excerpt from Lend Me Your Ear continued…
In the past, too, I had looked to others, more deaf than I, to help illuminate my way through the relationship with my new husband. When I first came to Gallaudet in 1991, I became good friends with a woman some ten years older than I. She had become late-deafened; her gradual deafness was probably genetic and the result of auditory nerve degeneration; her intellect, acumen, wit, and passion amazed me; she liked simple food and good beer and wine; she was the heroic single mother of four teenagers; and she enjoyed the company of men thoroughly. In the fantasizing way, I think, of adopted children who often feel as if they never quite fit with their own parents, and in this time of substantial identity shifting for myself (I was, you see, trying to come out in my deafness), I fantasized her as potential role model, a mentor, a long-lost mother—or maybe sister—of sorts. I held up the mirror to myself and saw her in it; I held up the mirror to her and saw myself in it.

What I watched most carefully in that mirror was my own just-married relationship with a hearing man and the various reflections of my newfound friend, whom I’ll call Lynn, in her relationships with men, both deaf and hearing, past and present. It was not always a pretty sight—on either side of the mirror. What I saw in watching Lynn and in sharing many conversations with her about the dilemmas of life with a hearing man or life with a deaf man was as inspiring as often as it was scary. Either way, the specter of dependence, never really tangible in that mirror, always lurked: to marry a deaf man meant she (we) would be the one(s) that might be most depended on (especially because as late-deafened and exquisitely literate persons we had skills and experience well worth depending on)—and this, then, would leave us little room for the sometimes necessary dependence of our own; but on the flip side (the magnified side of that mirror?), marrying a hearing man might well mean we would come to be too dependent and would, therefore, put at risk our ability to pass on our own, as our own.

When the woman is deaf, in a culture in which the woman is still seen as typically more “dependent” in a male-female relationship, her further dependence on a hearing partner can dangerously diminish her autonomy. Yet at the same time men typically depend on women in certain specialized areas; as Bonnie Tucker has written in The Feel of Silence, her controversial autobiography about her deafness, men expect their female partners to carry out an array of social functions that demand precisely the kind of communicative competence that is challenging for the deaf.

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