Finding My Home – Where Do I Fit?

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


patti durr

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.


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Karen Mayes
    Jan 06, 2008 @ 05:49:38

    That was a great blog you have ever written, graphically showing your journey. All journeys never end until death, so don’t think that once you achieved your goals, it is over. Because everything evolutes, changing with the rapidly changing technology, with the medical advances, etc.

  2. DE
    Jan 06, 2008 @ 05:51:43

    Fascinating diagrams! You obviously put a lot of energy in that one.

    However, I am struggling with the idea that you are at “the edge of Deaf Culture”. I understand your argument, I do- but I have come across quite a few people who “grew up in the culture” (sign ASL fluently and effortlessly, have Deaf relatives, went to Deaf schools), yet exhibit such bad attitude towards ASL and Deafhood. You obviously respect all the above, yet say that you are “at the edge”. It’s hard for me to swallow, because you have such great insight, understanding, and attitude towards Deaf culture, etc. To me, you, despite your experiences, definitely ain’t “at the edge”.

    It’s just that growing up “in” Deaf Culture does NOT automatically make one “versed” in Deaf Culture. We still gotta study and embrace Deaf Culture no matter even if we “grew up” in the “core” and no matter our level of ASL fluency.

    Your blogs are fast becoming addictive for me- always making me think!


  3. Karen Mayes
    Jan 06, 2008 @ 07:42:32

    Hmmm… I remember one PhD candidate coming to Rochester,NY and Barb DiGi asked for the certain deaf kids from deaf families of the young age group over to her house so that the deaf kids could be evaluated for their fluency in ASL. Imagine my surprise when I was told that my son had high comprehension of ASL (not good at expression of ASL though) because we did not use ASL a lot but somehow our son had “incorporated” ASL, even though at that time he showed a strong preference to talking and listening over signing.

    When I worked at a supermarket as short time ago, I spent a lot of time with a deaf employee who was considered as a “grassroot” Deaf person (Deaf, mute, you name it) and she accepted me wholeheartedly (I even met her Deaf sister who paused when I answered her question on what deaf school I went… I went to CID in St. Louis… and then she quickly said since I understood her signs even though she never opened her mouth, I was good enough… ha, a blunt lady ;o) )and made my learning ASL fun and smooth. She acknowledged that it was SOME Deaf people who resisted some deaf people learning ASL, so they set boundaries. She even said that she noticed that it was “college-educated” Deaf people who contributed to the “not deaf enough” belief (I believe that Jay Kreiger discussed this grassroot/academic part last year.)

    Just an observation of mine, so don’t take offense.

  4. pdurr
    Jan 06, 2008 @ 09:33:53

    Karen – comment 1
    i agree we r always evolving and we do not evolve in a linear fashion via stages with no overlap or revisiting of former stages

    the stages model is a very WESTERN construct. EASTERN view is more organic and fluid

    re: your statment on technology and medical advances:
    i can see how technology will impact me – blogs/vlogs r a good example. i am not sure how medical advances are going to change me unless u mean for me to become a stronger advocate against genetic screening re: deaf gene, AVI (oral only approach in conjunction with CI)?

    i get a bit weary when folks reference “medical advances” because i do not see us with the “disabled / defective” lens and i know the damage that the medical mindset has reaped on Deaf people – so its hard for me to understand why folks are often saying

    “technological / medical advances…”

    on the one hand they seem to be saying – this will be the doom of Deaf folks as a people as most if not all will have CI or have their deaf gene removed so Deaf culture is DEAD

    while at other times they seem to be saying – geez relax why do u have to be so against and angry and hostile and rejecting of CIs

    its a contradictory message that gets thrown out alot and it definitely taps into a deficit model of Deaf people (need to be fixed medically) and Deaf culture (exclusive etc)


    in fact im glad and thank u for mentioning it because it has afforded me the opportunity to describe what i am seeing generally, to interpret it and to evaluate it – from my center and my lens

    im just attempting to honestly let u know that statemens such as those triggers a bit of a “HMMMMM – what is up with the use of that phrase here???”

    i myself do not see the use of CI as the END of Deaf Culture and/or even the Deaf Community

    while CI are not a valued possession within the Deaf Culture this does not mean that folks with CI are not accepted and loved

