So, I know it may be so cliché to say this, but…I love ASL.
Okay, all deaf people and translators…you may now begin to rant about how much you hate “my kind”.
But I won’t apologize for how I am.
I love it. I love the language. It’s language that you can touch. It’s moving and alive and ever morphing. It’s honest and real. It’s beautiful.
My mom used to be in a “music” group where they signed. She’s not deaf, but the teacher was very supportive of their learning and their hearts seemed to all synchronize as one. I used to watch the videos of them in wonder. A language at my fingertips. Little “me” was enthralled. The performances were touching, a song you sang with your body.
So, in college I took a basic American Sign Language class. I fell in love. I’ve always been in love with languages, the small intricacies; each having their own delicate way of expressing a common thought within a unique truth. American Sign took this to another level. When we think of countries, we perceive a certain language. Americans speak English (of course, we have recently been suggested to have a language of our own. I’m inclined to agree), Spaniards speak Spanish, Russians speak Russian, and the French speak, well, French. But woven within our so-called English is Sign Language. It’s still English but with a world and a nature all its own.
So, I took the class. I enjoyed it greatly, much to the chagrin of my teacher. She was a deaf translator for the area and she HATED hearing people. She would cut us down and tell us how stupid we were, treating us like children who aren’t allowed to touch glass figurines. I was very put off. I was readily prepared to have a good time in the class, and doubly prepared to always be respectful for not only her teaching and expertise, but the deaf community as a whole. She was combative and abrasive. In general, I like to believe I’m a sweet-natured individual. I don’t have many altercations with people in public. But she and I butted heads.
I’ve never been a biased or racist person. I think each person deserves the benefit of the doubt and a clean slate. They should be judged on who they are, not their skin color or personal situation. But she treated me like a criminal, though I had not yet committed a crime.
I struggled with sight growing up (as if I need to reiterate. You guys have been getting quite a bit of my personal story and struggles lately). Blindness (or virtual blindness) kicks you in the butt when you’re down. You act like it’s no biggee. Like it’s not a hinderance. But the truth is, it’s a little scary. I sometimes am faced with the reality that if I ever lost my glasses somewhere or broke them, I would be helpless and at the mercy of whoever happened to be around. I could really hurt myself, or worse. Someone else could hurt me. I am faced with the reality that I am, at any moment, not only a sitting duck but a plucked blindfolded one-legged duck. If not for my faith, I’d be more worried.
I can’t imagine being deaf. I won’t presume to know what goes through people’s minds; what strengths or weaknesses they perceive that their own situation brings them. But, I guess I simply realize what it might mean to be on mute in a world of sound. Especially when I myself could be out-of-focus in a world of motion at any time, lost in a dubious pool of colors. I can’t imagine not hearing the sirens of an ambulance; the orders of a cop. And on top of it, the rude people barking at you like you’re stupid just because you’re different. I can’t understand it. It’s almost like they’re too functional.
I suppose I love deaf culture and ASL because, well, I couldn’t see. I understood how my own body worked. I knew how to get attention or communicate distress. I could trust my own body, it was others I didn’t understand. When little “me” watched my mother perform those songs, I realized that words could be motion too. That, though I didn’t understand American Sign anymore than the non-verbal cues I was foreign to, words could be physical. That they could be understood, like a language. Maybe this non-verbal thing wouldn’t be so hard.
I get frustrated with the deaf community at times. I love the language and the way the deaf community interacts. But too often I find myself faced with the statement “We’re not all that different. Why can’t you see”. I’m boggled by this. It’s something I would expect someone to say about the difference between wolf packs and families; we aren’t all that different. Both groups have leaders who rule over the family and pups who are raised with love and care. Wolves, much more like humans than other species, ‘mate for life’. Not about two different languages. Please, come on. We’re all humans here, right? Why can’t we just put all that aside. I’m not that different. I watch movies and hang out with my friends. I have struggles and heartache. I feel love and pain and joy. Fundamentally, we’re the same. Why must we segregate ourselves?
Even with their own, I have the perception that deaf people can be harsh (of course, this is an outside opinion gained only from watching people in action and hearing stories from others. I’m more than happy to be wrong). They are such a tight-knit group that they don’t want any integration of the world. I get it, but then, I don’t. I always get this picture of the Amish when I think about it. In a land where everyone is shoe-less, the dude who gets shoes is shunned. You don’t need shoes..true. But maybe the dude just wants a pair of rain boots. I can’t understand. Each person has their own limits, their own extent of what they want or are willing to take. If the kid wants to talk on tv or get an implant, it doesn’t mean he hates being deaf or isn’t proud of who he is..right? I mean, if tomorrow I go and get lasik surgery to fix my eyes, does that make me any less “me”? Any less proud of who I am and what I’ve accomplished? Does it make me less strong? I’m frustrated that I don’t understand and that no one is willing to explain to me. But, I’m a very easy-going person, open to people and how they feel; Accepting of where people are, even if it’s not where I wish they were. But that’s just me.
