I’ve been talking to some great people today and I thought it was about time I’d share something with you all.
There’s something I need you all to know about me, it’s not shocking news, but…
I’m Deaf. Yes, I am. I can speak perfectly, in my voice you’ll barely notice any difference from a hearing person, but I can’t hear you anymore. Therefor I need to adapt myself by reading lips, reading gestures and reading facial expressions. But it also means that other people have to adapt to me as well.
Compromising in communication
We have to meet in the middle, otherwise it’s not fair to anyone. It’s what I hear a lot from Deaf people: “I have to do all the work to follow a language that’s no longer accessible to me, and the hearing people don’t adapt to me”. Sadly this is more common than uncommon, and I’ll tell you why it’s so common: there are so many hearing people and less Deaf people. It’s ‘normal’ to WANT to fit in to the regular group, do what everyone else is doing. If that means I have to speak instead of sign, I will. And many other d/Deaf/HoH people will do the same.
I’m not saying that it’s our own fault that hearing people don’t adapt to us, but they usually don’t know that it takes a lot of energy to ‘act hearing’. I think it’s the hardest for people who have turned deaf all of a sudden or have had a lot of speech therapy and therefor sound ‘like every other hearing person’. Nobody notices that we struggle in communication, because WE can communicate perfectly. It’s just that the communication coming back to us is like a 10.000 piece puzzle we have to solve within seconds.
I’m not saying either that hearing people aren’t trying to compromise in communication, but a lot of the time I get said to “never mind” or “I’ll tell you later”. And that’s not compromising, that’s deciding for me what’s important enough to be told. I hope that Deaf people can tell hearing people what it is in communication they need, because that’s a concrete solution. I can’t tell you hearing people what all Deaf people need, because that’s different for everybody. But just let hearing people know what it is you need, and if you come across a decent person, they’ll listen and at least try.
I always have considered myself to be hearing, even when my hearing started to become less and less, I have always said “I’m hearing”. And people believed me, of course. Why would you think otherwise when you sound hearing, and act hearing?
Problem is: I am not a hearing person, not even close! I camouflage it well with nodding in crowded conversations, and reacting to what someone has said in the hopes that I answered correctly to whatever it is they were asking me. I can’t keep up, and then your identity crashes.
This was what I discussed briefly with a friend of mine: he used to tell everyone he was ‘hard of hearing’, and he could speak so much that he fooled everyone with how ‘bad’ his ears were. Eventually we both started to do the Signlanguage program and I saw an identity shift. All of a sudden he called himself Deaf, refused to wear his hearing aids and he only wanted to sign. I didn’t get it: what had changed so much that he decided to do this? Now I realize there’s sort of a spectrum that goes from 100% hearing to 100% Deaf. He always had tried so hard to fit in with hearing people, by talking, by reading lips, by pretending he understood everything that everyone said. Now it was time to explore the other side, the 100% Deaf side. And I think that moment is coming close for me as well.
100% Hearing – 100% Deaf
I tend to be somewhere in between. I often say I’m ‘just’ hard of hearing, but when I say that, it’s:
1: Not completely true, because I’m deaf;
2: Harder for people to understand, because they never know how much you can and can’t hear. And since many deaf/hard of hearing people are experts on reading people’s gestures and expessions, it’s hard to guess when something isn’t being understood.
When I studied to become a Signlanguage Interpreter I always said “I’m hearing” – that was my 100% Hearing side. I felt alone and like a liar, because I had to work so much harder than anyone else in that group to even come close to a good interpretation of something that was said – simply because I didn’t hear it well enough.
Now I study to become a nurse, and on day 1 (2 years ago) I said to my classmates: I’m Sam, want to become a nurse, and there are some things you need to know: 1 – I have Tourettes, 2 – I am hard of hearing and 3 – don’t treat me any differently, I will tell you when I haven’t heard you.
Transition to calling myself Deaf
Right now I sometimes refuse to speak in front of other people (for example in stores, when I’m outside walking around town), and some days I don’t want to wear my hearing aids or speak at all. I only want to sign and unfortunately that’s not always possible with friends and family. I wish I could say that I’m Deaf and proud of it, but right now I just feel deaf. Impaired in communication and cut off from the world sometimes. That’s why I’m experimenting with trying to say that I’m Deaf – I sign, and you’ll have to deal with that.
It feels good to just use signlanguage, because it makes it clear: I can’t hear you, and you have to adapt to me as well. As for what I’m going to decide, I’m not sure yet.. I prefer to sign, but if people speak to me, I will give in most of the time. I’m experimenting with not doing that.
I’ll keep you updated on how my journey goes. Where it leads me.