Dirty Signs with Kristin — Audism in the form of puerile entertainment.
I’d like to take a momentary diversion from the relatively trivial discussion of clothing to something of a little more gravity.
For those who haven’t gotten the word, I’ll give you the gist: An ASL 1 student got ahold of This Book by James Woodward, Signs of Sexual Behavior* and decided to make a youtube vlog series about the “dirty” signs she learned. Members of Internet Culture, lovers all things tasteless as they are, embraced her.
The vlogs alone were enough to raise the Ire of Deaf people, but now she has some national media attention and a book deal in the works. The prospect of her profiting from the exploitation of Deaf people is the tipping point for what the general Deaf Community is willing to ignore. There is a quality article about the whole affair over at the Daily Dot (http://www.dailydot.com/news/deaf-community-petition-dirty-signs-kristin/) and here’s a little bit from the “About Kristin” page on her website:
I have been learning American Sign Language since I first started at college at RIT. The campus has a prevalent Deaf population, and I was interested in learning how to sign, so I asked one of my dorm floormates to teach me a phrase in ASL. Excited to put my new knowledge into use, I went to the freshman dining hall and signed what I thought was “I want a large pizza,” to the worker at the pizza counter. After he walked away with a strange look on his face, I returned to my dorm floor, bewildered and confused, and still hungry. I asked my floormate what had happened and learned I was actually taught the phrase, “I want lesbian vagina,” not “I want a large pizza.” From that point on, I became fascinated with learning dirty phrases in American Sign Language.**
So why are people/why should I be against what Kristin is doing?
She is excluding Deaf people from process.
She is not a Deaf person, nor is she culturally Deaf (CODA, SODA, etc.) What she is doing is as tasteless as a White Self-Help Guru appropriating a Native American sweat lodge exercise (and, through his ignorance, killing 2 people and hospitalizing 19 others because he didn’t know what he was doing) — Kristin’s vlogs are less dangerous, but equal in tastelessness.
The final shocking slap in the face to Deaf people is that she has only recently captioned her vides. Perhaps it did not occur to her that Deaf people would like access to the material and, potentially, participate in her project –– There’s no accounting for taste; Deaf people are no exception.
She is not using ASL.
Her translations are typically the kind of sophomoric English phrases that you’d imagine hearing high school students using for the titillating shock value of having said it. Other than the poor quality of her “pronunciation” in ASL, the humor of these phrases is almost always lost in translation. Worse, her end product is often Anglicized and rarely draws from ASL’s linguistic features in order to make it truly funny in the target language. Her translations aren’t funny in ASL and, as such, Deaf people don’t think she’s funny.
Reasons why it is hard to stop her vlog and her book:
Internet culture loves tasteless stuff and will fight to keep access to that stuff available. Moreover, drama fules the popularity of things like this. “Something politically incorrect? I love it! Something politically incorrect that people are protesting and want to take away? I love it and will tell everyone I know about it!”
And, honestly, have you not ever laughed at something tasteless online? If you appreciate any vulgar and off-color humor, you can’t pull an Isaac Hayes and appreciate/participate in people being offensive and then get offended when something you cherish becomes the object of ridicule.
Outrage = Publicity. Publicity = $$$
The publishing house slated to put out Kristin’s book, St. Martin’s Press is going to do the math and decide if the negative publicity is worth the money they expect to make from the book. That is, literally, the bottom line. Right now, because of the outrage she has caused, she is getting more publicity than she would have otherwise.
Reasons why Dirty Signs with Kristin will, eventually, fade into obscurity
Her appeal is limited at best and here’s why:
- Deaf people don’t like what she’s doing.
- Hearing members of the Deaf Community don’t like what she’s doing.
- Her translations aren’t funny enough to keep Deaf Community members interested even if they do have an inclination towards tasteless humor.
- Her novelty will eventually wear off with the Tosh.0 crowd because it doesn’t have any long-term appeal to a non-signing audience? To them, she’s just a girl who says something raunchy and then moves her hands for a while. How many people with absolutely no connection to Deaf people are actually going to use her videos? Hell, you want to learn how to say dirty things? The internet is full of resources for how to cuss and get raunchy in any language you want.
- Beginning ASL Students will may stumble upon her videos will soon learn that what she’s doing is exploitative and, those who truly value their connections with Deaf people, will see this as something they don’t want to be involved with. Besides, any single actual Deaf person could do a better and funnier translation that she can. I know from experience.
The Deaf Community is bigger and stronger than some girl. This too shall pass.
Yes, this is another example of linguicism, audism, and exploitation of a group of people who have seen their share of this kind of thing. In the grand scheme, though, there are bigger affronts to American Sign Language than this girl can possibly create with her webcam (Read: Cochlear Implants, Oral Education, Language Rights, etc.).
Kristin’s time in the Deaf Community will be short.
She makes it very clear in her newer videos that she is neither an interpreter nor an educator (Thank goodness). It’s not clear exactly what she’s attending RIT for, or if she ever intends to work within the Deaf Community. If she intends to become an interpreter or to dabble in another Deaf-adjacent line of work, it is unlikely that she will ever go very far. In exploiting ASL for her personal gain, she has committed an act that will blacklist her in the Deaf Community for good. Sure, not every Deaf person knows who she is, but you can bet your ILY earrings that Deaf people will expose her as an Audist wherever she goes.
*So, instead of being inspired to learn common and useful phrases that would allow her to actually interact with Deaf people, she was inspired to learn how to sign things that would make her a pariah in the Deaf Community.
**What is really unfortunate is that, having read James Woodward’s book, I can see that she’s copying signs directly from the illustrations therein. Some of the terms she uses and the nature of her production errors reveal that she’s taking a lot of sexual signs directly from Woodward’s illustrations –– meaning that she’s not often, or not at all, consulting with native ASL users to check for accuracy. James Woodward, in the preface to his book, explains the pains he went to to collect this information from an, at the time, very private Deaf Community. He beseeches the reader to use the information in a way that benefits Deaf people, not in a way that objectifies and exploits them. Kristin, if you read this, I urge you to read this preface.
Thank you for writing this. I’ve stumbled across her when she was just starting making these videos. I’ve talked to her, explained to her kindly about why she’s doing is wrong, explained that many of phases she want to sign is un-sign-able in ASL and makes no sense at all, and told her to go find a deaf person to make this video with. (I don’t want to do it with her) Then later I found out that she’s publishing book. I sent her a long stern email explaining to her that she needs to STOP this OR cowrite with a deaf person who’s a natural signer. That what she did was cultural appropriation. That she’s destroying our beautiful sign language. That she’s ripping off deaf people and getting profits that should’ve gone to us.
Andddd, guess what? she decided to add my name to acknowledge in the book. I was so fucking pissed off. Now people will think I’ve supported her.