It’s also amazing to me the struggle that comes with mentally grasping having a hearing child. There was a woman who came to speak to the class while I was in college. She had three deaf children. Her husband and herself were also both deaf. She had a baby while we were still having the class, and so one day she came in to “speak”. She talked about what it meant to have a hearing child now. That she still loved the baby but she struggled with it. It wasn’t deaf. All her friends were deaf. Her family. Her community. And here, this tiny baby was shaking everything up. You could tell she had struggled with the disappointment that her child was not like the rest of her family. But, more importantly, you could tell that she loved the new addition. They were making changes for it. She had to adapt her music volume. Deaf people listen to music VERY loudly because they “feel” the music. With a hearing baby around, she had to watch the decibel. She had to begin to become aware of how loud her kids were being. Deaf children are like any other children, they bang things around and play and stomp and have fun. They act like kids. But they can’t hear themselves and their parents can’t hear them, so they have no reason to be aware of how loud they are. My mom scolded us if we were too loud, what if she couldn’t even hear us? She commented that it was a change for the other three kids as well, considering that they now had to learn to be more quiet for when the baby was sleeping and such.
I had mixed feelings about her visit. I couldn’t comprehend how she could be disappointed the baby wasn’t deaf. I understood in some part, that she would want the best for her kids and that it would be harder to be the only one hearing. But at the same time I didn’t understand. I would love and be grateful for my kid even if he was deaf. Deaf changes nothing. He’s still mine and he’s still wonderful and it’s still my honor to teach him about being a respectable man. But I also marveled at her courage and desire to change. She still wanted the best for her kid, and loved it. No matter what, she was still a mom. We weren’t that different.
After halfway through the semester, I was dying to go out and meet people in the deaf community. I wanted to learn their stories and understand their feelings about the world. I wished to know their opinions and the depth of their character. First, I wanted to be an interpreter. But with my teacher being so brash, it kinda smooshed my hopes. Then I went through a stage where I wished I was deaf. I figured it would be better. To be muted of the world’s noise. But, we all must find the joy of being ourselves. I realized I would miss music and its flowing symmetry, like water over river rocks. I’d miss metaphor and listening to the throaty call of wolves in the distance calling to sister moon.
I met one or two deaf people who were happy and friendly and willing to interact with me. We had a dinner and they were patient to teach me signs I didn’t know and talk to me so that I could get used to seeing the language in action. They made my experience all the better.
Thank you for that. I love that you had the patience to sit down and converse with me. I love that you didn’t scoff or laugh at me. I love that you looked into my eager, bright eyes and saw that I was genuine and barely containing my energy and joy of being there at that moment. Thank you. You were more of a blessing than you know. You helped ease that ache in my heart. You touched my life. Even for just those few hours you gave.
But, I also met people who were rude towards me. They looked down on me and scorned my mistakes. They talked openly about how stupid I was. How foolish to try to speak their language. How ridiculous that I should think myself ever able to comprehend. I was deficient in their eyes. Lacking. And my chest tightened. I was discouraged and suddenly self-conscious about my signing. So, I just shut up and sat there and watched, sitting on my hands.
I don’t understand it. Not a day in my life have I been a bigot. Not once in my life have I felt someone was stupid because they didn’t know my language and therefore couldn’t understand me. Not once did I treat someone I didn’t know like that.
More often than not, when I’m talking to people about ASL and deaf people, I find that hearing people are just curious. And I’m patient in correcting them. I think the most asked question is “Can deaf people drive?”. For people who can hear, it’s a valid question. After all, we’re not technically legally allowed to wear headphones when we drive. So, they’re curious. They give me wild looks as they ask all sorts of questions. People, I find, are really just afraid to ask. I feel a sort of responsibility to gently answer their questions. Ignorance is definitely not bliss. They should know so that they can be enlightened. What they do beyond that is their own choice.
I feel like there is such a large wall in front of me. I’m in love with a hands-on language. A language others try to keep me from touching. I need to watch people to learn it. I need to be able to involve myself.
But I can’t.
They don’t like me. They don’t want me in their communities and culture watching them. They want me to disappear, my imperfect ears and all. Meanwhile, I just want to learn. I just want to break the barrier. I just want to know their beauty.
I practice my signing where I can. While I’m watching TV, or while people talk. While I listen to music. I get lost in thought about deaf culture and signing. I have a passion for it that’s currently unquenched (partially just because I’m so tired all the time), and it is frustrating when I forget signs because I don’t use them often enough. For a while I just wanted to quit. I felt blocked and dejected in relation to signing. But I try, and I suppose that’s all anyone can ask for.
If anyone is looking for a cute show involving ASL and some issues in deaf culture and interactions between deaf and hearing people, I highly recommend “Switched at Birth”. It’s a little tv show, great for watching people sign. My favorite character is Emmett, who is actually deaf in real life and even gave an interview for the show. Made my day! I realize that some people might find it offensive or a little corny, but hey I’m all about the corn.
So, hearing people. Try not to be rude or biased against deaf people. It’s not a disease, you can’t catch it. So, go out there and learn about someone new. Someone with a unique perspective on the world. Put yourself in their position and treat them with respect. And find your passion! It’s always good to find something you can be passionate about, and to always learn. (p.s. yes, deaf people drive. They’re deaf, not deficient.)
And deaf people. No offense. I love your language, etc etc. But being open to people a little can change the world. Can change your world. I realize people are mocking at times and rude more often than should be legal, but you have to give those of us with true desire to understand a chance. We want so badly to just know and learn about YOU. Dont’ turn yourselves into the people you disdain. Try to be open. Be the person you want to see others be towards you.
So, that’s my post for now. Apologies if I offended anyone, it was never my intention; and be sure to comment if I forgot something that you think should have been addressed. I love you guys, deaf blind and all the other flavors of our cultural rainbow.