Within Deaf culture, there is more at stake than the bounds of the intimate relationship: to marry either deaf or hearing marks one, proffers one a pass, in the eyes of Deaf culture. Often immediately after the initial identity-confronting question that greets one—“Are you deaf or hearing?”—comes the next test: “Is your spouse deaf or hearing?” In the strictest of cultural terms, to marry deaf is to be Deaf; to marry hearing is to be Hearing. Of course, these strict terms constitute far more an ideal than a reality. Many deaf—and even Deaf—persons I know have nondeaf partners. Still, according to surveys conducted by Jerome Schein and Marcus Delk, over 68 percent of deaf people marry endogamously, with 86 percent expressing a desire to do so.
To marry one or the other, then, is to pass as one or the other. Yet another reason why I have almost, but not quite, passed: when Deaf culture seeks to identify me, it holds up the mirror and sees my husband, a hearing man. He is a gentle man, a generally soft-spoken man—like the Steve I didn’t go steady with. And yes, I must often depend on him in ways I’d much rather not—asking him to make phone calls for me, asking him to interpret or relay bits of conversation I’ve missed in social settings, asking him to repeat what one of my own children has said, asking him to help me bow out of uncomfortable social situations, asking him to order for me at restaurants, asking him to pronounce with exaggeration words I’m not sure of, and often, most difficult of all, asking him to just intuitively know when I want to pass on my own and when I want to depend upon him. It isn’t easy. Sometimes I feel like shattering the mirror: it shows me as “crippled,” as “disabled” in my dependence.
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