Explanation: Today's Twitter Rant and "Not All Hearing People"
Note: eventually, I’ll script out a video for this with cited sources and such.
Last week, my cultural diversity professor informed me, her only Deaf student, that our last movie of the semester would be on Deaf culture. I was ecstatic! I was thinking, “Finally, people will get a peek into my life and see what a beautiful community and culture I have!”
We watched the movie this morning. It didn’t work out that way.
The documentary, titled Sound and Fury, told the story of two families: one Deaf and one hearing. The Deaf family’s eldest child, Heather, age 4.5, was told by her hearing grandmother that if Heather got a cochlear implant (CI), she could talk on the phone and have fun with her hearing friends. Heather got it in her head that a CI was how she could truly be happy and brought this up to her parents, who were bewildered and upset but heard her out. The hearing family (the fathers of these families are brothers) had just brought twins into the world, one of whom, Peter, was profoundly deaf. Peter’s mom is a CODA who said she hated growing up in the Deaf community and being a “weird” kid. This is very similar to some of the comments that would be made by the hearing grandmother throughout the film. Heather and her parents went to an audiologist, who talked up CIs, and then two little girls with CIs: one from a Deaf family and one from a hearing family. The Deaf CI child was happy with her implant, though it didn’t completely “fix” (yikes) her, and she went to a Deaf school; she had the best of both worlds, in her mind. The mainstreamed CI child was a great speaker who was getting along fine in the speech therapy program, but she didn’t sign and her family taught her to hide her hearing loss. Heather and her parents decided not to get the CI. Meanwhile, baby Peter’s parents decided to get a CI for him. The hearing grandparents were happy with Peter’s parents’ decision, but not Heather’s parents’. The hearing grandma (and her hearing son) even repeatedly called her Deaf son abusive for not making Heather get the surgery. The Deaf grandparents were upset at the decision and felt that they were being rejected and thought of as broken.
Peter got the implant. Heather didn’t until the followup/sequel documentary.
The hearing grandma proclaimed that “Deaf culture is dead.”
(Let us set the record straight immediately: if you are d/Deaf/HOH, I do not care what assistive technology you use. CI, hearing aids, nothing, I don’t care. You can be successful with any of these or with none of them!)
For many reasons, this film upset and enraged me. For one thing, it was clearly made with a hearing audience in mind: no option for captions and the camera shifted away from the signers to focus on other things, relying on voiceover acting for viewers to understand. In addition, the proclamation that “Deaf culture is dead.” It’s not. It’s alive and well because we foster and nurture it. But most importantly, it perpetuated the “Angry, Self-Isolating Deaf” stereotype.
I first saw this while my hearing started to go south and I was watching an episode of Cold Case. (I was only watching it for Shoshannah Stern. Heart eyes.) A Deaf family proudly proclaimed that their (deaf) baby was “perfect.” This was met with intense backlash from the hearing protagonists. “A disabled child?? Live a fulfilling life without being ‘fixed’??? IMPOSSIBLE!!!!” Aside from that, the killer ended up being the angry Deaf best friend of the Deaf victim who got a CI and a hearing girlfriend and was happier that way. Deaf Best Friend/Killer was jealous and killed Deaf Victim. And a couple other Deaf characters, if I recall correctly, rejected Deaf Victim’s hearing girlfriend because “Deaf with Deaf and hearing with hearing.” While many of us find comfort in being around people in our own culture, plenty of us still have hearing friends. Hearing culture is, after all, the norm. So, uh, ew at that.
Because of these depictions in fiction, my hearing family developed a stereotyped view of d/Deaf people without ever even having met one. (They pretend my deafness isn’t real.) “They love to isolate themselves in their own little world and lock out everyone else. Why do they hate hearing people?! They should just take speech therapy and get corrective surgeries.” These are sentences and phrases strung together from VARIOUS hearing people. Not just my family.
Once the film wrapped up, a fellow student asked the professor, “But what’s ‘wrong’ with Deaf culture?”
The professor looked at me to answer.
I simcommed, as I usually do, with a choked voice as I answered, “NOTHING is wrong with my culture.”
This is where my anger really started festering.
After reading my reaction form, my professor emailed me to tell me that she “greatly appreciated [me] sharing [my] life experience. It would warm [my] heart to know that although many students sided with the hearing family, a good chunk’s eyes were opened to realise that deaf [sic] people have a rich culture, not just an adaptation to hearing loss. America is a melting pot and we are flawed, but accepting.” I love my CDIH professor, but that statement is problematic for many, many reasons that I’m not going to get into here. But the gist of it: “not all hearing people.”
The same thing happened when I ranted and raved on my Twitter account.
Yeah. I detect the cringing and sighing.
I get it. Not every hearing person I meet is going to be audist and mean. Dude, do you realise that only three of my friends are d/Deaf? All my other friends are hearing and I love them. They meet me halfway and care enough about me to even learn some sign, whether they are attempting fluency or just know a few key phrases. I love them with all my heart.
When I told THEM about this film and why I was quite literally on the verge of frustrated, frightened tears, they wholeheartedly agreed with me. Of their own accord. I did not coerce them. But they have semi-comparable struggles, being from at least one minority group.
My point with my rant was never to say, “I hate all hearing people!” Never did I ever say “all hearing people” anything. My point is that ENOUGH hearing people behave this way that it pisses off and hurts the d/Deaf/HOH community. I had no real intent other than to blow off steam, but if it gets your attention as a hearing person, good! You need to be aware that actions such as these, even if unintentional, can and will hurt people! The stereotypes, the refusal to meet halfway, the “I would kill myself if I were deaf,” the writing of characters when you have done little to no research and/or hired a hearing actor (!), all of that. It is so very detrimental.
My half-black/half-white friend compared it to her struggle of growing up with her white mother in an all-white community: “I tried to blend but it never really worked. Like, I’m still black. I’m still a person of colour. Sometimes I was just like, ‘Damn, I gotta get myself some black friends.’” I think that that is a comparison that more people can try to comprehend a bit easier.
Quite frankly, if you feel the need to shout, “Not ALL hearing people!” when I express the way I have been hurt by hearing people, I’m not interested in having conversation. Odds are I wasn’t ever talking about you, but if the boot fits, lace it up and wear it out on the town. In my experience, jumping to your defences like that typically means you feel some kind of guilt. And I really do not care if you think my anger is unwarranted or that I should be helpful and educational instead of rightfully upset. Do not tone police me.
d/Deaf/HOH people don’t need fixing. We don’t need hearing people to pity us. We don’t need what is forced upon us. We need our language, our culture and peers with whom we can relate.
I am going to recommend some better, more positive documentaries to my professor, whether in response to the email or in person when I see her again later this week. If anyone in the community has any suggestions, please shoot me a message!