On Tuesday, April 10, Queer Week kicked off with Hayden Kristal who gave a workshop titled “GaySL: A Crash Course in LGBTQ American Sign Language.”
“I am a deaf or hard of hearing genderqueer bisexual speaker and comedian and I come to speak to you about LGBT ASL. That’s a lot of letters,” Kristal said in introducing themself.
Kristal began their workshop by rapidly signing, which caused much of the audience to blink in mild confusion before Kristal laughed and said “It’s almost like I’m fluent or like I’m very good at voguing. No, that was real sign language.”
Attendees laughed throughout the event, as Kristal explained some of the finer points of cochlear implants and hearing aids, taught the alphabet in ASL and talked about how people view accessibility.
Prompted by a question from the audience, Kristal explained that they can hear frequencies at the mid-range level — which is where most people normally speak — but not on the higher or lower ends. Kristal understands people mostly through either lip reading or sign language.
“Only 30% of spoken English can be gleaned through lip reading and the rest is gleaned through context. My life is like a game of wheel of fortune,” Kristal said.
Throughout the workshop they mentioned their work as a teaching assistant in ASL classes and working with deaf children.
“I am very proud to be involved in deaf culture,” Kristal said. “I feel very comfortable around deaf people and using sign language.”
The workshop was a peek into this culture as they began teaching the alphabet and LGBTQ signs, and Kristal explained that there are certain signs that are more widespread than others, whereas some are very localized. Kristal laughed as they explained that Philadelphia has its own very unique dialect for sign language that not even the rest of Pennsylvania uses.
“ASL will borrow words from English just like English will borrow words from other languages like karaoke and tsunami,” Kristal said. “English and sign language are different languages; it has its own syntax and grammar.”
Kristal began the lesson with the alphabet, explaining that “if you can finger spell a word in sign language you can technically say anything you want but then you will be my mother.” They laughed as they gave anecdotes about their mom as an example of what is technically correct but should not be copied when signing such as “typewriter-ing” with the letters and signing too slow.
“We’re going to work our way through the LGBTQ not because they’re the only ones but because they’re the most used and the most standard,” Kristal said, again stressing that for most there is no universal sign. “There are regional variations, some places have deemed one sign more or less appropriate but it’s so hyper regional.”
Kristal taught the group the most common signs for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and shared some stories with each sign, emphasizing the personal variations and some of the origins for each.
Kristal shared a story of how they’ve heard from several others that the positioning of the letter L on one’s chin for the sign for lesbian can be used to indicate how butch or femme they are. “I’ve never seen it in the wild but it’s too good not to share,” they said.
When teaching the sign for gay, Kristal said “I saw someone say they were ‘gay as hell,’” quickly adding that fingerspelling can also be used as emphasis. One person Kristal met had introduced himself with the sign for gay and then immediately fingerspelled it; Kristal said that they understood what he meant but was greatly amused when they explained that it was their own personal sign.
The most common sign for bisexual is the letter B into the letter I, which looks like a slight wave. Kristal signed while saying “bi, bi, bi,” before laughing that “the music video would be much better if it meant bisexual, bisexual, bisexaul.”
When Kristal taught the sign for transgender, they explained that it was universal and created when a group of deaf trans people came together to decide on a singular sign to spread to the rest of the community.
Kristal ended the workshop with a brief discussion on intersectionality and accessibility.
“I feel very strongly as a person that 90% of all bigotry is just applied ignorance,” Kristal said, mentioning that language can be a large part of making something accessible to someone. In other words, if a word has not been reclaimed by that person, it can isolate that person from resources that could help them — Kristal stressed this importance of accessibility not just for people with disabilities but for everyone.
Kristal’s talk was the first program in a series of events set to take place this week.
“Queer Week is an annual week of events were we put together different programs relating to LGBT issue and also incorporating some other ideas,” said Alexa Urbach ‘18, the president of Students for Queer Advocacy (SQuAd) and an organizer of Queer Week.
Other events will include buses to Stonewall, a gay bar in Allentown, which will leave beginning at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday and then coffeehouse in the Fireside Lounge on Friday at 7:00 p.m.
“We always need people to perform,” Urbach said of Friday’s Coffeehouse. “We’re welcoming people to bring any thoughts, and it doesn’t have to be related, specifically, to queer issues.”