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American Sign Language:  "gay"


GAY (version)


GAY (version)


GAY (version)


In a message dated 11/29/2006 10:37:40 AM Pacific Standard Time, burr0099@  writes:
Hi Bill,
I am a student at the University of Minnesota, currently in ASL 3. I  have the Random House Webster's ASL Dictionary, but I often rely on  your site for current, cultural descriptions of signs. (The personal, anecdotal information is much more useful than a basic dictionary.) 
So, I was wondering if you could add signs for gay, lesbian, etc? (Or  are they already on the site somewhere and I'm just missing them?) Do you recommend using the initialized signs on the chin or is there something more up-to-date? You could also add signs for "partner" and 
other related signs.

Thanks for your help,
Amy Pagett
Hi Amy,
I can put those signs on my to do list.
It might be a while since the "to do" list is pretty long.
But at least they will be in the pipe for eventual inclusion.
I just do the initialized "GAY" / "LESBIAN" signs on the chin. Or if in an unknown group I'll spell G-A-Y.  For partner I do the "roommate" sign.
But what do I know?  I'm like the world's straightest geek.
The other day a tattooed motorcyclist showed me half a dozen signs for "gay" that he says are in use.  One of which was "tugging on the earlobe."  Heh.
I'll have to ask around to see if he was giving it to me straight, er, I mean, telling me accurate information.
Dr. Bill
In a message dated 11/29/2006 5:27:14 PM Pacific Standard Time, burr0099@ writes:
Hi Bill,
I've seen the "tugging on the earlobe" sign in James Woodward's book, Signs of Sexual Behavior, but it is quite old so I am never sure what is still in use.
Around here it is quite common to use "part" + the agent sign for "partner."

In a message dated 5/31/2011 3:29:38 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, rockiatrist writes:
Prof. vicars,
Hi my name is Shane a returning adult student with UWL but withdrew to possibly just finish at MTC in Wisconsin so I can at least maybe get a certificate as well as my degree. My major is in Interpersonal Communications and had a deaf/mute boyfriend while at UWL. I see the comments in response to doing the sign for "GAY" and if any help, being a gay man, i find that the chin movement is what is told to me all the time by gay men who are Deaf. I did the ear lobe and they looked at me and even chuckled. Just a thought if it would help. the chin is what i am instructed by gay men to use, at least here in Wisconsin gay community. *smile*
Shane Zirbel


In a message dated 7/11/2011 7:26:00 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, rockiatrist writes:

Prof. Vicars,
My apologies for using the term Deaf/mute in the message i sent you in regards to the sign for "gay." I certainly am studying the language and meeting people locally and through websites. I was directed to this article by a Deaf man who was friends with my former boyfriend after he noticed the words i used in the message i sent to you that you posted on your site. He was not mad, but just shared this article.


"Deaf-Mute -- Another offensive term from the 18th-19th century, "mute" also means silent and without voice. This label is technically inaccurate, since deaf and hard of hearing people generally have functioning vocal chords. The challenge lies with the fact that to successfully modulate your voice, you generally need to be able to hear your own voice. Again, because deaf and hard of hearing people use various methods of communication other than or in addition to using their voices, they are not truly mute. True communication occurs when one's message is understood by others, and they can respond in kind." - National Association of the Deaf

Maybe you could post this underneath message if you, or other people, think it was not proper to use term.
- Shane Zirbel

p.s. do you yourself think it was not polite? With the communication still being limited while we dated he probably never knew i was using term. We are still great friends though and chat via webcam a lot to have him see my progress or when he uses video phone i can at same time listen to interpreter and watch him sign with them as i try to notice what is being used as he signs and interpreter talks to me.


