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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Identities in the Making: Local Lives, Transnational Connections

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worlds and describe them both as being too homogenous and closed. However, she does not give any overt critique of such positions, because she certainly knows the reasons behind them:

In the United States, there are some that are extremely deaf conscious, and where you must be second- or third-generation deaf to be counted as a real deaf person. They also refuse to adjust to the surrounding society, by refusing to use their voice in shops. In ASL (American Sign Language) they don’t use much mouthing either: it is more bodily. But even though there are extremists, that doesn’t mean that this is the rule. Often the most extreme features are presented in the media.

Here, as in other contexts, she doesn’t fancy people who “say they are right and cannot take any critique.” In this, she comes close to Hilde’s point of view, but from a different position.


Anita’s story is in many respects different from Hilde’s. Even though her audiological condition is defined as not deaf but hard of hearing, she has since early childhood taken her cultural Deafness for granted. There was no out-of-the-closet experience for her as there was for Hilde. Anita’s account is also interesting because of her experience of practically being in the borderland, the zone between the hearing and the Deaf worlds. As a young girl with high competence in communication technologies, interestingly she has been able to bridge some of the gap that exists between the seemingly incompatible worlds. At a personal level, this is evident. From a position of fully accepting herself as a deaf person and hence as a person with her own individual potential to be developed and stimulated, she has had an opportunity to follow or create her own route in life more freely. Her “in-between-ness” is also marked by her age and her position as ambivalently deaf. Hence, she is not a prominent fighter in the Deaf struggle, but rather a fruit of the struggle of the deaf before her and of her position as a member of a deaf family. As a free individual, choosing her own route, she comes into conflict with both the hearing majority stereotype of a deaf person and the minority stereotype of a good deaf person. The freedom to choose is clearly articulated in Anita’s story as a potential freedom to grow beyond your origins. In her insistence on this and with her important transnational experiences from the Internet, she clearly points to a transcending social and personal identity—and the transnational character of the Deaf community.

Hilde’s story, on the other hand, is more like a tightrope walker’s: focused on the art of balancing (cf. Bauman 1993) as a struggle in different steps. First was the troublesome period of frustration related to problems of communication and then was a period of denial of her own deafness. After a period of great ambivalence, she experiences a kind of out-of-closet relief related to her acceptance of her deafness and her growing sense of pride. Later, in her adult life, she established a strong attachment to a pluralist Deaf community, which gives the individual opportunities, not strict guidelines.

Hilde’s and Anita’s stories are evocative and defiant in different ways. Hilde shares many of the same metaphors as Asbjørn does (in the Introduction), and the monkey and the cage loom large. Hilde finds a way out of the tragic existence of “fake hearing” and engages in escaping the normalizing forces of a phonocentric cultural regime, in ways similar to those of Asbjørn. Both stories are exemplary tales about the effect of the “personal tragedy” (Oliver 1990) script, but also the transgressive dimension of “overcoming.” However, they also differ, especially when Hilde extends the cage or prison metaphors into her critique of the “straitjacket” aspects of collective forces within the Deaf community. Through this she does not really arrive safely in a communal sense of belonging, even if the signed companionship is highly cherished and, beyond a doubt, a sacred possession.

This is thus a position, which, in this respect, equals Anita’s. Both of them, although differently, have established marginal positions within the deaf environment as well as toward the hearing world. This marginality further may be a central feature of any deaf position because the establishment of settled and stable points of view is endemically impossible. Deaf culture and positions within it can thus be seen as permanently unstable or only temporarily and situationally settled. These and other deaf stories thus contain remarkable testimonies of continual challenges to achieve the safety and stability that others may take for granted—except for minority members that share similarities with these existential conditions.

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