Deaf queer spaces do exist: Asphyxia

Melbourne-based author, artist and Deaf activist Asphyxia is making her debut as a songwriter at the Midsumma Festival 2023, with a brand new show Stranger Than Usual.

“Using music and Auslan, I tell a personal story about the experience of being Deaf, queer, chronically ill and needing to use a wheelchair. These songs chronicle my journey to healing, filled with love, loss, discrimination and humour,” says Asphyxia.

Stranger Than Usual is an opportunity for deaf people to have a taste of what music designed specifically for us could be like and experience it for themselves. And it’s an opportunity for hearing people to find out about how we experience music.”

The author of Future Girl / The Words in My Hands, and winner of the Readings YA Book Award 2021, began writing her own music around two years ago.

“Navigating the challenges of learning musical conventions in a teaching world that relies on listening, I collaborated with several musicians to find a way to make music accessible to myself… and others who are Deaf and hard of hearing,” says Asphyxia.

“Through experimentation and consultation with other Deaf and hard of hearing music-lovers, I have determined a method of arranging music so that it is pleasurable for hearing-aid wearers and can be optimally felt through sound vibrations.”

“When I took the pressure off myself and stopped trying to pass as hearing, the world became a pleasanter place for me to be in.”

Deaf communities are more inclusive than queer spaces when it comes to making places accessible, according to Asphyxia.

“Being Deaf, and also using a wheelchair have resulted in a lot of marginalisation for me in mainstream spaces. In comparison, being a lesbian has paled into insignificance.”

“I feel most the most comfortable in Deaf queer spaces (they do exist!!) where we all sign so I can easily understand what’s going on, and there is a culture of ‘anything goes – we accept you as you are’ which I really love.”

“Unfortunately, my new level of deafness meant that the songs I have painstakingly learned to hear over the years were no longer accessible, much to my intense frustration.”

That’s when she hired Sarah to help her adapt songs. “I have had a wonderful time changing the words to all my favourite songs, making them more feminist, more lesbian, and more relevant to my own life.”

These days, a new project is taking up much of her time – Amplify, an accessible music project that will allow Deaf people to enjoy music.

“It is my goal that in the future we will be able to download accessible music from Spotify and other mainstream distribution platforms,” says Asphyxia.

Catch ‘Stranger Than Usual’ at the Abbotsford Convent from February 2-4, 2023. More information here