Queer and Deaf in ASEAN Countries
Dr. Anthony Chong
I would like to begin with a few facts about Deaf people in Malaysia. It is already difficult to live as a Deaf person in mainstream society, as many people are ignorant about Deaf people and do not understand that we are a linguistic minority. We experience poor access to information because of the ignorance of others, not because of our deafness. We are compelled to spend time and money on speech and listening therapy, even though such therapy does not always work for many of us. Despite its futility, people around us continue to insist that we give importance to speech and listening therapy. This has caused us to lose a lot of valuable time, money and energy in fruitless efforts towards mastery of oral communication. If we could pursue self-empowerment via sign language, our natural language, we would acquire sufficient literacy skills to access information in the mass media and other sources to function better.
Our lives become complicated when we realize that we are not heterosexual. We become fearful and do not know what to do with this self-realization. We learn from the stories of others and from the movies that it is not safe to live with an LGBTIQ identity. The worst has happened to those who revealed their queer identity -- they have been forced to go through conversion therapy. We feel a little better when we find another Deaf person with LGBTIQ.
Thus, it took a long time to build a Deaf LGBTIQ community because we were too discreet. And, we were unable to identify LGBTIQ by appearance alone.
Deaf people with LGBTIQ identity have to deal with rejection and oppression from both outside of and within the Deaf community. There are many Deaf people who are ignorant about queer identity; hence, they give a hard time to those who are not straight. Deaf people with LGBTIQ identity do not have enough resources for self-defence to protect themselves: they tend to be unable to explain why they behave differently from straight Deaf persons and to deal effectively when challenged. The SOGIESC Workshop with the Deaf LGBTIQ revealed that many of us do not understand our identity fully. This hampers our ability to live meaningful lives. We have learned that the Deaf LGBTIQ in other ASEAN countries face similar issues, also due to limited access to information.
What does this mean? It means that we must promote more awareness amongst peers within the community and support Deaf people to gain higher literacy on LGBTIQ issues and related matters. We could use our language, Malaysian Sign Language, also known as BIM, to increase such awareness. We also need to plant the seeds of leadership and advocacy within the community in the same learning process, to create new leaders for the coming years. The new leaders should be capable of empowering Deaf people in ASEAN countries through networking using International Sign.
In Malaysia, we tend to use our disability identity to seek help whenever we face obstacles or difficulties in mainstream society. It is far easier to seek help from mainstream society by using a disability identity, instead of the LGBTIQ or linguistic minority identity.
I conclude by sharing that whenever you see us smile, it does not mean we are happy with our lives. It is just that we need to appear happy and satisfied with what we have so that we do not sink into depression. Meanwhile, let us continue fighting for what’s right for Deaf people with LGBTIQ identities.