Dear Shane,
Honest people making an honest effort rarely need to apologize -- yet they often do apologize as a way of making it clear that any harm inflicted was certainly unintentional. I know that is what you are doing now.
Sure I'd be happy to post the correspondence as you request, but just so you'll know, there is a movement amongst some in the Deaf community to reclaim the word "mute" and make it our own! There are indeed many Deaf MUTE (capitalization for emphasis) people -- namely those Deaf who do NOT voice. Within our community there are those who have actively blogged about and promoted the concept of using the word MUTE proudly to denote being a Deaf person who doesn't voice.
This movement is very similar to the movements that have taken place within other communities to reclaim their labels. Do you consider the word "gay" to be offensive? Or the word "queer?" Why or why not? Were those words offensive at one time? Offensive to whom? (Implied vs inferred?) If they are no longer offensive when and how did they stop being so? Isn't it logical to assume that other groups will also eventually wrest their labels from the larger (oppressive) society and dictate what those labels mean?
- Bill


In a message dated 7/12/2011 8:19:06 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, rockiatrist writes:
Prof. Vicars,
After reading your message i thought to myself, "I hope he posts his reply to my email." Certainly a good point for a lot of people like me studying the culture. I called Micah to just ask him directly and get a response from him as to what his feelings are about the word mute being used when people refer to him. Was interesting when he stated that it never crossed his mind. I suppose the point is similar to what sign people use for the word "gay" being it does vary. Seeing the title/name of the organization "National Association for the Deaf" after the other man directed me to article, and politely told me it was best not to use the term, i thought he was speaking for everyone. Thank you for your thoughts and opinion on the subject. I guess like Micah stated to me it never crosses my mind when i hear various terms or words in reference to my sexual orientation. Not to say that i don't see a lot of people get furious when various words are used. *smile*
Thank you
- Shane

July 12, 2011

Dear Shane,
Culture is a moving target. Every once in a while I come across something I posted online 10 years ago and I wince and think, "did I write THAT?!?" People tend to think of culture as a melting pot. It isn't. It is like a salad, with bits and hunks of food all jumbled together. The salad evolves over time, but it is always full of bits and chunks of separate food types. The challenge is when an eater sits down and sticks his/her fork into the salad and comes up with a bit of onion and some chicken on that fork. (This is very common if you get a salad at a fast food chain, they put the meat on top to make it look more impressive.) He or she may initially conclude that salad is mostly about chicken and onion.

It is not until a person has stuck his fork in and sampled many bites from the salad bowl that the person has a true sense of what that particular salad is all about. And it isn't until that person has eaten that "type" of salad at a variety of restaurants in a variety of cities that he/she could really be considered familiar with that salad. Even more interesting is if he goes back to the same restaurant 10 years later and there is a different chef preparing that "same" salad -- the salad may taste quite different.
When the NAD "says" this is the way it is, you should take that as an indication that a very large percentage of the American Deaf Community indeed felt that way about that topic at the time of that article. THEN you start asking questions like: "How old is this article?" "How 'hot' is this topic?" "Are technological or societal changes likely to influence how this topic is viewed?"

Certainly, for many years the word "mute" was considered "offensive" by the general Deaf community, but that was during the time when "audism" (a form of racism against the Deaf) promoted the idea that being able to voice was somehow better than being able to sign. Once you remove "audism" where is the "offense" of being called mute? It is no more offensive to be called "mute" than it is to be called "brunette," "Jew," "Gay," or "Black."

At the point when parents, administrators, educators, and Deaf adults start communicating to Deaf children that being Deaf means to be part of a rich and compelling heritage of language, culture, and community -- those Deaf children no longer "take offense" at being called mute, but rather they see it as a source of pride and identity.

[The Mute Room]
In the summer of 2006 I received an email from Marci Wilson, a wonderful person and at the time interpreter coordinator for Carson City School District in Nevada. She and I had discussed methods of encouraging the use of sign language in the district and I had suggested the teachers create a room or area that was to be a "highly visual environment" wherein the participants (including the Hearing people) would communicate only in sign language. She wrote:
<<Hey, we started our "silent classroom" on Monday. The kids named it "The Deaf Room". They wanted to name it "The Deaf Mute Room" because they see "mute" on the remote [control device] and it means "no sound". We talked about the connotations from the past, but said it was their day, new way and all...but they decided "The Deaf Room" would be more accepted if Deaf adults came to visit. I love it! The interpreters are a little reluctant but the kids love it, too. Thanks for the suggestion.
-- Marci

We now have a generation of Deaf who have a totally fresh understanding of the term "mute."
Back in 2006 I wrote that "theoretically it would be possible for the term 'mute' to make an in-your-face comeback." This is no longer theory. Just as there are zeitgeist websites out there devoted to "crip" humor for the "severely euphemized," we are seeing and have seen semantic evolution of the term "mute."
-- Bill


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