People are always asking me what its like to be deaf. I know that they are wondering what it is like to not hear, and so I tell them what they want to know: that deafness is the quietest quiet where even all the white noise you take for granted is absent. They are content with whatever their imaginations contrive for them upon these words, but this is not what it means to be deaf.
No one wants to hear that to be deaf means to be lonely. That to be deaf means being surrounded by people who take for granted that their words and feelings are understood. That to be deaf means being left out of conversations, events, groups, and friendships. It means never knowing whats going on, and always being the last to know.
It means watching friends and family have conversations around and without you. You watch them talk and laugh, and occasionally catch a thread of discussion into which you may interject a comment, which, more often than not, has already been uttered.
It means getting little tension headaches right between your eyes if you must lipread more than 30 minutes. It means being accused of “not paying attention” or “not wearing your hearing aid” if you are having difficulty understanding complicated words or phrases. It means learning to dread meeting new people and learning new names, for proper nouns are the most complicated words in English language.
It means learning to smile and nod your head, just so the conversation can move on.
It means being pushed into a working-class or blue-collar life, never given a chance to prove yourself as a competent professional–because professionals need to have “excellent interpersonal communication skills,” codewords for a telephone and switchboard requirement.
It means growing up being told that regardless, you can do anything you want to do, and knowing but not daring to believe, that it isn’t true.
It means discovering, at some point in your life–and if you’re lucky, as a child–that sign language is truly the only vehicle by which you can really belong. It means discovering that only when surrounded by people who are signing–whether they can hear or not–is the only time you can really relax, and not feel like you are working.
Being deaf means a lifetime struggle between two conflicting desires: the desire to belong and be accepted, and the desire to not even bother, and just retreat into peace and solitude.
Every deaf person is different, and we all deal with our struggles according to our personalities, skills, and needs. I, as an introvert, more and more often choose the later course. But I do not wish to be a hermit, and sometimes, I feel frustrated by my circumstances.
And that, more than anything else, is what it means to be deaf. It is not a disability of hearing. Rather it is a disability of socialization–a handicap of circumstances.