Wednesday, May 19

Things are weighing heavily on my mind lately. He and I stay up late at night, hands flying, faces painted with exaggerated expression. It takes me many days to translate the hand-thoughts to written English, so intense is the connection between his mind and mine, our hands as the firing synapses that turn abstract thought into language. I am like the Hive Queen, searching long and hard (yet without much interest) to tell you the memories from my head, but spoken language is found wanting when compared to this mind-speak.

This leads pretty quickly into my thought process, which has come under scrutiny in the public eye lately. Who are you? is Luke’s question, and when I answer with vague allusions and the pictures I get in my head when I think of myself, the physical manifestations of me, the class snickers. Luke and I sign back and forth briefly (he says, “It made sense to me”). One of the kids wants to know what the hell is wrong with me. What’s wrong with you, I say, that you answered with your name? I certainly hope you’re more as a person than that.

I come upon the same problem when I meet new people. My standard request is, “Tell me about yourself,” and most answer “there’s nothing to tell” or “ask me specific questions.” Part of the test is what you choose to say—if the first thing you tell me the size of your dick (9 inches? Yeah right), what kind of car you drive, your body fat percent, that tells me something about priorities in your life. So, why am I a freak for responding with poetry and books and love and my connection with horses and other people? That makes me strange, that the things that make up the core of my being tend to be non-material.

In my head I’m arguing with myself over Oralism vs. Manualism in the deaf world. I read Deaf Like Me and am disgusted beyond belief. It’s written by the father of a deaf child and chronicles their journey with Lynn from conception to the age of seven. They provided a strictly oral environment; no “gestures,” only speaking. Lynn is expected to learn to lipread and speak simply by watching everyone around her. At the age of five, when most children are irritating their parents with endless chatter, Lynn could lipread five words (like “ball,” “shoe,” “jump,” “run,” and “no”) and half-way speak her brother’s name. Throughout the book, the father is complaining of his and his wife’s frustration at not being able to communicate with their child—she throws tantrums; they don’t know what she wants. They don’t know what she wants for her birthday. They don’t know that she understands what a birthday is. She doesn’t even know her own name. All the while, they are expecting her to begin speaking at any time—hopefully by the time she is twelve, or they will have to send her off to the state residential school, where all the worthless deaf children go.

He is complaining that he can’t communicate with his child, but what is keeping him from doing so? This is not the case of a mentally challenged child, a child with autism who will never learn to communicate because he doesn’t have the cognitive ability to do so, this is a child with a perfectly healthy mind who is just unable to hear. Lynn is a bright child (as you learn later on in the story), but the parents are choosing to have her spend her entire childhood with adults repeating such drudgery as “ball, ball, ball,” until she finally says it. “Find the ball, Lynn,” and if she picks up the right object she is rewarded with…what? Verbal praise, which is so effective when Lynn has no idea what “verbal” or “praise” means, when she can’t understand a word coming out of your mouth—except “ball.”

Last I checked, those “gestures” her father so condemned would do a pretty damn good job allowing the parents to communicate with their child, but they are so busy being embarrassed of her “disability” that they can’t face the idea that she might be different and therefore—gasp!—require different treatment than your average hearing child.

By the way, when the parents finally caught on to this amazing thing (I believe Lynn was nearing her 6th birthday), Lynn learned sign faster than the parents could teach her. It took her three days to understand what they were trying to do, and at that point she swallowed every bit of knowledge she could find.

The most touching part of the book? Two of them. One occurs at the dinner table. The parents teach Lynn the sign for “name,” and Lynn immediately starts pointing at the things she doesn’t know signs or words for (salt, plates, table, food) and signs, “Name? Name? Name?” over and over, but of course her parents don’t know how to say “I’m sorry, love, I don’t know the name for that, but when I do I’ll definitely tell you.”

Moment number two: the parents visit the only deaf friends they have, the first deaf people Lynn has met. She meets them; they sign to each other; Lynn turns to her father and signs, “Deaf like me?” as if she didn’t know such a thing exists. No, you aren’t alone.

So, because of this book I am full of thoughts about my deafness, slowly accepting the fact that it's not that big of a deal. That it's ok for people to know. It's not so bad to be stared at in public because my hands are flying and maybe my laughter is a little loud. Maybe I'm finally accepting it, and it's too hard to breathe anymore faking everything.

And, of course, the unthinkable (to Oralists, anyway) is happening--Toby is turning Deaf. (Don't confuse deaf and Deaf; Deaf with a capital D refers to culturally deaf, which means you "act" deaf with or without actually being deaf. The same applies to hearing vs. Hearing.) His face is too expressive, his voice is in remission, signs come out earlier than words. If he doesn't care, why should I?


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