Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Deaf Pride"

The theme of my last post made me think of an essay I wrote during my junior year of high school, in which I explore my feelings about being deaf in a hearing world. This excerpt is especially relevant:

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....I have always been stuck in the gap between two worlds, never able to put both feet on one side or the other. I think I have always realized this, but never as vividly as I did while attending a winter camp for the deaf three years ago.

Shortly after arrival on the first day, a small group of kids, including me, gathered around three or four high school seniors and initiated a tepid conversation. Not having the asset of previous introductions, our discussion soon steered to the common factor between us, our deafness. Out of the seven or eight present, maybe three had hearing aids, and only one had a cochlear implant. This boy in particular had been raised orally: that is, he leaned more toward the hard-of-hearing side of the hearing-loss spectrum, and thus had enough sensory ability to get along competently in the hearing world without the assistance of sign language. As a result, his signs were inaccurate and fumbling; the other kids latched on him right away and accused him of being lacking in “deaf pride.”

I watched in bewilderment as their flying hands condemned him an outcast, and though they did not turn on me that day I realized that they might as well have condemned me too. It was then that I first understood that we, individuals supposedly unified by the pride of culture they hurled out so bitterly, were in fact worlds apart. Unable to handle their resentment toward the difficulty and misunderstanding of life in the hearing world, they had chosen to retreat within a hemisphere of deaf isolation. Although I knew such bitterness all too well, I had learned how to keep it on a short rein. I did not know what “deaf pride” was, had no personal sense or experience of it. All I knew, all I had ever known, was deaf shame.

I did not gain the opportunity to reflect on this until well after the camp had ended, and when I did, I felt torn between two worlds. This condition is one I have always struggled with as I attempt to live my life in the hearing world while inherently aware that I am deaf, but not until that point did I literally feel the discomfort of being shoved on the fence. The ideal I had clung to, perhaps foolishly, of a happier deaf existence was now permanently dented. I realized that inherently I was more hearing than deaf. This should have surprised me, but somehow it felt natural – albeit in a cold, empty way. I wondered where my piece belonged in life, if it fit into neither the deaf puzzle nor the hearing one. No distinct mold existed after which I could model myself, and so I was forced to realize that my existence is my own.

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The above experience has stayed with me in the four or five years since it happened. Its truth resonates with me now, more than ever.

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