Saturday, January 9, 2010

Train's gone, Juan

There's only one movie theater in my area that shows open-captioned movies and usually when I go, it's pretty empty. I'm usually the only one in there (besides whoever I'm with). Today was a different story - Avatar was playing, and at a decent time for a change. It wasn't hard to find a seat but my friend and I didn't have the place to ourselves either. When the movie was over, we went to use the restroom and when we came out, several D/deaf people had congregated outside the theater and were just chatting. As my friend and I walked by them, I felt the slightest twinge as I watched their fingers fly. And for just a minute, I wished I was part of it again, to be in a circle of people and not have to wonder what they're saying or who is talking, where "What" is a common question and cheerfully answered.

Then I saw a man signing crisply and quickly and passionately, as only the Deaf can. And I remembered "Train gone," and the twinge passed.

"Train gone" is a term that Deaf people use when you ask them to repeat themselves. It's almost always in jest. I used to be on the leadership team for a deaf youth group and we would often expand on that joke... the wheels are turning, the horn is blowing, the train is leaving the station and ohhhhhh.... TRAIN GONE! Har, har.

For a time, I tried to be part of the Deaf community but the problem was that I'm not really Deaf. (My audiologist may call me deaf (little "d") but in the real world, I'm hard of hearing.) English, not ASL, is my first language and I lost my hearing after I learned to talk. I prefer to speak for myself and lipread and don't really like to sign unless I'm with an interpreter or another deaf or hard of hearing person.

The Deaf community is a world away from my own. I got a lot of "Train gone"s while I was still trying to get the hang of ASL (for the record, it wasn't that the sign themselves were hard to grasp. I've been signing since I was 4 but ASL is a completely different language with its own grammar and syntax) and the speed at which they communicated. Like I said, "Train gone" was usually in jest and I didn't take it personally. Not too much, anyway. :)

There was this Deaf guy named Juan. We bantered like brother and sister - he heckled me a lot for being hard of hearing. He sure loved his "train gone"s and would mock me when I would mouth the words while signing. He'd make a big show of rolling his eyes and slowing down his signs when I couldn't keep up. He'd scoff and push me away when I tried to help him with his English (even though he asked for it!). But at the end of the day, I think he was okay with who I was... not hearing, not Deaf.

Not everyone was like that, though. Most of my socializing was done with kids at the youth group, members of a Deaf church I had started going to, or with interpreters. Even though I was learning a lot and my signing was picking up, I often felt like I wasn't good enough, not D/deaf enough. I was hard of hearing, which was almost as bad as being hearing. Sometimes they'd take the sign for hearing and move it to the forehead (If I can ever find it online, I'll link it here) which basically meant I was a cop-out, someone who had defected the Deaf community and acted like they were hearing. This can be used in jest but it's really an insult. The message was clear - I didn't really fit in. After too many miscommunications to count, I left the deaf youth group - and the Deaf community - on unhappy terms. They hurt me and I'm not sure I left them unscathed, either.

There's a lot I was and sometimes am still not willing to understand about Deaf culture. I get impatient with the long stories. I don't always get the jokes. Sometimes English seems more efficient than ASL. And I say this without any malice whatsoever, but I don't think I'll ever understand Deaf pride. Deaf people - at least the ones I spent time with - seemed okay with isolating themselves from hearing people while railing against hearing people for isolating them. It just seemed like a vicious cycle and I didn't like the way it was affecting me.

There's some bad blood, yes. Hurts that might never heal. Resentments that may never go away. But that twinge never really goes away, either. When I see someone signing, or someone with a hearing aid, I want to go over and say hello and look into the eyes of someone who understands, who totally, completely gets it. Instead, I brush my hair over my hearing aids, avert my eyes and keep walking.

... Train's gone.

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