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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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The envy of the “orally successful” students, the pressure toward normalization, and the misguidance from a teacher were among the forces that made her return to and stay in the oral track. She was certainly fooled to believe that she was a good speaker, and when she partly realized this, she simply multiplied her efforts. At this point, her story has a striking resemblance to some of the “oral success stories” discussed in Chapter One, in which the pride of selfhood resides in one’s degree of success in the hearing world:

When I was thirteen, I insisted on getting proper speech training, using thirteen hours extra each week to make myself more understandable. Moving to yet another school, the secondary school, there were two options. I chose the school for the hard of hearing because it was a small school. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be. Most of my friends were at the other school, but I stayed at the school where signing was totally banned.

The situation described was paradoxical: staying in an environment banning her from her most effective means of communication with the world. She really had alternatives, but as she continues, the paradox becomes more understandable:

I did not accept myself as deaf. My family and local environment did not give me the means to appreciate that side of my self. I was the only local deaf person and what I heard about deaf persons was almost exclusively negative. The “deaf and dumb” (døv og dum) stereotype was around me and became part of my own perspective. I was constantly trying to be part of my hearing environment, but of course I couldn’t pass as a hearing person. I was constantly frustrated, never getting access to what others were speaking about. I was furious all the time, and my family has never understood why. I was considered a difficult child. When I was fifteen I got a hearing boyfriend. I got in touch with him through his deaf brother. Soon after I became pregnant and before I was seventeen I was a mother! Still I hadn’t accepted my deafness, and my husband meant that deaf persons were stupid. I tried to take him with me to deaf friends, but he couldn’t really accept them.

The Turning Point: Escaping the Blind Alley

She realizes that she is never going to pass as a hearing person and she understands that her present pathway is a misguided one:

Gradually, I discovered that something was fundamentally wrong, even if I tried hard to integrate in the hearing environment. I was never going to be a hearing person! At the age of eighteen I was left alone with my child, and started to visit the deaf club. Here I also found a new friend. I began to accept my deafness, and gradually I acquired a sense of pride for being deaf. Being able to communicate freely inspired me. I started to enjoy the sensation that others could really understand me. This made me proud of myself and I became more self-confident. I was not ashamed anymore because I realized that I was able to do whatever I liked. So, sign language has really made a difference in my life.

Her acceptance of herself as deaf clearly came as a relief and as a sense of rescue, resembling gay and lesbian “out-of-the-closet” experiences. As such, it represents a true turning point in her life, resembling a “bornagain” religious conversion:

I felt as if I had been given a new life, when I began accepting myself as deaf. I got more out of life and the companionship with other deaf persons. We shared the same identity, the same culture, that we were facing the same problems of communication and language in society. It was an intensive period of my life. It was a pleasure to mingle more freely with other deaf persons. The new experiences made a long-lasting impression on me. But it took too much time, and too much suffering.

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