Out the Deafie - Stepping Up for Deaf Identity

Welcome to Out the Deafie, a new feature where we get to blow the lid off of deaf identity. And by "deaf identity," we're not referring exclusively to the culturally Deaf. This is for everyone: deaf, hard of hearing, and late-deafened.

What in the world do I mean by "Out the Deafie," you ask?

Simple. What we're doing is, we're asking our readers to send in stories about the first time they ever felt comfortable and/or stood up for themselves as deaf, hard of hearing, or late-deafened individuals. We're also asking those who haven't done so to spill the beans (all of it -- your frustration, your anger, the works). Tell us all about it and empower others who are in the same boat.

Granted, there are those who already have a strong sense of deaf identity. They're usually quick to speak up whenever they feel people are treating them unfairly. You'll find plenty of deaf and hard of hearing advocates rightfully demanding accessibility in the form of interpreters, captioning, assistive listening devices, and so on.

Advocacy doesn't necessarily mean standing on a soapbox and demanding that the world follow the ADA. It could be something as simple as asking another person to repeat what he said (you'd be surprised at how many deaf and hard of hearing folks are world-class "nodders"). It could simply be explaining to someone that you are deaf or hard of hearing -- without having to apologize for it.

However, not every deaf or hard of hearing person feels empowered enough to tell the world, Hey, this is who I am. I'm perfectly fine with it.

Let me tell you, there are plenty of deaf and hard of hearing people who tolerate many an uncomfortable situation because they truly believe This is a hearing world. We must live by its rules. They may not even know that there is such a thing as deaf identity.

For example, there are deaf and hard of hearing students in mainstream schools who receive little or no support. They don't ask for it. They don't fight for their rights because they have no true peers (it's hard to have a deaf identity if you're alone). They grow up believing it's their responsibility to do things the hearing way. They rarely speak up if they can't understand their teachers. (For more information, I highly recommend reading Gina Oliva's Alone in the Mainstream: A Deaf Woman Remembers Public School.)

There are also deaf, hard of hearing, and late-deafened people who, for whatever reason, feel obligated to attend family events with hearing relatives who do not sign or make any real effort to connect with them. You'll find these deaf wallflowers sitting politely with fake smiles galore. They dare not rock the boat.

Of course, there comes a time when people say enough's enough. I personally know one deaf guy who brought a book with him to family events. If he couldn't understand his family, he figured, he might as well entertain himself with a good read. Some people argued that this was rude, but what else was he supposed to do? Smile dutifully like an idiot?

You'd be surprised at how many deaf and hard of hearing people have mastered the art of the phony smile. And quite frankly, it's time to stop. It's time to take off the mask and unveil the deaf identity that helps us thrive.

If enough deaf and hard of hearing people share their stories, it can empower others who've been in the same situation.(Come on, folks, life is too short to go around nodding your head when you don't know what's going on.)

At the bottom of this page you'll find a submission form that you can easily fill out and send to Deaf Culture Online. Again, the guidelines are simple:

1) Tell us about the first time you stood up for yourself and/or embraced your deaf identity (either as a deaf, hard of hearing, or late-deafened person).

OR

2) If you're still tolerating uncomfortable, communicatively inaccessible environments, tell us about it.

That's all there is to it.

Oh yes, one other thing. I hedged on this project for a while because I was concerned the title Out the Deafie might be offensive to the Gay and Lesbian community (they're the ones who came up with the phrase out of the closet and other variations thereof).

Let me tell you, this is no joke. I'm not making light of the subject. There is indeed a "deaf closet" and you'll find countless deaf and hard of hearing people living in it. They may pretend to be hearing or pretend to be comfortable in hearing environments that aren't really accessible for them.

We could argue all day about which closet is worse -- the deaf closet or the gay closet. But that would take away from what we're trying to accomplish here. The point is, NO ONE should have to live in any kind of closet whatsover.

And now, let the fun begin. Fill out the form below and send it in. You have the option of disclosing your full name or using just your initials. Either way, we value your story (and, as with other forms on Deaf Culture Online, none of your information will ever be shared with a third party). Bring it on!

Best regards, Mark




Stories, comments, and contributions to Out the Deafie


Eddie Runyon is a former classmate and baseball teammate of mine. He's a great guy and one of those folks you just love to hang out with. As funny as he is, he also has another trait that I greatly admire: he takes crap from no one. He's said and done things back in the day that I can only wish I had the chutzpah to say and do. However, as you'll find in this story, aptly titled Stepping up to the Plate, it took a watershed event of sorts to inspire him to stand up for himself.

On a side note: Eddie has recommended that I share some stories about the 1990-91 Gallaudet Baseball team. Whew! He's on to something. If we can get past the censors, we'll do it. And, someday we'll share a story of about a notorious group called the 3-T Club that Eddie himself founded. In the meantime, enjoy Eddie's story. It's a beaut. -- Mark

Karen Putz gives us an up-close look at the art of social bluffing in an excellent article titled Calling Our Bluff: Using Communication Strategies in Social Situations. It's a wonderfully candid article -- bluffing is a real skill, and we've certainly mastered it. Kudos to Karen for this eye-opening article!

A.R. is still coming to terms with her hard of hearing identity and shares her experience in a delightfully introspective article titled Still in the Closet.

Kelsie Darcy shares her unique perspective as a student with a cochlear implant in a deaf school. Check out her aptly titled article, Determination.



Out the Deafie - Tell Us Your Story!

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