(Click here for part 2)
I like to wander through the blogosphere. I'll read a friend's blog, find out who they're following, read one of theirs, then read one of their follower's blogs, etc. It's a grand way to waste an afternoon. Anyway, during one of my blog wanderings, I stumbled upon The ASL Project. You should check it out - it's a great example of how culturally Deaf people view themselves and the hearing world.
I was especially intrigued by this post, Playing Hearing: A Losing Game. More intiguing was when I figured out I had gone to college with the author... small world! Anyway, I've read the post a couple times and even followed some of the links to videos that he and his wife made to educate people about Deaf culture. I've been chewing on this for a while now.
I can sympathize with some of what Richard says in his post. Playing hearing is indeed a losing game. When I am with a group of people who can hear well, I am actually less myself than if I am with a hearing person one-on-one. Because in a group, I can't keep up with the conversation. Lip-reading can only take me so far. And when my ability to communicate with others is cut off, I am cut off. Communication is the cornerstone to everything. If you don't talk, if you don't share yourself with others, how are you really living, then?
I can appreciate his perspective and struggle over trying to be part of the hearing world. And let's face it, no matter how well-intentioned hearing people are, the solutions are never enough. Adequate lighting, sitting in the front row, asking everyone to take their turn talking, to speak up and slow down... it might be good for a few minutes, but people forget. They forget to do those things and sometimes even the person who needs those things forgets to ask or grows weary of always having to ask. So after a while, we just stop asking and muddle along the best we can. We fade away into the background. I share Richard's pain in that experience.
Where we differ is where we've chosen to focus our energies. He's chosen Deaf culture and I've chosen the hearing world. There are probably a lot of blogs and websites and books and resources out there about the differences between the two, and indeed, my own reasons for choosing to opt out of the Deaf cultural are numerous, but it really boils down to one thing: language.
People who consider themselves culturally Deaf use American Sign Language (ASL) as their mode of communication. ASL is not merely gestured English, but a completely different language with its own grammar, vocabulary and syntax. In fact, many states recognize ASL as a foreign language.
Language is the cornerstone of culture. I mean, think about it. If Americans primarily spoke German instead of English, what a difference that would make for our culture. Or if Italians spoke Russian and Russians spoke French. Culture, customs, idioms, art, music - everything would be radically different. So ASL is the cornerstone of the Deaf culture and one must really embrace ASL to be considered part of the culture.
I've mentioned before that I used to be involved in deaf ministry. I ended up leaving for a variety of reasons but the truth is that I find it difficult to communicate with Deaf people, too. I really was doing my best to pick up ASL so that I could communicate with my new friends better. And while they appreciated my efforts, they didn't take any steps to level the playing field by working on their English to better communicate with me. I felt like I was expected to conform to them; there didn't seem to be a way for us all share the burden of communication together.
ASL is beautiful indeed, but I think English is, too. I think there are intricacies that English can capture that ASL cannot. Or at least, there are things I can say in English that I can't quite convey with ASL (and that may have more to do with my ASL deficiencies, not ASL itself). English is a rich and complex and lovely language. So is ASL, but English is my first (linguistic) love. And since English is the cornerstone of the hearing community, that will most likely always be where I'm most closely affiliated. I won't ever be hearing, mind you, but I am even less capable of being Deaf. I can appreciate ASL but I don't love it like they do. It's not as sacred to me, as Richard says. (Fun fact, though: When I'm alone, I will crank the music up and sign songs. Sorry, Mom, but I'm not doing it at church. ;))
So language is one of the big reasons that I don't consider myself culturally Deaf. It's probably the least emotional reason, really. They require I love ASL. I respect it but don't cherish it as they do. We kindly go on our separate ways. No harm done.
Stay tuned for Part 2!