Description of Deaf Community and Deaf Culture and my personal journey to Deafhood
break ends TMW so wanna get this up before my focus shifts back to school
Below are diagrams to visually represent how i see my own Deafhood journey
That is me – the X from the age of O to 19 – i never met another culturally Deaf person. My parents never tried to deny my being deaf. In fact when when the speech teacher said my mom was being negligent by not getting me hearing aids when i was young, my mother stood firm and strong (she is Italian ; ) and said “the ENT doctor told us to raise her without hearing aids so she would learn to lipread naturally and not be dependent an an external device that may break or fail her at times.” (yes, i know this is probably the only ENT doctor in the history of peoplekind to ever say such a thing).
So I lived in the hearing world without any knowledge of a Deaf culture or ASL. I had speech therapy K-12 but no other support services (pre-ADA days). I started to learn ASL from a book in the library during HS – why? just intuitively thought that is part of me even though i would not have a fellow d/Deaf person to sign with for a few years to come.
I could have ended up spending the rest of my days in this spot – not having any awareness, interest or contact with the Deaf Community, Deaf Culture, and ASL. There are many such deaf “X” out there.
Now i am the X in the middle diagram – the Deaf community, which itself is within the hearing community. Hence, it still has a blue background but now has yellow dots for the spice of being amongst people who share a common characteristic
COMMUNITY – a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society (Merriam-Webster dictionary)
the common characteristic of the Deaf community is being deaf (to varying degrees of course) and generally includes hearing people who have ties to deaf people (family members, friends, allies, professionals in deaf-related fields that also interact with deaf people outside of their work time, etc)
When i began to associate in the Deaf Community – i made many “my bad” mistakes. One of which was – when folks asked me if i was Deaf or hearing i would always say hard of hearing as i learned this was the term to describe my physical condition and i wanted to be truthful. The response i got was not very warm. I soon realized that the question “are you Deaf or are you Hearing?” was really – which center are you closer to? which do you identify with? are you one of us? deaf-same? by responding “hard of hearing” i was placing myself in the middle and because of the word “hearing” in the title and the tendency of some hard of hearing people to exert their privilege of hearing and speaking abilities over other Deaf-mutes – i was actually being rude.
so i learned when asked “are you Deaf or hearing?” to say Deaf as i have NEVER felt hearing. My difference has always defined me. Then of course there will be more questions? from where? mainstreamed? can u use the phone? etc
so lately when asked “are you Deaf or hearing?” i sign Deaf and then add HH after it. (Padden and Humphries have a great description of the different meanings for the terms very hard of hearing and a little hard of hearing in their book voices from a culture: deaf in america – that does a fantastic job of explaining how coming from different centers really affects our perceptions and values)
in the blog world i have been very upfront with stating im hard of hearing – not to deny the importance of the Deaf Community or Deaf Culture in my life but just because via the internet – u cant really tell who you are dealing with – u cant exercise Description Interpretation and Evaluation as easily so i hope it is clear to folks that when i say hard of hearing (and i hope to shift to saying partially Deaf as i did when i was a kid soon) that i am clarifying what i am physically not who i am
So there I am the X on the edge of Deaf Culture. I am not in the center of Deaf culture as i am missing a lot of the central characteristics of Deaf culture – my ASL is intelligible but not very intelligent ; ) – my weakest area is probably the norms of behavior – sure i know some of the basic stuff but the nuances of what it means to be Deaf culturally – i can recognize and just leap for joy in my heart when i see them but they do not come to me to use naturally and have not been internalized into my Deaf DNA – perhaps some day but i do think there is much truth to Ella’s vlog on Deaf-mutes being a gravitational force within Deaf culture (see point 4). this in no way is diminishing my Deafhood. In no way is anyone excluding me to say i am not Deaf enough. this is in no way my rejecting Deaf culture
Barth asserted that probably the most important part of a culture is its boundaries. the boundaries of a community are more fluid and loose. the boundaries of a culture due to the 5 characteristics are a bit more stringent.
When my husband, who is hearing and Jewish, and I went to get married – we could not find a rabbi in Rochester who would marry us. Even a reformed rabbi who accept non-Jewish partners via outreach. We had to get a rabbi from Buffalo, NY to marry us with my priest. This is one way that Jewish people as a culture and religion establish boundaries.
Deaf culture people have shown me the boundaries – i have only experienced rudeness when i myself had accidently tripped over or stepped over a boundary unwittingly and i have met with far more kindness and care then i have rudeness or harshness.
So the Deaf culture diagram is Yellow to show the spices from the Deaf Community are expanded and offered more in-depth within Deaf culture but the background is still blue because the Deaf culture exists within the Deaf Community which exists within the hearing society. Because ASL is a prerequisite for Deaf culture membership and since all Deaf culture members live in hearing society – they are required to be bilingual and bicultural (to varying degrees of course)
yellow is often used in art to symbolize HOPE
re: Deaf world / Hearing world – folks this is a figure of speech / don’t take it literally – everyone knows there is only one world.
while it is possible for hearing people or a person with a hearing loss (no matter how mild to profound) to live completely in hearing society without any contact with the Deaf Community or Deaf Culture – it is NOT possible for Deaf people to live without any contact with hearing society – this is the nature of being a minority culture. Subsititute English speaking for hearing and ASLer for Deaf and the same is true
i hope we can explore the concept of bi/multi-culturalism more and also diglossia in further blog/vlog discussions
NOTE: many folks have developed interesting diagrams to represent the different sociological interactions of d/Deaf people within the larger society. Please note the ones above are not an academically recognized one – just my musings.