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American Annals of the Deaf

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BUG: Deaf Identity and Internal Revolution

Christopher Jon Heuer

Foreword

John Lee Clark

What you have in your hands is a bomb. But it is the kind you need to hold on to for dear life, not run away from. For this reason, this book is already a classic.

The Nobel Prize in literature laureate J. M. Coetzee once defined a classic as a work that a community cannot afford to lose. I knew right away that Bug would be something the Deaf world needed when, sitting with me on the steps outside of my apartment building on a lovely afternoon in early August, Christopher Jon Heuer signed under my listening hand: “My book: Every essay me write, me try my best do what? Piss off someone!” This may seem like a shallow object for writing a book, pissing people off—a crude gimmick. But it is not. It is a noble goal that, if accomplished, will let the Deaf world grow. I write let instead of make because no one can make anything so magical as growth happen in someone else. But one can provide all of what is needed for growth.

The most important thing this book does to promote growth is to make room for that growth. How can anything grow if it doesn’t have room to grow? The essays in this book are important and have explosive value because there is so little space for growth in the Deaf world. What I mean is that, to be a member of the Deaf community, you have to be audiologically deaf, a fluent signer, and preferably a graduate of a school for the Deaf. For you to access the highest social standing and positions of leadership, you have to come from a Deaf family—the more generations of unbroken Deaf lineage, the better. You don’t really have to be all of that, but the community is structured so that you have more to overcome the less you fit the criteria.

Now, this model of what a Deaf person should be was absolutely necessary. For centuries, Deaf people have internalized mainstream society’s belief that they are inherently inferior beings. Deaf people have been utter outcasts; deaf babies were thought to be unworthy of life and were thrown into rivers. Despite the pride Deaf people instinctively took in their sign languages, they were uncertain whether these were legitimate, bonafide languages until the latter part of the twentieth century. So the Deaf Pride movement had to establish an ideology complete with the community’s idea of the perfect Deaf person, or as we say in American sign, “Deaf strong.”


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