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American Annals of the Deaf

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BUG: Deaf Identity and Internal Revolution

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There is no one at fault for this, but there was one crucial weakness in this ideology, which is primarily concerned with identity: It failed to take into account that Deaf culture and what is generally known as the Deaf community are two different things. Deaf culture is only one group among many true components of a diverse and inclusive community. But Deaf culture became the standard for the rest of the community, a standard that was often simply impossible for members of other cultures and groups in the community to meet. After the Deaf Pride movement’s crowning historical moment—the Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet University in 1988; then The Deaf Way, the first international festival celebrating Deaf culture in 1989; followed by the passage in 1990 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, amidst many other smaller revolutions—the community found itself diving headfirst into a boiling cauldron of an identity crisis. What about all of those young people who were the products of mainstreaming programs at public schools and who now constituted the majority of the Deaf population? What about the Black Deaf people and other Deaf people with different and relevant ethnic ties that make them distinct from Deaf White people? What about the hearing children of Deaf adults who are so torn between two worlds, between what is in their hearts and warring expectations imposed on them? What about someone like me, who was born Deaf but became blind, finding that I no longer fit in fully with sighted Deaf people and yet am still a part of “their” community? What about someone like Christopher Jon Heuer, who mouths too much, who graduated from a public school, who at times wears hearing aids, whose hearing wife signs better than he does . . . all the while being someone who cares, probably too much, about Deaf people, who believes passionately in Deaf equality and in the value of American sign in the education of Deaf children, and whose heart quite simply bleeds more for the love of Deaf people than that of anyone else I know?

All of them are members of the community, but all of them feel like misfits. Why? Because there is no room for them in the leading ideology of the so-called Deaf community. What defines a culturally Deaf person is, as it should be, the purview of Deaf culture, which has its own exclusive values. But this ideology has been so powerful as to extend its limiting forces all around it in the larger community. Christopher Jon Heuer has written this book hoping to destroy such forces, dropping a bomb into the landscape of the signing community. But it will not detonate by itself. Only readers can do that, by responding to the words in this book.

That is why Heuer’s modus operandi is an earnest and sustained attempt to piss someone off, because that will trigger a reaction. For every pissed-off reader, there is going to be a reader weeping for joy, so happy to find that she is not alone and that she is not crazy for being who she is. Heuer’s main concern is not whether someone hates him or loves him, but that the explosive materials he offers detonate, opening new space where the community, in all of its parts and as a whole, can advance to the next age in its long and embattled, but proud, history. It is because of this that many readers will try to dismiss Heuer as a radical. Deaf people will do this for different reasons than hearing people, but the primary reason people will dismiss Heuer is because they are afraid of change.

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