Last Saturday I had the wonderful opportunity to go to the annual Black Tie Dinner here in Dallas – it’s a fundraiser for the Human Rights Commission, and it’s very fancy and amazing and I would never have been able to afford to go if not for the generosity of my friend Chris Stinnett, who invited Synn and I to accompany him, Jeffrey Payne, David Roy, Dan Perry, and a few other handsome gentlemen to the gala. Also with us, and balancing out my sequins on the other side of the table with her own gorgeous glam, was local goddess and Reigning Empress of the United Court of the Lone Star Empire, Miss Lips Larue. Everyone looked sooo amazing, especially Synn, whose dashing ensemble was carefully coordinated with my dress (so handsome!).
So just getting to go was exciting enough (especially since I finally got to wear my vintage ivory sequin gown) but it turned out that the keynote speaker for the event was Marlee Matlin, who has been a long-time source of inspiration for me and many of my friends and students. The short version of why is this: When I was a kid I loved the movie Children of a Lesser God and vowed to learn sign language. I took ASL in high school and was in a short version of the play Children of a Lesser God. After high school I became an interpreter, then a Deaf Ed teacher, then had the chance to be a sign coach for the play when it was produced at the high school I was working at (Hunter Parrish was in the play, too – ya, I knew him way back when!). After I left teaching , in part because of my struggle with the impact of AbOnly education on my students, I became an interpreter trainer, and I now teach a variety of courses related to Deafness at the university level. One of these days (if I ever frakin graduate) I will be able to provide psychological assessment and therapy services clients who use ASL as their primary language.
Marlee’s role in Children of a Lesser God was groundbreaking in terms of public understanding of the nature of Deaf Education and of Deafness as a culture. She was also the first Deaf woman to win an Oscar (she later won a Golden Globe too), and has been involved in a ton of other movies and shows. When I was teaching high school, all of my students knew who she was – we talked about her, they did research projects on her, and we even had a picture of her on the wall in our classroom. There are so few visible role models for young kids who are Deaf, so Marlee really was something special to all of us.
We had a giant painted mural on our wall of our classroom that said “Deaf People Can Do Anything….(but hear!).” When they graduated, each kid got to sign their name on the mural. Marlee actually said that phrase in her speech at Black Tie Saturday, which is about when I started crying because the images of all those kids’ signatures on the mural came rolling back to me.
Anyway, not to get ahead of myself…..so when I discovered that she was going to be speaking at the dinner that I was already falling over myself in excitement about, I realized that CLEARLY this was fate’s way of telling me it was time for us to meet. So I started the twitter hashtag #campaigntomeetmarlee and begged all my friends to help me flood her feed with reasons why we should meet. I have no idea how many tweets we generated, but there were a TON of people who tweeted for me!! Here are just a few of them:
@themysts Hey @MarleeMatlin you should meet my friend @LillithGrey because she is wicked brilliant and beautiful!
@DalLeatherSir Hey @MarleeMatlin you should meet my friend @LillithGrey because she is an incredibly talented woman!!
@DallasKink Hey @MarleeMatlin you should meet my friend @LillithGrey because she rocks. Large. Stadium-like. Don’t be scared.
@Aaronskyy1983 @MarleeMatlin I think you should meet my friend @LillithGrey because she is brilliant and helps educate others
@CrystalDToys Hey @MarleeMatlin you should meet my friend @LillithGrey because she can and will change the world!
There were tons more, and some people got pretty creative!! It was awesome!
So I started about ten days before the dinner, tweeting little things every once in a while. I didn’t want to be a crazy stalker so I didn’t tweet a whole lot at first, but then I realized that with all the tweets she gets a day, I needed to be a little more assertive! Once people got on board, it was awesome! TONS of tweets!
So after allll this tweeting day after day, I still hadn’t heard from Marlee. I was undeterred, feeling SURE I’d wrangle some face time (she’d at least recognize my name after all that tweeting)! Unfortunately, I didn’t take into consideration that there were 3000 people at this dinner!! When I saw the mass of people there I realized that there was no way I would be able to find her, much less be noticed (although I was pretty sparkly!).
For real. I really wanted to ask her about all kinds of important things – what she’s working on now, what organizations she thinks are important, any resources I should know about, and I wanted to tell her about the Sharon St. Cyr Fund, a local organization I work with that provides interpreters and hearing aids for people who can’t afford them. But of course, I got all giddy and stupid and she was so beautiful and composed and amazing and I couldn’t even get it together enough to say anything intelligent. So she asked where I learned to sign and I rambled some about my work and then she said something like “I know, I’ve been following your campaign to meet me!”
YAAAAAY! It totally worked!! She noticed me! Hahaha!! It was so awesome! And she said I sign beautifully, which was pretty cool too! And Synn was taking pictures and then they came and said Marlee had to go back stage to get ready for her speech and then it was over SO FAST! So I danced and hopped over to where Kyle and Courtney were sitting (Synn still chasing after me) and squeeeeeed with them for a minute, then went back to my table and squeeeeeed with the guys for a minute. Then it was time to eat (the vegetarian food was amazing, by the way, which was a nice change from most banquet dinners), and then she gave her speech, which was engaging, witty, and deeply moving – truly one of the best keynote speeches I’ve ever heard (and y’all know I’m picky about my keynotes!!).
Then she tweeted me again:
@Marlee Matlin @LillithGrey great to meet you! You are a beautiful signer! Tell your friends ‘mission accomplished!’ thank you for all you are doing!
All in all, the event was truly unforgettable. I cannot express my gratitude to my friends who helped with my campaign, because you really did help make it happen!! Thank you so much! And just in case you happen to read this, Marlee, thank you too. For everything.