When we imagine voices, we often think of words, mouths, sounds that tell stories from one person to the next. But sometimes we forget to think those in the queer community who speak in silence, weaving words with their hands instead. We caught up with Deaf poet Tamyka Bullen to share her unique voice through an exclusive poem just for us. Read on to find out what it’s like to be Deaf and Guyanese in the queer community with our short interview.
by Tamyka Bullen
(translated from ASL to English)
As an Outsider, I am standing in the night
Watching the abandoned house burning
Everybody speak loudly in patio English
It enraptures them as fireflies dance merrily
I don’t know what they say
I watch the smoking fade into the humid air
As an Outsider, I am in the land of many waters
Walking through the bustling downtown
Guarding my bag tightly
My loose clothes, my frizzy hair, my strange behaviours, mosquito bites
Ah, my blood is not saturated with their tropical environment
They know I am not from here
As an Outsider, I am wearing the wrong size of sandals
Unaware of noises I make when I walk
Slapping on bad roads happily
My eyes widened with heavenly curiosity
See many rompers I never had one
Later I learn they hear different music from stores
As an Outsider, I ring the church
A man opens the door; he asks what I want?
“Hi, I want to meet other Deaf people. Can I enter?”
Happily, our hands are flying in the air
Learn some of their signs
Men drive by and stare at us with a smiling curiosity
As an Outsider, I am sitting in the back of car
I write to the driver why many streets don’t have name signs
He is puzzled and replies, “Some streets”
Ah, maybe this driver is somewhat illiterate
Many days go on; I learn that education is bad there
Gesture and lipreading I try my best to understand something more
As an Outsider, my auntie shows me the invitation to an LGBT event
I peep at the seemingly macho
I stay quiet, nervous, hope this man doesn’t know I’m bisexual
A drunk topless woman carries a gun
She boasts with a carnival pride
Adults and children take pictures of her
As an Outsider, I am at the Midtown bar
Sitting with this gorgeous curvy butch woman
Writes a lot about herself; I like her
Suddenly, we are on the Freak Show
Drivers laugh at us; enjoy seeing us doing unholy deeds
I roll my eyes
As an Outsider, I am still watching the house fire
Envisaging the earth goes through the fire for a perfect world
So then I won’t be an Outsider
I give a farewell to the Guyana Flag
I hop on the airplane
I watch the land becomes smaller, then water, then clouds
U: Hi Tamyka! Your poem centres around your experiences in Guyana as a Deaf queer person. Can you tell us a bit about your heritage?
Both of my parents migrated to Canada in the 1970s for a better life, so I’m first generation Canadian. My Afro-Guyanese father named me Tamyka – he wanted to give me a unique name that most people don’t have.
It certainly is a beautiful name! How does it feel to be queer and Guyanese?
I don’t disclose my sexual identity in Guyana for my safety, otherwise they would hurt me. Deaf Guyanese folks have even warned me not to sign outside because Guyanese folks tend to look for vulnerable people to rob. Being Deaf and Queer is so forbidden in Guyana.
That sounds really tough. Have you found the same difficulties in your local queer communities?
When I got involved in the hearing LGBTQ community, they were eager to work with Deaf people. I felt safe in the community. I’ve worked and volunteered at different hearing organisations as a Deaf Advocate for 14 years now. I’ve provided presentations on Deaf Women, Deaf Accessibility, Introductions to the Deaf Community, Deaf People and Religion etc.
Is that how you started writing poetry?
The Bullen family has art in their DNA – but it was lonely in a hearing family who didn’t know sign language. I turned to God through the poems I wrote in my teenage years. In 2015 I was invited to read two poems of mine at Chester Subway Station, and after that, the door to the art world opened for me. I was invited to share my poems at different theatres and universities.
Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I am currently introducing Deaf, Queer and Guyanese cultures into my short stories, and hopefully one day I’ll get my stories published. If you’re interested to see my work, you can check my website. I paint a world where everyone is happy to accommodate Deaf peoples’ needs, recognise our abilities, and give us opportunities.
Interviewed by Maddie Jones