Nyle DiMarcos's 'Deaf Utopia' - a memoir and a love letter to a way of life

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Tuesday May 17, 2022
Share this Post:
Nyle DiMarco
Nyle DiMarco

Along with sharing details of his private life and family upbringing, Nyle DiMarco, model, actor and activist, offers some backstage gossip from his route to winning two reality show competitions. But this is more than a personal story, as DiMarco uses the book, "Deaf Utopia" (co-written with Robert Siebert) as a platform to discuss the history of Deaf culture, the oppression of American Sign Language and accessibility in schools, and his family's personal struggles and victories.

Born in Queens, New York, DiMarco was one of two twins, along with an older brother, born into a Deaf Italian-American family. From a very young age he learned American Sign Language with eccentric variations taught by his grandparents. Despite marital problems between his parents, particularly his father's occasional abuse and frequent disappearances, his mother comes through as a shining light for his later independence. Her persistent advocacy for accessibility for her own children and other Deaf students would serve as an example for Nyle as an adult.

An independent spirit since he was a teenager, with other Deaf siblings, DiMarco recounts his years at a Deaf school where language was essential, but often vocal training and lip-reading were prioritized to accommodate hearing people. He also references his year in a mainstream school where his interpreter's skills limited his capacity to learn. Signing was often an 'underground' form of communication in repressive environments.

In between personal episodes, DiMarco cites historical references of the oppression of ASL by instructors and institutions over the years, and his personal frustrations in trying to learn any hearing-focused communication in an 'audist' culture.

It is at gatherings of other Deaf people where he thrives and finds his own community. At the same time, he reveals his struggles with attractions to men and his inability to act on them for a while. A trip backpacking through Europe leads to some romantic intrigue. But if you're looking for sexy personal tales, you might be disappointed. DiMarco does explain the frustrations of dating hearing men while at the same time and having feelings for women.

And it's the dating apps that led to his almost being outed by an unscrupulous gossip journalist. DiMarco cut that off at the pass in his own coming out as being sexually fluid.

Of course most fans know DiMarco through the two reality shows in which he competed and won; "America's Next Top Model" and "Dancing With the Stars." Through the modeling competition, despite his admiration for host Tyra Banks, he explains some backstage scandals: how the production company disappointed him by often not providing an interpreter.

This led to some frustration and of course the well-known re-editing of what actually happened to make a false narrative for the show's dramatic tension. One highlight of the series DiMarco describes is a photoshoot with his always-supportive mother.

DiMarco's television experience with "Dancing With the Stars" is described as a complete 180, as his professional partner Peta Murgatroyd adapts her choreographic teaching style to accommodate his needs. DiMarco used his background in math to memorize and count steps as opposed to hearing the music (most of which are viewable on YouTube).

As he moves his way up as a finalist he describes the short dances where he's allowed to visually explain the barriers between hearing and Deaf people. One of the more stunning routines is his dance partially set in silence.

The memoir finishes just as DiMarco is headed into production for the 2020 reality series "Deaf U," set at his alma mater, Gallaudet University. Although it's disappointing to have the great efforts of producing the show omitted from his book (and the more recent Oscar-nominated short film, "Audible"), it's quite clear that DiMarco's hopes and dreams are coming true. With the useful resource guide included, hopefully his goal of a 'Deaf Utopia' may one day become a reality.

Nyle DeMarcos's 'Deaf Utopia' (HarperCollins) $28 hardback. www.harpercollins.com nyledimarcofoundation.com

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.