Saturday, April 24, 2010

Earning the big D

I had this nasty problem. One that no matter how hard I tried to figure out how to resolve it I never quite knew what to do.

Inevitably time and time again someone would come up to me, or I'd meet someone and I'd struggle for how I would define myself.

For those of us with hearing loss, there are quite a few options:

There is the supposedly politically correct hearing impaired, which is by no means the politically correct term that it maintains it is. I would like to figure out what exactly is impaired or deficient. Needless to say, unless someone has decided that it is an appropriate identity for themselves (typically an elderly population who has never learned to sign or would know what to do with ASL if it hit them over their heads) don't use this term to describe anyone. It isn't going to go over well.

There is the label hard of hearing. This refers to those who have hearing loss, but typically in the less severe categories. They typically rely on devices to correct their hearing such as hearing aids, and will speak and speech-read as the need arises. Typically those who identify as hard of hearing have no knowledge of ASL or Deaf culture.

There is the label of deaf which refers to an audiological state of deafness. People who identify as deaf have severe to profound levels of hearing loss, but will either correct it using hearing aids or cochlear implants or will rely on speech-reading. Again those who identify as deaf may know a few basic signs to get by, but the majority of the time they rely on other means of communication.

Then there is Deaf. Deafness in this case refers to both an audiological state of deafness as well as a belonging to the Deaf community. There is a cultural aspect to your Deafness as well. Deaf people sign, they attend events in the Deaf community, they value ASL and are often activists to protect their culture and their language.

As with any kind of an identity label they are all self-identified and there are always exceptions to any rule.

Which then leaves me. I have struggled for months with where I fit into this jumbling confusion of labels. I can hear out of one ear. I can do most of the things I do in spoken English. I sign. I use interpreters. I am involved in the Deaf community and Deaf culture. Really, for the most part I'd become an expert at avoiding the question when people asked me whether I was Deaf or hearing. I got used to the sideways glances my friends would give me knowing the story that was about to erupt from my hands or mouth depending on the setting. The fact that most of my stories begin with it's complicated seemed to be a dead giveaway.

Somewhere though, I became an activist. The rights that I were fighting for were no longer the rights of a group of people that I was supporting, but they became my own. I was fighting for my own rights to access information and events that anyone else would have the right to. It isn't just friends and acquaintances who are being denied access, it is me. The more I start to live in this world, the more it fits me, the more even though sometimes watching interpreters all day makes me want to remove my eyes from my face and eat them, the more I still value that time. It is time where I'm not standing against a wall or in a corner because I don't understand what it is going on. Where I can hear the noise around me, but not well enough to make sense of any of it. It is time when I get to be fully involved, fully engaged, happy that I'm not making a fool out of myself because I am refusing to acknowledge how much I can't hear. It is realizing how much I hate the phone, how hard it really is for me, and how cut off I am from the world if my one good ear is glued to a device, and how much I prefer to write or sign.

A friend of mine got into Ryerson this week. Hopefully eventually into my program, but for now knowing she will be at the school is enough. We started planning our year, figuring out that we wanted to be involved, both sort of realizing that we wanted the safety net of another to hold our backs. Both being delighted that we weren't going to be "the only one" at anything we went to. Realizing that it was about community and support and having spaces.

After a full day of fighting for rights, and winning the fight to have access, I realized that that was the moment, when I had least expected it. Stuck in an email war against a bureaucratic institution trying to deny their right to make their open event accessible, I earned my D and the identity debate was gone forever.

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