By another curious coincidence, the next DVD to arrive in the mail was Sound and Fury. The thing about getting DVDs in the mail is that the movie is picked out months in advance and usually we are not sure who picked it out in the first place. But this particular DVD arrives this week of all weeks. Steve thinks he might have picked it out because he was looking at documentaries and this one was an Academy Award nominee.
The documentary is about an extended family of deaf and hearing members where some chose to get a cochlear implant for their child and some ultimately decided not to, and both decisions ignited passionate arguments between the deaf and hearing. In one scene, a hearing father calls his deaf son “an abusive parent” for choosing not to get the cochlear implant for his 5 year old daughter. In another scene, a deaf mother calls her hearing daughter “a lousy daughter” for deciding to get a cochlear implant for her infant son. At no point in the movie, despite many chances for discussion, could each side truly understand the point of view of the other side.
My sense is that cochlear implants are essentially hearing aids implanted, and it gives those who wouldn’t benefit from external hearing aids the hearing experience equivalent of hearing aids. It does not restore normal hearing, however it does ensure that the child will learn speech and understand speech. They will, most likely, live the life of a solitaire. This point was not at all touched upon in the documentary- I suppose another whole documentary would need to be devoted to that!
The attitude of the hearing is that the child will have an easier life and will have opportunities that would otherwise not be available. They felt the child was “fixed” similarly as one would be if they got glasses or had an operation so that they could walk. The passionate belief of the Deaf was that the operation was taking away a way of being or a way of life. This was viewed by the hearing as “abusive” or misinformed or motivated by the wrong intentions.
After the movie, Steve and I talked until 2 am. Watching Steve make the shift and both of us amazed at how we had never looked at my experience in this way before was incredible. As he talked about his realizations about how we both acted and lived as if my hearing aids were a part of my body, as if I am not a complete person until I put them in, I felt an incredibly warm sensation in my abdomen. Normally when we’re excited or angry or scared we feel sensations in our chest or our stomach, but this one was different. This was in my guts, and maybe this is the term where “gut instincts” comes from. Seeing Steve make the shift from “she isn’t a hearing person having a deaf experience, she’s a deaf person having a hearing experience” was almost more remarkable than my own shift.
Steve suggested that one day a week I don’t put my hearing aids in and the two of us will practice and learn how to communicate with each other in a new way. I have never gone a single day of my life without wearing them and I realized how little I know about how much I can or can’t actually hear without them. As we continued to talk about this, I began to have the uncomfortable experience of straddling both perspectives of the hearing and the deaf. I had a strong logical voice saying “well, if you are going to take your hearing aids out one day a week and go “all natural” then why don’t you take your contacts out too? That would be just as inconvenient. Why do you want to make yourself more disabled?” and I had a gut instinct that said “something about hearing loss is fundamentally different.”
As we talked further, I began to make more sense of this, of how hearing loss is not the same as visual impairment or being in a wheelchair. Physiologically, there is only one way to see visually and one way to walk as a human being. Glasses or surgery can correct these handicaps so that you achieve complete or near complete capacity. Seeing is seeing, walking is walking.
Hearing is not just hearing. Hearing is communication and there are thousands of ways to communicate the world over. Hearing is communication, self-expression, self-esteem, human interaction and connection and development. Hearing/deafness and identity go hand in hand. When you can’t see or walk, you can still express yourself and participate socially, although you may experience discrimination and others’ discomfort (the impact of which should never be underestimated). When you can’t hear and it impacts your connection with others and your expression of self, your experience of self and world has become imprisoned. Even if you can talk and understand speech in the right circumstances as those with cochlear implants and hearing aids, you are often still imprisoned though no one in the hearing world can really understand or see that. “She looks and talks just fine!” And due to their ignorance, though they may have the best intentions, you have lost something vital.
The deaf understand in their heart what that something vital is. More than once in the documentary, they compared having a cochlear implant to being a “robot.” The more Steve and I talked, the more sense this began to make to me. Hearing aids, to be sure, is an amazing technology and I owe much to it. It did give me opportunities and make me in most ways “just like” a hearing person which our society would consider a success story. But… it is an impaired filter and a unintentioned burden in the sense that I am held accountable to speech. I am told that this is the only way I can express myself or interact with others and though I miss out on a lot, the important thing is that I’m talking and appearing normal. I am kind of a robot, verbally miming and going through the motions. I am cut off from ways of communicating that would guarantee me complete comfort, comprehension, and inclusion 100% of the time.
Oliva writes that of all the solitaires with varying degrees of hearing loss who participated in her study, only a few (I think it was 4?) chose to remain entirely in the hearing world. At some point in late adolescence or adulthood, most of them took a journey into Deaf culture and found a way to be a part of both worlds. In the documentary, the concern was expressed that Deaf culture would become “extinct” due to so many children being implanted as infants. I don’t think they need to worry. When the solitaires get older, the majority of them will come back.
Today is my first day without hearing aids. I did not hear a single keystroke of this entry. Steve and I have had surprisingly successful communications already, part visual signing and part lip reading, and it’s definitely the quickest way to learn new signs. I thought it would be scary, but it isn’t.
See Steve’s entry.
Jan 7th 2007Hearing loss & Introspection