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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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Other things have changed as well, especially the general attitudes toward the deaf.

“The most important thing for me is that people understand us better. I can see that much has changed within a few years in my parents’ neighborhood and within my family as well. I had restricted contact with my family for a few years, but now the relationship is better.”

The change partly is due to her family, but most important is her own changed attitude toward herself. Hilde’s account of a recent party is noteworthy:

I recently arranged a big party at my place. I wanted to invite everyone, my family and my friends. I told my parents that I would order an interpreter for the occasion. To my surprise they were mildly shocked. Why would you need an interpreter, they asked. I told them frankly that I wanted a party where the communication was on my terms. I was shocked by their reactions. They didn’t see at first that even if they understood me, I was unable to follow them.

Well, the party went fine, and the family members had to learn a lesson. Because her parents were accustomed to her as a less active member of the family, it was difficult but not impossible for Hilde to change the agenda. By doing this, Hilde “turned the table” and showed them another aspect of communication barriers that meant that if they were to communicate face-to-face and in-depth with her, they should really engage in signing.

Confronting Her Parents with the Past

When I completed the first sketch of Hilde’s story and asked her for comments, she told me about an interesting experience. It was with excitement that she read the draft:

It was really exciting, and a good opportunity to dig deeper into the past. It was, however, even more exiting to show the text to my mother, when I had the chance to ask her about our common past. Several times during her reading, she had to stop and ask, “Is this really you?” I had to say over and over again, “Yes, mother, this is me.” It was so obvious then that we do not live and have never lived in the same world.

The opportunity to discuss this with her mother was both a bitter and exciting challenge. However, she felt that they became closer to one another after this. “I also used the opportunity to ask my father a few questions. But he told me little; just that he felt that my mother had been pretty lonely in struggling with me and my deafness: ‘Sign language was certainly not my task,’ he said.”

When she asked them if they would have agreed to CI surgery if that had been an option, she got interesting and different answers. Her mother believes she would have done it, whereas her father simply returns the question: “Aren’t you satisfied with the person you are?”

Deaf children of deaf parents, on the other hand, have a totally different point of departure than Hilde, Asbjørn, and other deaf children of hearing parents. Hilde recognizes this by stating, “They have a different type of deaf identity than I have, and they are more readily accepted within the deaf community.” This is certainly the case for most deaf people growing up with sign language from day one. They and deaf children of hearing parents who are immersed quickly into the Deaf world certainly have other life trajectories. These are the cherished routes, often highly valued within the Deaf communities. However, they are not uniform and without challenges and surprise.

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