Thinking about being Hard of Hearing

Image result for image of audiograph
I went to an audiologist this afternoon. This is what I’ve been thinking.


Deaf,” and “Hard of Hearing”, are not medical terms. There is no line on the audiogram to mark where one ends and the other begins. 1500 Hz and higher, I fall into the “moderately severe” range. Lower frequencies, mild to moderate loss.

… but how does that translate as experience? Complicting this: deaf, and HoH are not measurments, but places you occupy on different social scales–in effect, Identites.

And Deaf, with a capital ‘D’ designates a culture, as distinguished from just… deaf. Which means, you hear little or nothing… not fluent in Sign… and exist somewhere outside of both worlds: Hearing and Deaf.

Deaf, capital ‘D’ I should add, can include people with normal hearing. CODAs, for instance: Children of Deaf adults. This is not line and symbols on an audiograph.

Oh yes–deaf, or Deaf, is not the absense of sound. There are degrees of sound reception, and very few who are ‘deaf’, measure out at ZERO receptive hearing.

So what then, is HoH? More like… the degree to which you don’t belong?

To which, you don’t belong to the Hearing World, with all the expectations and privilege and bias that go along with that?

About, privilege, isn’t it?

Understanding “privilege,” is so helpful in getting this–getting, that it’s not a measurment on the audiogram, but an experience of exclusion–of being excluded. That’s where so much of the frustration comes from–cause the way Privilege works, is that it’s invisible to those carry it. And if you’re a newby in some Excluded Territory (late deaf, recently wheel-chaired… ) it isn’t always clear who or what is at fault in the frustration and discrimination that follows. Maybe even, if you’re born into that zone. Born black. Queer.  Falling into self-blame… self-hatred… or free floating anger and anxiety … is all too easy. It can kill you.

Same for any form of privilege, isn’t it?

Patriarchy, White suprmacy, homophobia, ableism. You know them by their negative faces. You know them… as their designated outsider, their designated Other. The Privileged don’t see or feel it–and pointing it out to them can provoke enything from passive denial to homocidal rage. The other side of Privilege is a Dangerous Place… it can get you killed … the cop who shoots the driver who couldn’t hear the order to roll down the window. And on and on and on….

Which takes me back to my audiology tests this afternoon. I knew they wouldn’t answer the quetions that had been floating around in my mind, questions I couldn’t quite formulate — but I needed to look at the numbers, at that graph, if only to get what it was that the tests were not going tell me, what it was I’ve been living, how I’ve come to experience myself as Other, in relation to the Hearing World–in relation to that particular form of privilege–so hard to see, because it had once been MY privilege, invisible to me!

I think I get it now… what it means… what I mean, when I say that I’m ‘hard of hearing,’ And I’m beginning to see now the privilege involved in being HoH, and not deaf… which is another degree of Otherness.

I see how, even while I’ve been Othered by the Hearing, I still possess a degee of belonging, a level of participation in the Hearing World, that Deaf/deaf, do not–and THIS is why I’ve been uncomfortable with… why the posiblity of going deaf–losing ALL the privilege of the Hearing, feels (in my imagination), like FREEDOM…. because the relationship of Other to Privileged is parallel to that of Colonized, to Collonizer! It’s THAT complicated!

Saying, “I am hard of hearing,” locates me, places me in one particular place in the broader spectrum of our oppressive social relations. This is no longer, my personal, individual problem. This is why getting a hearing aid– isn’t jut about affordability–but involves so much more! Now … NOW I can begin to sort this out. Now I can begin to THINK about what this means!

Hearing aids: my difficulty with this, has not been primarily about cost and availability–but with what determines that availability. If the solution to ‘fixing’ our hearing, is focused on each individual, each person-it will be limited to seeking  solutions from our individual place in the social and economic order, dependent on that system and that order, the very one which CREATES and MAINTAINS the ‘disability,’ by offering the privilege of normative ability and its privileges only to those who have been ‘fixed,’ that is–made to resemble the normative standard.
When we know, from the Martha’s Vineyard experience, that this distinction is constructed and unnecessary, when EVERYONE,  hearing and deaf, are taught sign language together–a rich and expressive language that adds to the experience and understanding of what it means to be human–beyond the privileged, normativity that creates discrimination and makes borders that create and exclude everything that falls outside as OTHER. Dependence on these technilogical devices, without the revolutionary educational reform that would teach SIGN univerally, is a colonizer solution to maintain power over the colonized.

The question is — what are we trying to fit into? How is it, that our social world is structured around a relationship to power that makes us outsiders. If we are made to feel like we have to search for an identity–it’s because we’ve lost the identity we thought we had–and the privilege it gave us.
Why I think learning ASL is so important–even if we never become fluent. That’s taking power for ourselves, claiming our own identity, rather than begging for fixes to make us function again like the very system that denies us equal status, the Normative system that “Others” us.
Good. Lets make hearing aids affordable for all–but at the same time, raise our awareness of how this ableist system works so we can create our OWN identity, and become good allies and advocates for others, with other kinds of excluding conditions.

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