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Talk to the Practitioner: Catalleya Storm

"I think people assume because I’m Black, because I’m Deaf, LGBTQ, Muslim, etc., that I will write about these identities only. That my stories only matter if they are made to educate or coddle those not in that group. Sometimes I just want my characters to survive their grandparents trying to offer them up as a sacrifice to an unseen entity."

A headshot of Catalleya Storm
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Catalleya Storm is a writer and activist. I found them through a website called Hearing Like Me, a lifestyle site for deaf and hard-of-hearing (HOH) individuals, where they pen articles about culture, and that led me to Storm’s YouTube feed, where they posted regular videos about writing and activism.

 

The Writer: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started as a writer?

Catalleya Storm: I started writing when my mother would give me and my siblings a notebook and pen during religious meetings. Her thinking was that we would write what we learned. I would scribble and then write gibberish until I was around 10 years old. Back then, we didn’t know I had a learning disability. I didn’t know until I was formally diagnosed in college. Still, I would write to my heart’s content. I could tell you the stories I wrote through the random letters and lines on the page. If you handed me one of my writings, I would tell you the same story that I did when I first wrote that piece of paper. I personally think I created my own form of writing to make up for not really understanding how written English worked. After I began to get better at English, I started working on my first novel at 12 years old. I held on to those pages until I moved to Columbus in 2018, and something happened to them.

My love for writing started when I was a little kid and has continued into adulthood.

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TW: You write for a website called Hearing Like Me, and you also have a YouTube channel that addresses some deaf advocacy. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got started at each of these places, and why you feel it’s important to advocate for deaf writers/content creation? 

CS: The idea behind my [YouTube] channel was I wanted to show people my journey as a writer while also talking about self-care. It wasn’t till later in my time on YouTube that I realized I could use it to push for Deaf rights and accessibility. Back when I started doing that, there were not really any hearing author or BookTubers that [used] captions. Watching their content was a mix between understanding some with my hearing aids and having people type in the comments or chatbox. So I decided I would start making videos that would point people towards being allies with their actions. One of my most popular videos is “Activism without Ableism.”

I first learned about Hearing Like Me when I messaged Phonak [Editor’s note: the site is sponsored by Phonak, which produces hearing aids] about a commercial idea. I had tagged them in a ton of my pictures since I wear hearing aids they make, and they suggested I send in an application to be a part of Hearing Like Me. I didn’t send anything because I didn’t really know what that was. I was skeptical and also had a bit of imposter syndrome going on. After seeing others I knew join as Phonak HEARos, I decided to send in my application and was accepted. 

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The experience has been amazing. I’ve been able to interview people from Google about their accessibility features for the Deaf and Blind, research and write about Deaf history not only from a white or western lens but trying to put others’ history in there as well. I don’t typically write nonfiction, and even though I have been asked to write an autobiography, I don’t ever see myself doing that. Hearing Like Me gives me the chance to work on my nonfiction writing skills, which helps out with my fiction.

I feel it’s important to advocate for d/Deaf/HOH writers/content creators because it leads towards a brighter future. Yes, it helps others be more educated about people who are different than them, but it also builds a stronger community for those within the community. I have gained the confidence I have now because of other d/Deaf/HOH writers and creators/advocates. Not only that, but we’re seeing the statistics changing. More and more hearing parents of deaf/HOH kids are learning sign language. More late-deafened young people are finding support and community. More late-deafened adults as well. It’s an amazing thing to feel like a role model to others, and I do not take that responsibility lightly.

TW: You wrote a terrific list for Hearing Like Me that rounded up some works by deaf authors. Do you think there’s a creative difference between writers who are deaf and writers who write “hearing?”

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CS: I don’t really think there is a creative difference. I think Deaf and hearing writers both take parts of the world they live in and ask, “What if?” I do think, however, that Deaf people write more about deafness and overcoming than hearing people. That is, of course, if we think in a vacuum and are only talking about hearing or deaf.

Obviously, there is a place of privilege that hearing people come from, and so their hearing is often not addressed or the main subject of a book. Think about this even with Black Deaf authors and Black hearing authors. Where both may talk about a specific form of oppression, hearing is only ever referenced by Black Deaf/HOH authors.

