Talk about Deafhood*

Not a lot of people know how I learned to talk. I don’t mean to confuse you, there was nothing abnormal about my speech development. But that’s exactly what’s confusing. I say, “My parents are deaf,” and the first insightful thought is how remarkable it must be that I learned to talk.

So I found other things to talk about. My ideal introduction was not, “Hi, I’m Mark. Let me give you a lesson on deafhood.” Deafhood is a source of identity and culture, but because this isn’t intuitive to the hearing world I grew up avoiding the topic. For my application essays to graduate school last fall however, it was the first sentence.

I grew up listening for three.

Applying for psychology programs that examine language, it suddenly became very relevant to the conversation. And since psychology is my passion, it became harder to avoid in daily dialog, too. So let’s just talk about it. I’m bored of finding nice ways to avoid the topic and appease assumptions.

Here are the answers to the all the popular questions.

  • Deaf people can and do drive.
  • American Sign Language is not a signed version of English.
  • It’s also not universal.
  • My parents met at a technical school.
  • My kids probably won’t be deaf, but it doesn’t matter.
  • I could yell and swear all I wanted in the house, but I didn’t really feel like it.
  • Yes, it was my word against my siblings (but when isn’t it)?
  • Yes, they can hear too. And talk.
  • There are flashing lights for the doorbell and phone.
  • The phone is useless unless someone knows how to use a TTY.
  • It’s a typing phone for the deaf, but now there’s text messaging.
  • Yes, on the same phones that you use for playing Angry Birds.
  • Some Deaf people have been known to play Angry Birds.
The phone cradles across the top and a dialog between two of these (sounding like a fax machine) would put words across the screen.

Those are the basics. For round two, I’ll explain some of the things that aren’t usually asked about: Why ‘hearing-impaired‘ is inappropriate. The connotation to lip-reading. The difference between a mainstream and an all-deaf institute. What audism is. What happens when you turn on a TTY instead of picking up the phone for an unsuspecting solicitor. (It’s a fun prank.)

For most of my life I resented the gap between questions I answered and questions that were never asked. I didn’t realize that a big part had to do with my unwillingness to talk. I’m trying to fix that.

I can tell you what it’s like to listen for three. I can tell you how impressive it is to be raised by two adults essentially denied a language growing up. I can tell you where convictions against a hearing world come from. Maybe you’ve got questions. I’m not interested in differences anymore, so let’s talk.

Continue with The Definition of Deaf
A world without music

* The title of this piece was originally ‘talk about deafness.’ A reader pointed out to me that deafhood is a term which better captures the deaf-positive identity. I’m grateful for his observation, and the learning and dialog that comes from putting my thoughts out there.

4 thoughts on “Talk about Deafhood*

  1. As a CODA, I was often asked so…how did you learn to speak? and then how did you learn to sign? did you have to go to school to learn sign language? OMG. and How did they know if you were crying? After my mom remarried, “to another Deaf man?” Like there was only 1 Deaf man in the area-my father!

  2. loved this……….. “yes, on the same phones u play angry birds on…….. yes, deaf ppl play angry birds” “yes, it was my words against my siblings” lol lol

  3. Thank you so much for putting our experiences so eloquently on paper.
    You have made a valid point. The gap between questions asked and the questions that are not asked is alarming. So much so that I have not noticed until now I wish people would ask the unpopular questions. Thank you.

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