As someone who had internalized hearing culture and values growing up, I was pretty definite about what was a compliment (”I couldn’t tell you had a hearing loss”) and what felt insulting (I now feel ashamed to say that once upon a time, calling me ‘deaf’ or asking me if I used sign language felt insulting.) Now I feel uprooted, in a limbo of sorts. What is oppressive? What should I be proud of? What is politically correct? What isn’t?
The other day, someone who oversees my position at work (in a marginal way, I don’t see or meet with him regularly) noticed my hearing aids for the first time. He asked about them (interestingly, as soon as he started asking about my hearing loss, he took a step backwards and lowered his voice) and I answered his questions (while taking a step forward and straining to understand.) He said he used to work with the Deaf at a school for many years, then stated “I could tell something was different about your voice, and I thought you had some hearing loss.” He is the second person I’ve ever met who said that my voice sounded different.
Whenever I am caught off guard, I respond with a smile, protecting the other person’s feelings rather than my own. My immediate inner reaction, however, is to feel indignant and defensive. But I have no idea how to respond and properly show that to someone. This time I thought about it again and thought maybe I should consider it a compliment of sorts! I am NOT hearing so why should I expect to come across as 100% hearing when I am not? I should take pride in the fact that my voice is different! Right?
I told Steve about it and he was pissed. He felt it was rude and we joked about how it would come across if it was said about any other handicap or condition. “You’re blind? Oh, I could tell because you have a cane and bump into things.” “You’re fat? Oh, I could tell because I saw you eat a huge buffet.” “You’re crippled? Oh, I could tell because you have a wheelchair.”
Today I was in the living room. I heard Steve in the kitchen groan and say “Oh no!” A couple seconds later, two Mormon types were at the door. It was too late for me to hide, I had to answer the door because they could see me in the living room. One woman immediately started signing, “you’re deaf?” Taken by surprise, I responded automatically, verbally “I’m hearing impaired.” Then in the back of my mind, I remember that the deaf community considers ‘hearing impaired’ as a politically incorrect term. Wasn’t I going to start saying that I was deaf anyway? Clearly it is not a word that comes to me easily even now.
Now we’re all confused. What does it mean if I’m hearing impaired? They don’t know. I don’t really know. The woman plunges on, tentatively using signs and then eventually signing less and talking more. She looks increasingly uncomfortable. I try to make them feel better with smiles, even though I think religious people who go door to door trying to convert people are insane.
Apparently, someone told the Mormons I had hearing loss and recommended me as someone to go to their services that will be in ASL on a certain date. I politely took their pamphlets and they left after that. Then I thought about how weird the whole thing was and should I take offense? I had been named and tracked down to my home purely based on my hearing loss. On the other hand, perhaps it was considerate to inform me of an event in the community that had accommodations and would have benefited from if I was fluent in ASL. Oh, and also if I was an insane religious person.
Either way. The confusion is a part of a cultural lens and identity shift and it is interesting to see how it changes my experience.
Mar 16th 2008Hearing loss