I remember talking with some fellow writers, and we were discussing another writer’s book. The book took place in the far future, and society was crumbling and everyone had built their own kind of societies that would survive off the land, and (I’m forgetting some details) there were some creatures they were hiding from while trying to reach something. Well, the issue a fellow writer had with the book was a group of characters were blind but (her words) “somehow good fighters.” She said it wasn’t realistic and that they would need assistance. Even as I and others said they have been living there for decades (a specific gene [had] rendered all of the group blind), and they obviously learned to adapt. There were [also] random alien creatures roaming – so that’s realistic, but a society of blind people actually surviving and being badass fighters wasn’t? 

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To think that this kind of thing is what many publicists and directors cut in the name of “authenticity.” I mean, most movies with Deaf characters include trying to find a cure for deafness. Even A Quiet Place, which I loved to watch, has a heavy emphasis on changing deafness. I am glad the movie took the trope of giving a Deaf person hearing with a cochlear implant and instead used the implant to defeat the monsters, but the movie still heavily centered on deafness from a hearing person’s perspective. Even the [sequel] focused on her being deaf and going out on her own to fix the issue, and the adults trying to rescue her because of her deafness. Regan, the main character, was 17 years old. It was, I feel, written from a place of privilege and not understanding how the other side could [do things] without the help of hearing people. ([Also,] a lot of the signing was cut off because of the camera, and when the characters voiced, the on-screen captions disappeared, so it was literally for the hearing gaze. I still loved the movie, but, yeah, just felt like baby steps.)

I will be excited when we can have a Jurassic Park where the majority of the characters are Deaf and it not be about deafness or fixing deafness; the majority of the characters BIPOC and it not be about slavery, oppression, or making a mockery of us.

All that to say, I think we don’t have creative differences, I think we write from different levels of privilege.

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TW: What are you working on now? What genre do you normally work in?

CS: So currently, I have a few books in various stages of writing. However, I’m focusing on my thriller/horror novel and another novel I haven’t quite nailed down the genre for yet. I used to think you have to have a genre before you can start writing, and then [I’d] get frustrated as the genre would slightly shift as more of the story was revealed to me. After learning some writers don’t place their books into a genre until they have at least finished the first draft, I’m much more lax with the pressures I put on myself.

I do write mostly young adult fiction but really straddle the line of new adult and young adult with some of my writing. I also have some poems I’ve written scattered across the internet.

TW: Publishing has a diversity problem. Disability and deafness are a part of that intersectional diversity – the publishing field is 90% nondisabled! – and I’m wondering if you’ve bumped up against that in your publishing/writing career.

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CS: I haven’t gone down the track to publishing [books] yet, so haven’t engaged with that side of writing. I have, though, bumped into that diversity issue with my writing career. It goes back to having characters hold certain identities without the whole story centering on that identity. I think people assume because I’m Black, because I’m Deaf, LGBTQ, Muslim, etc., that I will write about these identities only. That my stories only matter if they are made to educate or coddle those not in that group. Sometimes I just want my characters to survive their grandparents trying to offer them up as a sacrifice to an unseen entity. Is that too much to ask? 

I do also realize that I hold a place of privilege when it comes to being Deaf and a writer. I am late-deafened (started losing my hearing as a teenager). English, though it’s still hard for me, is my first language. For many in the U.S. who are Deaf, ASL is their first language. Some write more in ASL word order than in English word order. I’ve had some people reach out to me for help with this, often stating they want to write, but “I don’t have good English.” (That is a quote from someone who recently DM’d me.) There aren’t many places in the U.S. that have English as a Second Language classes for Deaf/HOH people. I have only heard of one person thinking of setting up classes like that but haven’t researched it in recent years. This is definitely an obstacle that some have to overcome when it comes to publishing in the U.S. (I am not 100% sure nor feel qualified to say if that goes for other countries).

And, of course, there is competition within groups for those one or two spots a publisher is giving for those identities. I feel that still goes on within publishing agencies. As much as we wish it didn’t, I still feel it does. And then it becomes a balancing act of identities. Which can I be open about, and which can I not [be open about]? Will they have enough Deaf/HOH writers signed to them and not even think of me for Black spots, etc.? And why do I have to share my identities at all? It’s just a sticky place. I’m glad things seem to be improving, it’s just a little nerve-wracking.

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I’m [still] excited to get my works published one day! Excited for the journey! 

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