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Deaf identity

Shot by Raymond Des Saints, styled by TL Forsberg

Creative dynamo TL Forsberg rejects simple labels and has created an identity of her own. She calls herself a hybrid of deaf and Deaf and uses Deaf when referring to her identity. Her work advocates for and illustrates this unique binary Deaf identity.

An Artist Steps Forward

Born in Nova Scotia and educated at the George Brown Theater School in Toronto, Canada, Tanya Lynn Forsberg, or TL, is an international artist making a name with her Deaf identity. Her talents are multi-faceted; she sings, dances, acts, and performs. She’s also an integration advocate, speaker and coach.

Forsberg was born hearing and became hard of hearing as a young child. As she was high functioning, her hearing loss was not detected until she was eight years old. That’s when she suffered a trauma in her right ear that ruptured her ear drum and required surgery. Prior to and after the procedure, she developed numerous infections which she believes triggered her bilateral hearing loss. To this day, there has been no definitive diagnosis. It was during her work with the Canadian Hearing Society that TL first encountered signing. It left an impression even though she wore hearing aids and communicated by voice.

Forging a Unique DEAF Identity

Forsberg’s journey, or “process,” as she calls it, has been to figure out who she was and where she belonged in the world. For various reasons, Forsberg did not connect with the hard of hearing or “hearing impaired” population. As a result, she learned more about Deaf culture and herself. She discovered the “binary” nature of Deaf culture and the struggle to belong to it. The more hearing attributes are revealed, she says, the greater the threat to the cultural identity. Forsberg views the discomfort she’s experienced as a kind of covert bullying expressed and disguised as Deaf pride. Or, as she says, a “horizontal hatred which erupts often in minority cultures.”

After many years and much internal work on herself, Forsberg forged an identity out of the challenges inspired by her deteriorating hearing. Today, she proudly  identifies as an amalgam, a hybrid, and has chosen to enculturate as Deaf. Her choice did not meet with universal approval or support. Her work was further informed and inspired by that response.

“She proudly  identifies as an amalgam, a hybrid, and has chosen to enculturate as Deaf.” 

She goes by TL, her Deaf identity.

Read more: What I’m learning from my evolving deaf identity

Using Her Talents to Express Herself and Inspire Others

Forsberg’s emerging identity led her to employ her prodigious creative talents to celebrate her d/Deafness, inspire others, and heal herself. Her intriguing enculturation process was highlighted in “See What I’m Saying” – the Deaf Entertainers Documentary, directed by Hilari Scarl and available on numerous TV networks. Her provocative narrative has been displayed in an impressive array of artistic projects.

Forsberg’s artistic life began by studying dance, acting, and singing. She developed a children’s musical and began work as an actor in television, commercials, and film right out of theater school. Forsberg can be seen in 30 commercials. She was a guest on the Earth’s Final Conflict, appeared in the Jimi Hendrix movie, starred as herself on VH1’s reality series Supergroup, and had a recurring role as Olivia on ABC/Disney’s Switched at Birth. In theater school, she was encouraged to develop her own story and content. She excelled, and it became the blueprint for her many artistic incarnations.

For 11 years, she toured with her band Kyria, and recorded her first album of original songs that explored alternative rock. Album two was emotive metal. Her latest album, “Love Addict,” debuted at the Kentucky DeaFestival. Forsberg calls its music dance/pop. Eventually, she added Deaf dancers in drag. Her avant-garde music and style earned her the title “The “Deaf Lady Gaga.” She took her show direct to the Deaf community to confront her need for healing and integration. She now calls this her ultimate platform.

Forsberg has performed with Alanis Morrissett, Tori Amos, Cee-Lo, T Pain, Fishbone, and Est-hero. She had special performances on Much Music, MTV, Ozzfest, and 103.5 Rock Radio. Along the way, she was voted one of Los Angeles’ “Best Kept Secrets” by Music Connection Magazine.

Award-Winning Show

Photo by Raymond Des Saints

Forsberg’s most recent masterpiece is the award-winning, critically claimed show, “The Book That Won’t Close – Confessions of a Love Addict.” (Note: the show contains mature content and is recommended for those 18 and older.) The show is described as a dark comedy told through stories. It deals with Forsberg’s cultural fluidity, personal isolation, and experiences in bad relationships. She also addresses how she dealt with addiction through confronting unhealed parts of the self that are equal parts hearing and Deaf.

The show is fully accessible for both hearing and d/Deaf audiences. It includes the full measure of Forsberg’s many gifts: original music, dance, visual projections, spoken voice, ASL, and captioning. One reviewer called Forsberg “a force – a delightful and intense force with which to be reckoned.” Another called the show the “best one woman show I have ever seen. TL is a master at unfolding societal taboos.” The “Book…” won the prestigious 2020 Encore award at the Santa Monica Playhouse and “Best in Fest” at Solofest 2020 and 2021.

Creative Period

During the pandemic, Forsberg hardly slowed down. She saw the virus as a sign from God to go inward. It proved to be a boon to her creativity. In the past 12 months, she launched a webinar series and a coaching group to assist actors developing their own solo shows. She performed “The Book…” to an empty theater and online in a fully accessible platform. She toured and spoke as an integration advocate. And she launched a media blog “Beyond Labels,” which talks about healing integration as an “atypical,” a name she uses for herself.

Forsberg’s narrative articulates “what it’s like to live in the intersection of two worlds and to be marginalized amongst the marginalized.” She considers herself a pioneer and a new thought leader as well as a spiritual activist. She hopes that the way she lives her life and expresses herself through her art will create permission for others to accept that self-identification is a spiritual birthright. Her belief is that people should not use their functioning/functional abilities to replace identity. How a person speaks or signs is a sacred place for one to define for themselves.

“I want to live in a world where my decision to celebrate my d/Deafness leads others to say, ‘Oh, you’re THAT kind of deaf/Deaf,'” she says. “We are all one d/Deaf with many diverse ways of being.”

Author Details
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, musician, composer, actor and activist. In 2013 he began a years-long journey to return to making music after a bilateral hearing loss ended a successful career forty-five years ago. Taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, auditory training and vocal work, he resumed performing in 2017 and made his first new recording in 2018. Recently, Stu also completed a screenplay about his musical journey. A graduate of Princeton University, Stu has studied piano, voice, acting, improvisation and public speaking. He is a member of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, and for his activism, is a Phonak “hEARo” and a “HearStrong Champion.”
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Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, musician, composer, actor and activist. In 2013 he began a years-long journey to return to making music after a bilateral hearing loss ended a successful career forty-five years ago. Taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, auditory training and vocal work, he resumed performing in 2017 and made his first new recording in 2018. Recently, Stu also completed a screenplay about his musical journey. A graduate of Princeton University, Stu has studied piano, voice, acting, improvisation and public speaking. He is a member of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, and for his activism, is a Phonak “hEARo” and a “HearStrong Champion.”
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