Call Me Uncontrollable

Deaf Muslim Filmmaker Sabina England

by David Ensminger

12 July 2011

Photo by
Jamie Devillez 

Is Deaf Culture Homophobic?

You’ve been distanced from your Deaf peers, on some level?

I’m 28 years old and I’m just starting to meet all these successful, great, intelligent Deaf artists and writers, who are into ASL poetry and sign language theatre. I never learned about that as a teenager and I wish I had. I would love to be part of that. I am planning to take some ASL workshops later, to improve my ASL skills and hopefully I would love to do something with that, maybe incorporate ASL into my future projects one day.

Do you feel more strongly connected to Deaf people, punks, and feminists worldwide, and not exactly tied to local people?

I met so many punks, feminists and Deaf people online. They either found me through interviews and articles, or they’ve stumbled onto me through another friend. I’ve started talking to this blind Anarchist from Australia who speaks about Anarchism and Disabilities. She fiercely speaks out against society institutionalizing blind people and making them feel incapable. I’ve read her essays and felt there was something very similar with Deaf people.

I’ve also met a lot of great feminists online who have opened my mind and taught me even more radical ideas, and then I’ve met many punks online who come from different parts of the world, like Lebanon and Indonesia. I’ve just become a member of Deaf Women in Film, a newly formed group based out of Los Angeles. These Deaf female filmmakers are always encouraging me and I’m so grateful to them for their support

Do you think the ASL Deaf community may have a stronger sense of identity and empowerment than the Deaf community raised on oral education?

Oh yes, yes definitely. ASL is a language of its own. There are ASL theatre companies that cater to Deaf audiences, and then there are Deaf stand up comics who use ASL in their stand up routines, such as C.J Jones, who cater to Deaf people, as well. Deafness gives a sense of identity to these people, because there’s one thing that’s common for all Deaf people no matter what race or ethnicity or religion they are. None of us can ever know what’s going on at a party, play, comedy show, because we don’t know what they’re saying!! We feel lost and alienated.

What do you think propels your outreach and networking more—punk rock or Deaf culture?

In the past, it was more about punk rock, but as of late, it’s been more about Deafness because I’ve ignored the Deaf part of my identity in the past before and I’ve felt alone and unsure of my own abilities. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t do something because of my Deafness. I was worried how I’d get a job or volunteer due to communication problems. So it became important to me to start seeking out successful Deaf people online. When I met Olin Fortney (Deaf punk and ASL instructor) and people from Deaf Women in Film, I felt so much more reassured and then I became more confident

Has punk rock shaped how you have recasted/realized your Deaf identity?

Yes, it was either punk rock or feminism that turned me to the other. Either way, punk rock and feminism inspired me to look into Riot Grrrls, and then I became interested in women’s rights and women’s issues, and then I discovered there was a disability rights movement within feminism!

Does society favor Deaf men over Deaf women?

Men are seen as the caregivers, the protectors. By society’s standards, men are supposed to take care of women. I’ve known Deaf guys who have felt insecure and angry when they feel like they cannot order food for their hearing girlfriends in a restaurant and I’ve known other Deaf guys who had great difficulty in finding jobs and felt like they couldn’t take care of their girlfriends/wives. Some of them thought they’d never have a chance with a hearing woman.

I once had a punk boyfriend before, who was really into feminism, labor unions, riot grrrls, and progressive politics. When we began dating, he bought a book written by a Deaf woman, about a romance relationship between a Deaf woman and hearing guy. I thought that was a nice gesture because he wanted to understand. But sometimes I became angry when he felt over-protective of me in public. He was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with people at parties, and I told him to quit treating me like a baby. Sometimes he felt frustrated with me. He said it was like talking to a brick wall, but he didn’t know ASL. He didn’t even realize it, but I’d point that he was being paternal and offensive toward me, and he’d apologize.

Do you examine punk lyrics very closely?

Yes, of course. I never understood what anyone was singing on CDs or vinyl or at punk shows! I’d read the lyrics either in CD booklets or online. If people had a strong response to a song, I’d wonder why and then read the lyrics, and then I’d understand why they were so affected by the song. I always envied hearing punks for being able to sing along and chant and shout with the vocalist at punk shows. Like they’d scream, “FUCK THE STATE! SMASH THE SYSTEM!” I always wanted to chant along with them, but I can’t.

There are two types of punks who go to the shows. Those who go for the social scene, to show off their hair and clothes and get laid for the night, and then the other type of punks, who go for the music, lyrics, and to participate in the unity and soul of punk rock. I’ve known many punks in the latter category who were like that. In fact, they encouraged me to read lyrics and they’d tell me what their favorite songs were because I didn’t always know which songs some bands sang

One of my Deaf students fired her interpreter because the signer was not capturing/relaying my full range of expressions.

I can understand why she fired her interpreter. I’ve been frustrated and angry when I got bland interpreters who didn’t convey emotions in their ASL. Deaf people have the right to know the mood, the tone, and the attitude. Some ASL interpreters have been very paternalistic (or maternalistic) to a point where it was really offensive and demeaning. One ASL interpreter refused to sign cuss words even when other people were cussing, and that’s not fair. I have the right to know what everyone is saying. They act like they know what’s proper—to hell with that—tell me the truth, in full conveyance!

Tell me about the video where you mimic masturbation.

I was making fun of the heterosexual white male fantasy bullshit because people always assume that women don’t fantasize like men do and that we don’t masturbate, but I fantasize about guys all the time.  I am a sex radical feminist. I believe in sexual liberty and dignity for all human beings

So, it’s about the taboo of masturbation?

I’m very outspoken on this stuff. I guess I put that masturbation scene into the film without even realizing the meaning it would convey. Some Deaf people can be very judgmental, and I feel like they have been brainwashed with religious garbage, so they’re very uptight about morals and all that. Other Deaf people are very relaxed about it. Deaf teenagers have always been very sexually active and even more curious than hearing kids. That’s what I can tell you because teachers and adults were always so protective and tried to shelter Deaf kids and Deaf teenagers, like we had to be shielded away from sex and drugs and violence. That made Deaf kids and teenagers at my Deaf schools very curious about sex, kissing, getting drunk, and doing drugs. They wouldn’t be open with us about sex, so it was up to us to find out on our own

What about queer culture?

We’re a very heteronormative society that celebrates lesbianism and female bisexuality, but anything to do with gay males is seen as disgusting and offensive. I don’t think people accept Elton John as a gay man. As a celebrity and famous musician, yes, but not as a gay man.

Were the punks you know directly homophobic?

Not at all. It’s more like indirectly homophobic. Just saying random, hurtful things like how gay male sex is disgusting, and gay kissing is gross, and that no gay guys better hit on them.

Is Deaf culture homophobic?

No, I think Deaf people are more open-minded. In fact, there’s a lot of homosexuality in Deaf culture. I don’t know why, but it seems that way. A few Deaf students from my school came out of the closet. I hear more about Deaf gays than I do about gay hearing people. But at the same time, like I said before, there are some judgmental Deaf people who are very religious (and brainwashed) and are very homophobic, but thankfully it doesn’t seem that common. I think it’s just that being Deaf, we are more open.

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