize the group it comes from? By debasing it as something trite, entertaining, and well... hot?

And here lies my discomfort with Interpreter Appreciation Day. Because I do appreciate access. And I appreciate folks who do their jobs well. And I certainly appreciate interpreters who "get it."    But there is something  inherently "sexy" about Interpreter Appreciation Day... and shallow.  And where is there mention of the Deaf teachers who taught them? Of Deaf folks who took them in and gave interpreters the most valuable gifts they had: ASL and the history and culture? Why are interpreters yet again in the spotlight and why are Deaf folks still invisible?

Although I am an adult now, I am often capitulated back to that 10 year old girl...  alone in a classroom with only an interpreter for a friend.  There was desperation there, and a need to survive a hearing world. How utterly dependent I was and still am, without a map torn between the peaks of love and hate.  

I want off that mountain.  

Passports & Reclamation

My whole life words have been in equal measures my salvation and my torment.

English, no better or worse than any other language, gave me life saving escape from the hearing world. Reading English words gave me thousands of hours of pleasure and escape, and knowledge too. Writing English word gave and gives me still an outlet {one of many} for self-expression so that I don't succumb to an avalanche of oppression that surrounds me on all sides like an ever-encroaching slag heap. Daily, it threatens to bury me. 

Writing in English allows me to hand out passports to all humans, Deaf & hearing, so that they can travel into my mind and heart.  Your reading of my words allow us to connect there in my English house as two-hearts and two-minds, even if we are not same-hearted or like-minded. 


And yet, here as I write and over time I will explore the ways English defeats me, as the enemy's language, pushes me into the dust and tramples over me day after day. And I will explore how ASL saves me and lifts me. There is a strange push-pull between the two for me. A war even, as much as I hate using war-mongering language, it is a war none the less.  

But perhaps, just maybe, words give you/me the power to rise. When we write in the enemy's language we are able to invite them into our home, sit down with them, offer a cup of coffee and then use the very same words, more powerful than any weapon, to throw them out again when they have overstayed their welcome. We can reclaim our homes and lands that have been stolen from us and are denied to us. 


Language is our home. For Deaf folks, ASL is our home. Hearing users of ASL are guests at best, and enemy invaders at worst. Sometimes welcome. Sometimes not. Sometimes we invite them in for coffee. And sometimes we wish to throw them out and barricade the door. 

English is not my home. I have a house there. Though I was born in that house, I will forever be an immigrant with a temporary visa using the language with mastery but still missing the nuances of native fluency. There will never be dual citizenship for me in this English house of mine, that I own but whose lands it stands upon I do not. Those lands will never belong to me. The soil there is forever foreign. There will never be amnesty that says "You're one of us." I wouldn't want to be, anyways. 


So allow me to write to you these postcards from my English house, as someone who longs to return home. Let this be your passport that invites you to join me on my journey. Stay. Have some coffee.

*Please read the links. They inform my thoughts and ideas. Full credit given to those who inspired the ideas in this writing, the ideas are theirs, and did not originate with me. Credit attributed for both ideas and words are important. Especially as every movement is informed by movements that go before, by nameless and famous individuals who whose lives and thoughts made the impossible possible, and upon whose shoulders I stand. Men and women from every walk of life have made it possible for me to share this with you. Without them and their words and work, I would not be.