    ASL Culture can and is their home too

    really i think we would be shocked to know that many folks do have CI but no longer use them

    meanwhile there are some who have CI that live as that X i was – soley within the hearing society

    that is fine and their right

    i do not think that people with CI will change my thinking re: my place in Deaf culture

    i do think that the CI industry and programs that promote it without promoting full visual access – will impact the Deaf Culture into more positive and peaceful activism

    for this we can thank them



  5. pdurr
    Jan 06, 2008 @ 09:43:33

    I am very happy with my place at the table – it suits me perfectly

    I have book knowledge re: Deaf Culture (and still need to read up and digest and question more) and i have many of the characteristics of Deaf Culture

    i place myself at the end of the table because i know there is a difference – its not a bad difference but it is a real one so for me to deny it would be false. alot of it stems from the amount of hearing and speech i have – this gives me privilege – this forever has me straddle Deaf and hearing sensibilities – yet i will always be partially Deaf physically – this will NEVER change (well i might go true biz Deaf when me get old) but i think a great deal of my deciding my placement is out of respect and also the duality of being partially Deaf

    being able to talk on the phone make me a very light skinned Deaf person – this is not to minimize my existence at all. i had worked hard to “pass” for hearing as a child and i did work hard to “pass” for Deaf when i entered Deaf Culture but now i am very happy and content just to BE – to be me – no passing

    i do believe that it is VERY important with folks who have privilege – to know their place within a disenfranchised group. there is a tendency to take over and to use ones privilege for one’s self only and not the good of the group

    this is what i have to be mindful of

    it would be cool to examine more honestly and collectively the role of the ability to speak and hear on the phone more within a Deaf Culture context. Ella touched upon this in her d.i.e. discussion

    i do not use the phone in Deaf environments out of respect for the cultural rules of that space and so that we r all on a level playing field

    re: addictive – hey, we wanna see u blog/vlog more



  6. brenster-
    Jan 06, 2008 @ 09:44:36

    patti- i’ve become one of your regular v/blog visitors! thanks for sharing your journey.

  7. pdurr
    Jan 06, 2008 @ 09:56:02

    Hi Karen

    thanks for sharing both ur experiences
    re: the evaluation of the KODAs

    my daughter has pretty decent receptive skills but expressive needs work

    my son is just finally showing a willingness to sign – yes this was heartbreaking – even as a babe in the high chair when i would try to get him to sign yes or no he would instead do really elaborate head nods only – would not lift his hand

    when he got bigger – instead of fingerspelling his name he actively invented a two handed system to spell out his name

    he would also at times say “i cant under stand that signing language stuffy you do” VERY LOUDLY in public places


    it seemed incredibly hard for him to switch from an auditory language to a visual one

    in the last year he is showing an openness to that sign language stuff


    at the same time if u talk with my kids about Deaf View / Image Art, Deaf holocaust survivors, Deaf culture, Deaf rights, MLK jr, Gandhi – they will have PLENTY to say but it will most likely be in spoken English for the time being ; )

    re: ur experience with grassroots vs “college-educated” Deaf people

    the grassroots have much much much to tell and teach us – would that we listen

    re: Deaf college-educated people – i have seen them perpetuate myths and misunderstandings

    when my students say – oh i cant be Big D – i say why (cuz im still seeing it as having a cultural view of oneself and not a medical view) – they say:
    BIg D deaf people hate hearing people – i dont have problems with hearing people
    i come from hearing parents so im out
    i didnt go to a Deaf school so im out
    my ASL is so-so so im out

    and when i ask – WHO TOLD U THAT – they often will say “my Deaf teacher”


    sound and sight of my heart breaking

    so i hammer them with articles books and discussions

    even last year when i was trying to explain the difference btw enculturation (from birth on) and acculturation (learned later) some said – im acculturated so Im no good

    no no no i sign at the top of my voice and being

    “no not mean THAT” “en- or ac- culturation” just means when u came home

    u r still home if this is the home u want to be at

    its up to u

    knowledge is often power but it can also be pretty darn confusing when it falls in the hands of folks who mix it up

    thanks for ur comments



  8. pdurr
    Jan 06, 2008 @ 10:04:39

    brenster –

    i too find myself cruising (or is that a dirty word?) the Deaf blog/vlog sphere to find places where i can say hmmm, ahhhhh, pah!

    glad u feel this is one such place for u

    always enjoy ur comments



  9. DeafMom
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 08:32:50

    Thanks for sharing– I enjoyed reading your thoughts and perceptions.

