Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why I am not Deaf, Part 2

(Click here for part 1)

I've been writing and rewriting this post for over a week now. I've been worried about coming across as offensive. It's so hard to tell tone over the interweb, y'know. I have friends and acquaintances who consider themselves culturally Deaf and I'm not interested in alienating them. So I think maybe I should clarify something real quick. There's Deaf and then there's Deaf. On one hand, you have those who are totally immersed in Deaf culture, who hold ASL most precious and are very protective of their culture. On the other hand, you have those who might say they are culturally Deaf, but they use a variety of communication methods - signing, talking, writing, etc. They use a combination of ASL and English. They're proud to be part of the Deaf culture but don't hold to it quite so rigidly.

As in any culture or group, there will be some who are more extreme than others. Most of the people I know who are Deaf tend to not be so extreme, but I have known my share of hard-core Deaf enthusiasts. Those are the people I am usually referring to when I talk about Deaf culture and I am speaking in GENERAL terms only.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. Like I said, one of the biggest reasons I don't consider myself Deaf is that I'm more of an English junkie than an ASL aficionado. The other reason has to do with perception.

The Deaf community isn't fond of words like hard of hearing, hearing loss or hearing-impaired because each denotes a sense of loss, of something lacking. To the Deaf, these words imply that there is something wrong or broken and Deaf people simply don't see themselves this way. They use the word "Deaf" because to them, it conveys wholeness and acceptance.

I don't quite share the same mindset about what it means to be deaf. I appreciate where the Deaf community is coming from and in some ways, I'm even a little jealous that they've found such contentment in their deafness. They've fully embraced it as a part of them, as who they are - I have not and I live with that tension daily.

But the reason I have not embraced it as such is probably more theological than cultural. I believe this world was a perfect one before the fall, before sin entered the world. There was no disease, no famine, no blindness or deafness or lameness or AIDS or cancer. I bet Adam and Eve were hott. Everything was flawless. But then sin came and brought death and destruction. Hott Adam and Eve suddenly felt the need to cover themselves up. Cain killed Abel. Cancer ravaged bodies. AIDS spread like wildfire. Hearing and sight were extinguished. Wheelchairs and crutches replaced legs. This is not normal. This is what I think of when I read Romans 8:22 - "For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now."

So because I live in a fallen world, I regard my hearing loss as such - a loss. And yes, I do regard it as a disability, because I do not function the way the majority of the world is able to function. I need special accommodations and hearing loss does in fact disable me to do some things, or at the very least, changes certain experiences for me. I don't base who I am on my hearing aids - they cannot complete me, and I don't see eye to eye with the Deaf community in that respect.

If you were to talk to a Deaf person about English, or hearing people or even about being hard of hearing, most likely they'll play the race card. The Deaf vs. hearing argument isn't so different than the black vs. white issue. It's a handy comparison, and I've been known to use it myself (ex. Think about how someone who was of mixed race might be - in extreme cases - stigmatized or rejected by one race). Deaf people see themselves as being oppressed the same way that blacks have been oppressed in America. However, I think they take it a little too far. As (e put it on her blog so well:

"However, being deaf and being black are two different things. I do not think it is appropriate to use this analogy. Black people experienced and still experience oppression, at least in America, in completely different ways than how certain deaf people are oppressed. In the past, black people dealt with Jim Crow laws, bombings, lynchings, slavery, blatant discrimination, etc.

It seems to some people that deaf people are largely oppressed because the general population and the medical profession view deafness as a medical problem that needs to be fixed. They usually mean well by trying to help make deaf people more like hearing people (in helping them hear or gain more auditory and speaking skills)."

The biggest issue in question, as (e discusses briefly, is those who consider themselves culturally Deaf see themselves as just that - a culture, a minority. But people who aren't familiar with the culture tend to see deafness as a medical thing to be fixed. That's what it really all boils down to - culture vs. medicine. And so there's a lot of tension between Deaf and hearing - tension that I just am not sure is warranted. I think most oppression that Deaf people say they experience is rooted more in a lack of understanding. Hearing people just don't understand what it means to be Deaf and don't always know what to do when they encounter a Deaf person, that's all. It seems to me that Deaf people respond to this with hostility rather than patience and a willingness to educate (and be educated by) hearing people (Again, I'm speaking in general terms only. Not every single Deaf person is like this). In other words, can't we all just get along?

So to recap, I don't consider myself culturally Deaf and prefer to be called hard of hearing because:

1) English is my first language. I appreciate ASL and know how to use it, but it's not native to me.

2) The Deaf community finds wholeness in being Deaf, while I view my hearing loss as just that - a loss.

3) The Deaf community sets themselves apart as a culture, while I view my hearing loss as a medical issue.

So that's why I say I'm hard of hearing instead of Deaf or even deaf. I don't have a problem with my audiologist calling me deaf - after all, without my hearing aids, I can't hear a thing! But with my hearing aids in, I talk. I listen. I engage. I function more like a hearing person than a D/deaf person. Being called Deaf brings up some uncomfortable connotations for me, simply because I know that's not a place where I belong. You certainly wouldn't call me hearing, either, so that's why I prefer hard of hearing. Not Deaf. Not hearing. Just me.

1 comment:

  1. I think you can get this book over in America. This link I give you is a UK one, but it's just so you know what the book looks like. I found it very helpful for me personally, and felt I could relate to it in lots of ways, to what I was feeling at the time, as well as writing my blog which helps too, as you know yourself. :)