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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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The Deaf Way II Anthology: A Literary Collection by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers

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How to Become a Backstabber

Raymond Luczak


1. Discover The Value of Your Own Deafness.

This is not as easy as it sounds. If you are deaf, many people—including some deaf people themselves—think that you shouldn’t limit yourself by solely communicating through signs, and that if you have sufficient hearing, you should use speech whenever possible. This depends on your background, of course. You, for example, were born hearing, but you lost most of your hearing at the age of four due to rubella. You are the second daughter, and the only deaf person, in your family.

You have been told that sign language is bad, so you watched your hands carefully. Vigilance became one of your stalwart qualities as you sat and mostly daydreamed through mainstreamed classes, and spoke. You enjoyed speech lessons immensely because it meant getting attention. You didn’t mind the repetitive drills of consonants and vowels, and the pronunciation of words you’d never heard before.

One day, though, your life was forever changed. You meet Billy, a second deaf student, who was actually hard-of-hearing but had spent most of his education in a deaf school recently closed by the state, and who uses sign language. You are fascinated in spite of your speech therapist’s constant admonitions; you feel funny when she tries to force Billy’s signing hands down on the table. You look at your own hands, wondering.

Those high school days were wonderful because of the clandestine language. You have mixed feelings when your hearing classmates come up to you and say, “Marlee Matlin’s so amazing,” or “Heather Whitestone’s inspiring.”  You don’t dare admit that you can’t understand Matlin’s signing at all, or that you feel funny about Whitestone’s implied opinion of oralism being far superior to sign language. You are constantly badgered by hearing classmates on whether you know the sign for this or that, and your opinions on this or that deaf person in the media, but you don’t dare come out of the closet. You have nightmares in which your hands are chopped off and your tongue is anointed with holy speech.

Your speech therapist asks you daily whether you’ve learned any signs from Billy. You shake your head no. Everyone you know adores your speech, but Billy much prefers your hands. Everything is so easy, easy to say with hands, and easy to tell on your hands whether the signs are clearly enunciated—the inestimable beauty of hearing with one’s eyes.

2. Spend a Great Deal of Time With Your Deaf Friends.

In a hearing college two hundred miles away from home, you hook up with some deaf students. You discover a world of language, culture, and friendship. High school is a dim memory, and you no longer remember why you’d once had such a huge crush on this or that hearing boy. Billy, your first deaf friend, is now at Gallaudet University. You can’t imagine going away to a school hundreds and hundreds of miles away, and going there without even checking it out first. But that’s what he did. He had been so unhappy with all those hearing classmates in high school, and he’d wanted to quit and find any old job anywhere. You are still relieved that he stuck it out, and that he actually sent you a postcard from Gallaudet, as promised. He wrote, no more hearies. happy happy happy!!!

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