  10. Don G.
    May 28, 2010 @ 15:25:37

    Hi Patti —

    I have come to believe the Deaf/HH distinction is an ARTIFICIAL one — established by Hearing people — HH and Deaf are shades of the same thing: Deaf, not Hearing. Light-skinned Blacks or Dark-skinned Blacks — still Black. I think our community would do well to get away from that and instead look at one dimension only: do you want to be part of Deaf culture? Do you have a positive attitude toward ASL and the Deaf community? If so, then you’re Deaf!

    Also, what makes you “hard of hearing”, if you don’t wear hearing aids? That you can talk? Speaking is not a prerequisite for being HH, although many Deaf (and Hearing) seem to think so (I’m severely-profoundly Deaf, and I can talk almost as well as a Hearing person). In my mind, HH is if you can use the phone easily, if you can interact within a group of Hearing, non-signing people without much difficulty (note: most HH people STILL have problems interacting in a group of Hearing people, due to noise and environmental conditions).

    Also, thanks for discussing cultural boundaries. You are entirely correct — cultural boundaries are there for a reason — to prevent the assimilation and dissolution of the cultural group. All cultures have a right to exist, on their own terms, and Deaf do, too. But as you note, in Deaf culture, although we have these boundaries, we do accept others who have not been raised within these boundaries, as long as these people demonstrate a positive attitude toward us, our language, and our community. If others do not show this attitude, then our cultural “wall” will quickly close to keep this person out, until that person demonstrates a positive shift in their thinking.

  11. handeyes
    May 28, 2010 @ 16:42:54

    hi don

    thanks for commenting. the blog entry was from jan 2008 but something in ASLRocks kinda reminded me of it so i pulled it out.

    i tend to say im partially Deaf now and not hard of hearing. “Partially” – u can argue i should not say that at all either – the reason why i do is because if i say im Deaf and later the person sees me interacting with a non-signing person – they will feel betrayed – as if they were wronged or misinformed. i am a HUGE truth-seeker.

    If u can think of a way i can clarify my physiology upfront let me know especially in the blogsphere when folks might not know or see me in a variety of settings. eventually i hope that it wont matter – we wont be as hung up on how much a person can speak or hear but for me to strut around pretending as if my oppression has been the same as someone else, i dont think is honest. some of the smartest people i know are ASL Deaf folks and i can tell u they are NOT listened to as they should be simply because of linguicism, phonocentrism, audism, language bigotry, ignorance etc etc.

    example might be Obama – he has had a very privilege life compared to most African-Americans. He himself is biracial. He never denies this nor does he hide this; however, he always identifies himself ast an African-American. For me i think i must always be “out” about what my physiology is and at the same time assert myself as a Deaf person.

    u asked – what makes me “hard of hearing?” are we talking dB here? Did you just show me your audiogram??? smile i cringe to spell out what i have been labeled as but here it is for u – bilateral sensorineural congential hearing loss moderate to severe

    cringe cuz geez how many adjectives and nouns can they use to make us feel totally medicalized

    i can use the phone alright – perfectly and normally nah. i can “function” amongst the hearing pretty good. “normally, flawlessly” nah

    so some would say – i am neither this nor that

    i aim to say – i am and/also instead of neither /nor. im just not cool with pretending to be anything i am not and our physiology and cultural conditioning really do shape a great deal of who we are.

    I do agree with u that the term “hard of hearing” is bonk! its poor and bizarre English and it is a kinda disclaimer / framer thingy

    i would love to see “A word of our own” – started a thread in about this concept of coming up with a term/word/sign for ourselves divorced of any written/spoken language – purely from an international / universal sign language construct and have NOTHING to do with the ears or the mouth

    that i think would be super cool and the beginning of something big

    re: boundaries – yes. i used the example of Reform rabbbis not performing mixed marriages in rochester but one rabbi has agreed to and now others are discussing with their congregations. the reason for them considering it is largely because Jewish people do marry outside of their faith at a high rate and by having that stringent boundary, they may not be deterring mixed marriages but actually be pushing away interfaith couples.

    boundaries always have to be reexamined. important thing for folks to know is that there are GATES – cultural groups are not cloisters.

    thanks for revisiting some old thoughts with me



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