But in situations in which animation affords me no control—in social settings with more than two in the conversation, for example, or as a student in the classroom—I resort quite rhetorically to another strategy: I disappear to what my mother and sisters called “Brenda’s La-La Land.” I just fade away, withdraw from the conversation. Here it is safer not to speak at all. For if I do, I am sure to be off-topic, three steps behind, completely out of sync with the others. Or even worse, if I speak, someone might ask me a question—a question I would struggle to hear, would have to ask to be repeated (probably more than once), would fail then to answer with wit, intelligence, clarity, quickness. Passing is treacherous going here, so I usually choose not to even venture out, not to cross over the mythical yellow line that marks the divide between d/Deaf and h/Hearing.
When I do venture out or across, I’ve been trapped more than once—have talked myself right back into the deaf corner. You see, when I talk, people sometimes wonder. “Where are you from? You have quite an accent,” I have heard times too innumerable to count—and usually from near strangers. The question is, I suppose, innocent enough. But my answer apparently isn’t. For many years I used to pass myself off as German; it was easy enough since my grandparents were quite German and I, as the child of an army family in the 1950s, was born in Germany. Of course, having grandparents who once spoke the language and having lived there, attached to the U.S. Army, for only the first four years of my life didn’t really qualify me as a native speaker, complete with an accent. But my interlocutors didn’t need to know any of that; when I said “German,” they were satisfied. “Oh yes,” they nodded, completely in understanding.
But some years ago, as another act of coming out, I stopped answering “German.” First I tried out a simple, direct, “I’m deaf.” But the result was too startling—it rendered my audience deaf and dumb. They sputtered, they stared at me speechlessly, they went away—fast. It quite unhinged them.
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