DARE TO ASK: No linking deafness, being gay

By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union

Question

Why are so many deaf men gay? Is it something genetic connected with the disability? Or does it come from early experiences at boarding schools for the deaf?

Scott, 46, straight, Denver

Replies

Being a Deafie myself, I know a lot of deaf gays and lesbians. I've asked them how they "became" gay, and some said it was because of their experiences in the dorm at the schools. It's easy to experiment in those places -- raging hormones, kids of the same sex stuffed six to eight in a room ... come on! I went to The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, and I can tell you, there are a lot of "out" gays, lesbians, bisexuals there, and a high percentage live in the dorms.

Ashley, deaf straight, St. Augustine

There does seem to be a large number of deaf or hearing-challenged gay men. Guess I need to learn sign language.

B.T., 35, gay male, Philadelphia

Straight deaf people associate mostly with other deaf people, while gay deaf men go to gay bars that are predominantly hearing because there are fewer gay deaf people and they need to date hearing men sometimes. So if you go to a straight bar, you will seldom run into a deaf person, but if you go to a gay bar, you will often see deaf men.

Johnny, 25, gay, Washington

Experts say

Nope, there's nothing in the water at schools for the deaf that might cause students to suddenly break out in Broadway tunes, obsess over ab crunches or redesign each others' rooms. Nor is there an international gay cabal infiltrating the ranks of the deaf.

Still, given the chance to ask a top-notch specialist a really odd question, we'll take it.

No one knows exactly how many gay deaf men there are in the United States, says Virginia Gutman, a clinical psychologist at Gallaudet University, which caters to deaf students. And there aren't scientific studies supporting a genetic link between deafness and homosexuality.

However, "because of using sign language, deaf individuals are very visible at public events," notes Gutman, who authored a chapter on gay-deaf therapy in Psychotherapy with Deaf Clients from Diverse Groups (Gallaudet Press). "Hearing people see a group signing [at a gay event] and say, 'Hey, look at all the deaf gay people.' ... Some may not be gay, but instead are heterosexual friends or allies. The impression that is formed may not reflect the reality."

Also, with studies showing less homophobia in the deaf community, deaf gay people are likely more open about their sexual orientation. So it may be easier for them to come out in the general population, further skewing perceptions, she said.

Philip Rubin, former president of the Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf, a national deaf-gay organization, agreed. Oppression against deaf people means a deaf gay person has weathered bias much of his or her life, anyway, so "perhaps we've learned to develop thick skin about being ourselves, whether we're deaf or gay. My motto is 'Life is too short for games.'"

Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general column comments to phillip. milano@jacksonville.com. You can also hear his podcasts.