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Helping the Hearing to Hear

The International Deaf Leather and International Deaf Bear Contests 2005

By Meredith Peruzzi

Having interpreted for a few leather events before – the Mr. DC Eagle contest and American Brotherhood Weekend – I knew more or less what I was going into when I agreed to interpret for the events of International Deaf Leather. It was going to be quite different from most of my jobs, though, as it was pretty much all voicing – in my normal everyday job I spend about 35% of the time voicing and the other 65% signing. Going from one's native language (English for me) into one's second language (American Sign Language) is widely considered to be much easier than the reverse. But this would be a primarily Deaf event with a few hearing judges, so I was going to be voicing almost the entire time. 

At first I didn't know anybody there, but I chatted anyway; my co-interpreter actually knew a couple of people I work with on a regular basis. He seemed mildly uncomfortable finding himself at a leather event; I got the impression that he was familiar with the deaf gay community, but I'm not sure if he had interpreted in the leather community much before. He was quite nice, though, and except for some initial difficulty establishing a pattern for taking turns, we worked well together. 

When the current titleholders arrived, I had a chance to greet them. Teddy O'Rourke, Mr. IDL 2004, is a real sweetheart from Philadelphia who was quite popular that night and found himself in many different conversations! I chatted with his sash wife, Steff Juge, a fair bit – I find her a little intimidating because she's such a top, but I really like her and I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with her. The deaf leather community is small enough that I feel I can consider both of them my friends, even though I have only met them a few times. Although perhaps they mostly recognized me because I was one of the interpreters at ABW 2005 – they had a lot of opportunity to memorize my face! 

The actual kickoff finally got started around 10:35. My co-interpreter and I did pretty well together – at least I did until 11:00! Right then my brain suddenly stopped working, and I found myself completely lost. But that's why interpreters work in teams – my co-terp was able to take over for me when I fumbled badly. Everything was over by 11:25, though, and the two of us left quickly. 

I initially wasn't sure if I would interpret the actual contest the following night. But at the end of the kickoff, the female emcee had approached me and said she was very glad I was there, because she prefers to have a woman voice for her. How could I say no to that? So the following evening I went to the Grand Hyatt for the International Deaf Leather and International Deaf Bear contests. I arrived about 15 minutes later than I had been asked to arrive, but well before the contest was due to begin. 

It turned out one of the other interpreters had gotten injured and couldn't work, so it was just me and the guy I'd met the night before. Just as the event began we realized we'd been placed far to one side of the stage, so we quickly grabbed our chairs and moved ourselves to the center of the room so we could see everything.  I fumbled a bit in the beginning, partly because I couldn't see, so we moved during the National Anthem – which I didn't bother interpreting, because I couldn't have done it justice! I don't know who sang it, but he was so wonderfully expressive – I wish I could have caught that on videotape. Someone else sang the national anthem of Canada, which I had never heard before (in any language, with or without music), so I had no idea what was going on. I don't know why Canada's anthem was sung at this particular event . . . perhaps one of the organizers was Canadian? 

There wasn't much interpreting to do during the outfit competitions, because they were mostly "look at the person" visual-only sections. But the special questions, the platform speeches, and the fantasy presentations were all extremely difficult. I don't have much memory of what was actually said, but I know I slipped enough times that I was worried the hearing judges would score the competitors lower based on my interpretation. The microphone was wireless, and my co-terp and I took turns with it.  Whatever hopes the female emcee may have had to have a woman voicing with her, though, were dashed as soon as we realized we only had the one microphone. The two emcees went back and forth so fast that there simply wasn't enough time to transfer the mike between us with each sentence. Instead we based our trading on larger blocks of time, so we each interpreted for both of the emcees throughout the night. 

I think the contest ended up being successful overall. The deaf attendees and judges certainly had a great time spending an evening together, and as interpreters we tried to make it a pleasurable night for the few hearing people in attendance as well. Throughout the contest I could hear the sounds of audience members enjoying social time together – the deaf leather community is spread across the country, and in any given location there may not be many people to socialize with who truly understand you. 

The end of the contest was the hardest part for me, mostly because I was terrified that I would miss the last subway train home. I kept interpreting even as those fears nagged at me, and I faithfully interpreted the emcee thanking those deaf people who were acting as interpreters for deaf-blind attendees . . . but failing to thank the voice interpreters. There were apparently many disagreements regarding scoring, and I ended up having to leave before all the winners could be announced. Some contestants were winners by default – there was only one person competing for each of the Deaf Grizzly, Deaf Bear, and Deaf Cub titles! Unfortunately I had to leave before the tension of Mr. and Ms. IDL could be broken with an announcement; I later found out from a friend who had won. 

Even as I rode home exhausted (I caught the train, fortunately), I knew I would do this again if asked. I love the local deaf leather community, even though it is small – the opportunity to contribute to the event in such a vital role makes me quite pleased. I now have my nametag hanging on my desk at work to remind me of the fun I really did have on that hectic, stressful, but ultimately rewarding night.

The facts: The International Deaf Leather and International Deaf Bear Farewell Roast and Contests 2005 were held in Washington, D.C., on July 20 and 21. According to the IDL Website and Mister Marcus, the winners were as follows:
International Mr. Deaf Leather: Michael Ratzlaff. International Ms. Deaf Leather: Crystal Sisk. International Deaf Leatherboy: Alex Leffers aka boy alex. International Mr. Deaf Bear: Rob Shanahan. International Mr. Deaf Grizzly: Roger Robb. International Mr. Deaf Cub: Eric Madigan. —Editor

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This page is part of the disabilities issue of True Tales, which includes articles, stories, photography, and links related to leather and disabilities.

About the Author


International Deaf Leather and International Deaf Bear Contest (July 21, 2005). Photos. [Metro Weekly]

Deaf Bears and Cubs Organization.

International Deaf Leather.

Copyright © 2005 Meredith Peruzzi. All rights reserved.
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