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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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She was in a way ready for this reorientation. However, she was quite reluctant when it came to practical action, and she didn’t join the club gatherings easily and freely:

I was really forced into it. I was seventeen-and-a-half and knew little about the deaf social life. I hadn’t yet accepted my deafness. My mother thought it was terrible that I wouldn’t go, and she begged me to go to the club. At first I refused, telling my mother that I didn’t know anybody. But finally I said OK, went to the club gatherings, and realized quickly that old friends from school were there and I started to meet them frequently.

Becoming a part of the Deaf community through the Deaf club was rewarding, and she started to join in on a regular basis. The homey atmosphere was one of its prominent features:

It was a place for meeting friends. I frequented the place whenever I could in order to gather with them. If I felt lonely, I knew where to go. But nowadays many friends have moved away, have gotten new interests or become occupied with house and children. It is the same with me. Besides, I am not as hungry for this kind of contact as before. But I go to the Deaf Festival each year.

The annual cultural festivals are held each autumn, circulating between the cities where the Deaf clubs are located. Because the f club activities have declined during the past decades, such events have occupied new centrality. The cultural festivals are more than theater performances and art exhibitions, as I myself came to witness at the festival in Bergen in 2000, where I also met Hilde. Hilde comments, “The most important aspect is the social one. It is so important for most of us to come together and meet with deaf friends from all over the country. Many of us come just to socialize, but some, like me, also come to see the theatres and art exhibitions.”

The first time I met Hilde, she was not yet accustomed to world travel and transnational gatherings. This has changed since then, and now she has expanded her horizon and sense of deafhood. To stay in touch with new friends on the transnational scene, she has also recently started to learn written English, established an Internet connection, and bought herself a mobile phone with SMS, a European text-messaging system.


In her reflections, she wonders why she was so reluctant to make the first move into the Deaf community, and thinks that negative stereotypes about the Deaf community played a major role: “Thinking back, I can see that the influence of being harassed by a man always speaking disapprovingly about the deaf played a role. I was too easily influenced by his negative attitudes, as he in fact was dragging me and my deafness down.”

This hearing man had a deaf sister. This fact didn’t influence him in any positive way; to the contrary:

There was a huge difference between his and my family. My mother tried to learn signs, but in his family nobody wanted to. They also tried to convince his deaf sister that signing was bad. But she couldn’t really care less. She matured well later on and became an excellent signer, with credit in the deaf community but without close links to her family. I was worse off in that respect, because I lingered more.

The attitudes that both Hilde’s boyfriend and his mother signaled were, however, aspects of a broader phonocentric climate that had become part of her and thus harder to escape.

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