I am a proud Deaf womxn.
Fiona Murphy is a Deaf poet and essayist. Her work has been published in Kill Your Darlings, Overland, The Big Issue, Griffith Review, among other publications. In 2019, she was awarded the Overland Fair Australia Essay Prize. Her 2021 memoir, The Shape of Sound (Text Publishing), is about the corrosive power of secrets, stigma and shame.
What's easy / difficult for womxn?
The rapid rise of neoliberalism, the pandemic, and accelerating climate crisis have disproportionately disadvantaged women. Housing insecurity, violence and unequal pay are intensified for Black, Indigenous and women of colour, and disabled women. We desperately need systemic change, including widespread reform of public policy to improve the safety and economic wellbeing of womxn.
How do you maintain mental fitness/emotional health?
I’m an avid reader. Picking up a book allows me to simultaneously escape from and engage with the world.
What brings you joy and vitality?
The lengthy lockdown in Sydney really demonstrated how much more nourished I feel after seeing friends and family. It’s just not the same chatting over Zoom.
How do you nurture your relationship with nature?
My home is located next to a national park. I spend a lot of time walking through the nearby fern gullies and birdwatching. I can’t imagine ever living in a city again!
Where do you feel a sense of belonging/community?
I’ve found my way into the Australian disability community. My open and proud identification as a disabled woman has been so enriching to my sense of self. I have gained so many deep friendships since becoming part of the disability community. I only wish I had found the community when I was younger!
Where do you live/work?
I live and work on the lands of the Dharug and Gundungurra peoples. There’s such a strong sense of community in the Blue Mountains, which has been really comforting during the pandemic.
What matters most to you, either now or in the long term?
I have become extremely passionate about raising awareness among hearing people about deafness. As a freelance writer and author, I have written extensively about deaf issues such as deaf mental health, communication and accessibility. So often deaf people are dismissed as being ‘deaf and dumb’ or ignorant or simply deemed less capable than hearing people. We are given fewer educational and employment opportunities as a result.
I was born deaf and spent over twenty-five years trying to pass as hearing. I didn’t learn about accessibility until I was in my mid-twenties. I didn’t know that it was my human right to ask for access. I’ve written about my experiences of discovering my deaf identity in my memoir, The Shape of Sound.
What ideas are you working on, or playing with, or just sitting with now?
I’m now writing a novel that touches the topics of consent, care work and familial stress. Despite the dark themes, it has been such a relief to escape into my imagination during the long lockdown.
Like Fiona Murphy, I was born deaf. I have also written a memoir, The Art of Being Deaf (2014, Gallaudet University Press), an account of my dance between my private deaf-self and my public deaf-hearing persona. But unlike Fiona, I have enjoyed life-long connections with childhood deaf friends, who have always been present in my life, even if just by way of memories. It doesn’t matter that I only see them occasionally. It is enough for me to know that they are there and that I can call on them whenever I need to. That kindred spirit locates me; gives me a sense of who I am. I don’t have to explain myself to them.
English writer, A. N. Wilson observed,
The sense of our own identity is fluid and tolerant, whereas our sense of the identity of others is always more fixed and quite often edges towards caricature.
However, sometimes our capacity to be tolerant towards ourselves is challenged by the exclusionary ferocity of caricatures imposed upon us by others. We stiffen up. We hide and deny. We reject our precious uniqueness. When we do this, our capacity to find our tribe and enjoy the elation of knowing, “I belong here” is diminished.
All of us encounter times of desolation and disconnection. Fiona Murphy shines a bright light on the wonder of finding her community. So, while our search for self-understanding, identity and purpose may be meandering and protracted, the search itself becomes its own reward.