Friday, August 22, 2008

Elitist? (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1)

WARNING: This post turned into a bit of a rant. Please do not be offended. It reflects frustrations that I do not usually post, but hope can bring understanding.

Being deaf is not NEAT.
Having to use sign language to communicate is not NEAT.
Missing the recess bell is not NEAT.
Not knowing your child is crying is not NEAT.

I realize it’s not pretty anymore. It’s something I’m jaded about.

My mom spent years teaching volunteer sign language classes at churches.
It meant a 1,437 enthusiastic beginners wanted to “practice” with me.
Welcome to 1,437 people haltingly signing “hello, my name is…” then a bunch of bouncing mangled fingerspelling.

I’m not knocking people who want to learn, it was just a bit much for this kid who wanted to be normal. True, I can see the beauty in signing. But mostly in performance or worship.

Otherwise; technically, it’s eavesdropping. Try having a private conversation with someone in a restaurant while seventeen other diners watch in rapt fascination. You’re telling your deaf friend that you’ve just found out your unborn baby has a severe kidney defect and may not live. It’s a deeply personal conversation. Then a brave diner approaches and says (either too loudly, or in a whisper while over enunciating):

“That is SO beautiful! I always wanted to learn sign language!”

Instead of being a real compliment, it’s easy to feel a bit violated. We awkwardly say “thank you” and switch to polite listener mode for the usual comments:

“My aunt’s second husband’s cousin had a neighbor whose step-daughter’s boyfriend had a deaf sister. They used to live in Iowa. Do you know them?”

“There was a deaf kid in my daughter’s class 3 years ago. It was so NEAT because they all learned sign language. The only things I remember are “potty” and “please” though…”

“Do you read Braille?” (you would be AMAZED at how often I get asked this – they are confused if I say “no”)

I just ran this by Mr. Daddy and he said “it’s like French - if people like the accent, they’ll just enjoy the sound. It’s okay to watch if you don’t know what they’re saying”.

I can understand that, but his frame of reference isn’t the same as mine. Which often feels like being part of a zoo exhibit… it’s okay to stare, because I’m different. It might not feel rude, because you don’t understand what’s being said; but how am I to know? How would I distinguish you from the other sixteen diners who are making me squirm with unwanted attention?

I guess it’s the sum of the many times I’ve felt I couldn’t hide from the stares or having to bite my tongue through one more round of “that’s so NEAT”. It doesn’t feel NEAT. It feels painfully different at times.

I didn’t mean for this post to take the direction it did. I received an email from another deaf friend who talked honestly and openly about living in a hearing world. Perhaps just one person at a time might change things with a bit of understanding.

Just as you readers have been kind and sensitive with your comments, as well as the friends who have emailed me – I realize that most of the little things that bother me are done completely without malice and out of honest interest. I’d rather meet you and have a conversation about what is common or different between us – not just the language we use.

I’m truly sorry if I’ve done more harm than good while trying to explain… it came out a bit uncensored, but maybe it’s better that way? I trust you dear friends, to tell me when I’ve crossed the line and offended you. I would love to hear your thoughts and perspective. Thanks for sticking with me through this long post!


Sara said...


I thoroughly loved your post! I gained a whole new perspective from I needed.

This summer at the LPA national conference there where two interpreters for some in the audience who were deaf. My mom and I did make a comment about what a beautiful language signing was. I guess before I read your post I would have agreed with you husband. I never saw it as eavesdropping, I saw it as being interested. I, too, have watched others sign only out of awe and of course, without malice.

I see where you are coming from and it helps me so much in the LP (little people) world. LPs live all of their lives in a world that is made for people five feet or taller. I've been reading up for four years on what is acceptable and what is not. I was horrified this summer when we were at the conference and my mom said, "There's the one......" It's not a show. I am so conscious to treat all LPs like people, like I would any average height person.

You've made me think about how I react to and treat all people--including average height people who are hearing impaired.

Thank you for opening my eyes just a little bit more. :)


lilivw said...

I appreciate your perspective. I believe most people are fascinated with the deaf world because they know so little about it. I hope we did not offend because the girls and I loved learning signs from you and Mike.

I was also so amazed that someone who could not hear could dance with a ballet troupe. You are quite an incredible person Rachel - deaf or not.

I do know one thing. You are approachable and that is a wonderful trait. Most people would not walk up to any deaf (or hearing) person to talk to them. You are different and that has nothing to do with you being deaf or hearing - it is part of who you are. You are so open, kind and warm. You are a wonderful respresentative for the deaf community to help the rest of us learn that a deaf person is just like the rest of us. They feel, they do, they live, they believe.

That being said - you do deserve privacy. I am sure it would be very difficult to feel you were in a fish bowl with everyone staring at you as you sign in public. I am sorry you had that (and many other) experience(s). I love you sweet friend of mine! I miss you.

Jaime said...

I think you put your thoughts very clearly into words. I have not ever dealt with what I'm sure you've dealt with, being deaf. I'm sure there are those that are rude and thoughtless. However, those people are rude and thoughtless to pretty much *anyone* that doesn't fit into their idea of normal.

And, those people's opinions don't matter. (Easier said than felt, I know.)

Society tries to define "normal" but we, as parents, have a job to teach our kids that there is no normal, just made in God's image.

I wish you didn't have to miss out on the things you miss, being deaf, but I imagine you catch a lot more than a lot of us do as a result.

I think I got this impression from your posts, but I hope you know that probably most people don't mean to be rude. They just either overcompensate in their desire to make sure you know they aren't uncomfortable or they feel a little awkward and end up bumbling things up, unintentionally. I know that's what has happened to me before.

Whew. Sorry that was so long!

Stacy said...

Another wonderful informative post, Rachel. Thank you so much for explaining your perspective. It is something I think most people wouldn't think about - the whole eavesdropping thing. I will definitely be mindful of that.

You have a thoroughly different perspective on life, but from what I can tell from your posts that doesn't stop you at all.

hannah m said...

Rachel, Thank you for visiting my blog - I have enjoyed perusing yours. Your Tristan is absolutely delightful - what a smile!

I appreciate reading your perspective on being a deaf woman as I begin this journey with my daughter Vivian. I will look forward to peeking in on your sweet family, and am so thankful you stopped by to say hello!


elizabeth said...

Great blog! I hope you'll consider adding it to the aggregator at Deaf Village (!