Monday, May 21, 2012

Deaf Identity: My Journey Of Self-Acceptance

My Journey Of Discovering My Deaf Identity
Since birth, I have not heard a single sound. As a Deaf person, I had varying responses from people both Deaf and Hearing. Deaf people felt I was not Deaf enough while hearing people viewed me with sympathy or pity that I was unable to hear. Tears have been shed so many times. My anger reared its ugly head every time when I faced ignorance from both sides. I did what I knew the best; I held up my head and confront the faces of misunderstanding, oppression, overwhelming pity, and fear. 

I never formally attended a school for the Deaf. I rarely attended any Deaf social functions while I was growing up. I had several bad experiences with Deaf culture among my peer while I was growing up. 

I was often told by Deaf people that I looked, and behaved like hearing people. They asked me why I had so many hearing friends and so few Deaf friends. Why did I not attend Deaf school? Why did I just date hearing boys? Why did I move my lips while I signed? Why didn't I act Deaf while signing? Why did my signs appeared to be mixed of ASL (American Sign Language) and ESL (English Sign Language) instead of being fully ASL? Was I too good for them? 

Some Deaf militants said I was not Deaf enough to be a part of the Deaf world. 

I allowed those bad experiences to turn me away from wanting to learn more my culture. 

I attributed some of my dislike of Deaf culture to the fact that I grew up in a community whereas I had to adapt to their culture in order to survive in their world.  The more I tried to understand the world of hearing, the more confused I became. I aspired to become a part of the hearing world because it was all I really knew, and the perceived rejection that I had gotten from the Deaf community. 

My Deafness was (and still is) considered to be an invisible disability. I was perceived to be normal until my hands started moving. People's lips began moving in a rapid pace. I was unable to keep up with what they were telling me. I ended up smiling shyly while shrugging and pointing at my ear to indicate my Deafness. They got the message and began to walk away as if me being Deaf was contagious. 

I attended a public school with other hearing people all of my life. Very often, I ended up being the only Deaf person in the entire school. On the first day of classes, I often felt very apprehensive every time when I entered my new classroom. A thousand different thoughts swarmed through my head. Anxiously, I looked around while wondering how my Deafness was going to be perceived in the classroom. 

This led me to feeling this way: 

I am not Deaf enough to belong in the Deaf world yet I am not a part of the hearing world because I am Deaf. 

Ultimately, I began to feel as if I was living in between both worlds; hearing and Deaf. Hearing people looked at me with sympathy because I had a disability. Deaf people looked at me with some resentment that I was not fully embracing my Deaf identity and adopting hearing people's attitude toward Deafness. I had to, in a degree, in order to survive in the hearing world. I wanted nothing to do with my Deafness. I was deeply ashamed of being Deaf. I viewed my Deafness as a failure. I refused to allow it become my limitation. I pushed boundaries. I fought against my Deafness. It came to the point of me hating this part of who I was. 
For the longest time, I felt I was stuck between both worlds. I struggled whether if I was Deaf enough or hearing enough. I did not belong anywhere. It was a very lonely time for me. Fortunately, I had several close Deaf friends that were going through similar situation. We were able to relate with each other. 
I avoided Deaf world for as long as I could. Then something inside me changed. I realized my experiences I had in my life brought me so many valuable lessons. By focusing the negativity and rejecting my Deafness; I was not truly embracing the lessons I have learned. I realized I wanted to immerse myself in Deaf world and leave the hearing world to learn more about this huge part of who I Deafness. I graduated from a small hearing college only to end up attending a graduate program at large metropolitan Deaf University.
It was a huge learning experience for me. It was when I learned that there was so many Deaf people, who came from different walks of life, and they all carried different thoughts about what Deaf culture was all about. I became less disillusioned as I learned more about cliques, for lack of a better term, in Deaf world. I realized that negative attitude of not being Deaf enough originated from Deaf militants (they felt Deaf culture should be reserved only for those who are heavily ASL, attend Deaf schools, should have nothing to do with hearing people and fit a precise standard of what is to be Deaf). Many Deaf people were just like me
I became more confident with my Deaf identity. I became no longer ashamed of that part of who I was. This experience brought me deep understanding of both worlds. I no longer felt out of the place or stuck. I formed a bridge between both worlds. 
I love everything about Deaf culture; the good, the bad, and the ugly. That's part of my culture. Fortunately, Many Deaf people I meet are wonderful and welcoming.
Matter of fact, the other day; my husband and I walked into Baskin-Robin for ice cream, there was this sweet older Deaf couple that saw us signing. They asked us if we were Deaf. I explained that I was the Deaf one and introduced my husband to them. We spent good 10 minutes talking as if we were already old friends. 
I am okay with being a Deaf woman. I am okay with being married to a hearing guy. I am perfectly okay with having a hearing family. I am okay with having BOTH hearing and Deaf friends. I would not care less if my child is born Deaf or hearing. I am quite content with who I am and where I am in my life. When a Deaf militant tells me that I am not Deaf enough or appear to be hearing, I shrug and no longer care because I know that I am Deaf enough for me and my Deaf friends. When a hearing person tries to sympathize me, I correct him/her and explain that there's no reason to be sympathizing me. I am happy even though I am unable to hear. There is no void inside me. I have nothing that I want to fix about myself.

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