Monday, September 5, 2011

Deaf And Hearing Relationships

Deaf and Hearing Relationships
We live in a hearing world. For some of us Deaf folks, we are perfectly fine with dating hearing people despite knowing that it will bring some intercultural relationship issues into our relationships. Most of us have hearing parents, hearing siblings, and hearing family members. We work with hearing co-workers. We have hearing friends along with our Deaf friends. Some of us end up dating hearing people. 

My teacher asks me to talk about Deaf culture to the class. I am game for it. I remember being asked one question during my math class by a guy. He is a skinny little red-headed kid with freckles across his cheeks. His name is Adam. He asks me a question, "Can you Deaf people date?" Then he snickers. The question takes me off guard mainly because he makes it sound like Deafness is a contagious thing that can be passed on through kissing, and mostly because he is being a jerk. I give Adam my classic Ashley's annoyed look (raised eyebrows while showing an exasperated facial expression).  Adam's eyes darts around, wondering if he has made a mistake by being a smart-ass. The silence hangs in the air for a moment. I replied, "You better not ask me me out because if you do then I might sneeze on you and accidentally make you Deaf. Besides red-head guys aren't my type." The class roars in laughter. Adam scowls while realizing that his smart-aleck comment has backfired on him, and he knows that he now is being perceived as an idiot by his own classmates. I smile in a rather smug and self-satisfactory way. 

Throughout the years; I have dated both Deaf and hearing guys...but mostly hearing guys. Most of the hearing guys did not know how to sign or knew very basic signs. Most of the dates were often fun and interesting because something funny always happened due to failed communication issue. One of those memorable dates I've had occurred on one night of playing mini-golf at Adventure Park off HWY I-94 in Kenosha. My good friend, Katie convinced me to go on a double date because she really, really liked this one guy and this guy didn't want to go anywhere without his buddy. Reluctantly, I agreed. Anything for a good friend, eh? We all were having fun playing mini-golf. Katie was hitting it off with the guy she had liked. Good. I was hanging out with this guy named Josh (name changed for privacy). We were waiting for our turn when Josh leaned to my ear and whispered then laughed. I turned to him and shook my head then reminded him that I was Deaf. Josh turned red and smacked his forehead while laughing. Josh apologized and said, "I am so sorry! For a moment there, I forgot you are Deaf!" Then we started laughing......and the funny part was.....this was not the first time that had happened to me. This continued to happen quite often over the years even though I was not sure how one managed to forget that I was unable to hear. 

I continued to date different guys and jumped from one date to next. I was not looking for anything serious....until I met Stu. 

Our first official date at Stu's fraternity dance
Little did Stu know, he had a lot to learn what it was like to date a Deaf person......

To learn my language was easy. To learn how to deal with little mannerisms that came with being Deaf was a bit harder. 

Stu learned very quickly that.....

1) Deaf culture tended to be very blunt

We don't like to sugarcoat stuff. We call it as we see it. We say what is on our mind. It has to do a lot with the fact that we don't have auditory tone to instantiate what is being not said. You know how hearing people would say one thing but leaves something out yet you know what they are saying. Good example:

Hearing person A: Bob and Sally often leaves work a bit early. Never mind that Sally is married. She claims that Bob gives her a ride home to work. (lowers voice; emphasizing the taboo of next sentence).....But that is not what they really are doing. 
Hearing person B: Tsk. Tsk (sounds disapproving) 

Deaf person A: Bob and Sally are screwing each other. Sally is married, but I guess she is not getting enough from her husband or something. 
Deaf person B: Wow! 

It does take some getting used to for a hearing person to deal with the blunt nature in Deaf culture. Stu no longer cringes or shoots me a look of "you really said that" and understands that it is not rude but  one of few aspects of being Deaf that differs from being hearing.

2) Getting Attention

How do you get attention from a Deaf person especially when she is unable to hear? Deaf people have come up with variety of ways to get attention from each other. Stamping feet on the floor (vibration can be picked up), throwing a SOFT thing like a crumbled paper at the person's back, or flipping the switch as fast as you can to get the light to go on and off. 

Stu does not do any of what I have listed above. He knows that I have some hearing left in my right ear. When I am walking away, or not looking at Stu because I'm busy doing something at the moment. Stu whistles as loud as he can. I look up at him, and sigh, and say, "I may be Deaf but I am not a dog." Stu laughs and shrugs and signs, "Hey but now I have your attention!"

3) Informing the other person what you are doing

I have a habit of letting Stu know what I am about to do. I get up from the couch and tell Stu that I am going to bathroom or going to take a shower or will be cooking dinner. At first, Stu finds this confusing. He tells me that he knows when I am doing something because he can hear me in the other room. Then I explain to him that I cannot hear and needs to let other person to know in advance. Nearly seven years later, Stu is doing the very same thing now. It has become our habit to let each other know what we are about to do. This is very common among Deaf-Deaf or Deaf-Hearing couples. 

4) Interpreting 

I am usually very independent. I often do not rely on Stu to interpret for me because he can hear. But from time to time; Stu ends up in a position where he needs to interpret for me especially if we are out socializing with other hearing people, and he still struggles with how much to interpret and how much to participate in a conversation. Stu tries his best to make sure I get full access to what everybody are saying and at the same time, to contribute something to the conversation. This can be tricky and frustrating for both of us. Over the time, I have gotten more understanding and patient, and Stu has gotten better at letting me know what is going on. 

What many people do not realize that Deaf-Hearing relationship is considered to be intercultural relationship because it's two cultures merging into one. It is no cake-walk. It is not always glamorous and fun. It can be difficult and frustrating. Like every other relationship, it takes work to make it work. Fortunately for Stu and me; we often use humor and patience to make it work and laugh it off during crazy moments. 


  1. I love these posts, Ash. They are so interesting!

  2. So interesting! Thanks for taking the time to post these articles!

  3. Ashley, thank you for sharing your experiences. I don't like to cause my hearing boyfriend and myself as deaf to feel bad, frustrated, pressured, worried during conversations with his hearing friends and family. Can you and Stu please provide me your examples and tips about how to socialize with hearing people at ease frustration, rude, and struggle? Thank you. L

  4. Love this! Do you guys have kids. I am hearing and my husband is deaf and we just had a baby boy and I was wondering if you have tips. I am trying to teach our son to sign but often forget when I am home alone and my husband tries to talk to him. But the older he gets I want him to sign and have that communication. Any advise!?

  5. Hearing People make subtle intonations as they speak or listen that indicate what is acceptable to be said & deaf people can't hear those, so they tend to say whatever they want.

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