9×11 Pen and Ink, Acrylic Ink, Watercolor
I’ve been a social activist, off and on, for 60 years. An important part of my life. Of my essential identity. I want to say something in that connection, about how important the idea of Deaf Gain has been for me, as I’ve come to understand how it’s used in the Deaf Community.
I spent so much time in meetings during Occupy Philly that it came to a kind of joke: what do the corporate capitalists and Occupy anarchists have in common? … endless meetings!
…and then,–working up to the Wells Fargo trial and using it to build public awareness of how those criminals were bankrupting public education in Philly…. until my hearing began to be a problem I remember the first, mass organizing meeting of Philly for REAL justice… how I had to leave when it broke up into discussion groups, because I could make out nothing of what anyone said in the echo chamber of more than a hundred conversations going at once.
Since then, my activism been pretty much limited to joining street marches, which feel more and more useless, and occasional Street Medic support — like two years ago, the July Shut Down Berks occupation (was that two years ago already… or 3?)
It’s really hard to see every day so much going wrong and able to do so little. Reduced to supporting stuff in FB is WAY depressing.
Because I can speak, and in the right conditions, one to one, I can converse ok, have to remind people in a meeting–and while they try, and mean well, if I’m the only one in the room HoH, it reverts quickly back to Hearing Space, where my participation is limited. On the plus side, I can tell myself: ” Hey! Look at me–Old White Man who knows to Step Back and let others do it!”
… but being the Dummy in the room, pretty much makes me feel would make no difference if I stayed home.
Has a lot to do with choosing to go Voice Off in public. People don’t forget it’s hard for you to understand if they don’t look at you, if everyone talks at once, has made me into a passionate disabilities advocate. That matters. Remembering you’re not alone– knowing there’s something to work for. That you can use what ever has shut you out of the Normy World, to better understand how Privilege works–to better understand ways we need to change how we live and work together.
Most of what those shut up in their Normal World look at as a “loss,” … isn’t loss, but GAIN if you turn it to service to others. And that way of seeing disabilities as “losses” is so wrong, so harmful in so many ways!
That’s what “Deaf Gain” means to me as I see in the Deaf community. People who learn and build and create new ways of understanding — Vision of what it means to be human in this world, connection to one another deeper than any of our senses.
There is neither sanity nor reason nor madness under capitalism.
It is all disease. All of it. We live the disease. It oozes out us, reinfecting us daily, hourly. Language is the great carrier. And commercial literature, and art that artists have surrendered to commodification. Even the animals we falsely and wrongly claim to “own” and call “our Pets,” are infected… though less than we humans who have bound them to us.
Choosing to go voiceless in public has been an act of liberation. A discovery. I think there is no part of my chronic depression that doesn’t begin with a denial of something I want. Something attainable. Something beyond reason. Like “coming out.” Accepting that I can find sexual pleasure with men, as well as–and maybe more than I had with women. There was nothing reasonable about that. Given my age, my sexual engagements up till then.
There is nothing reasonable about going Voice Off. It began to emerge from frustration at not understanding what people said, but in acting out this unreasonable desire I begin to grasp that it’s more than a reaction to frustration with the hearing world. The Hearing World is the only one manifestation of what is wrong with everything we call “Normal,” but it centers so directly on the great carrier–language … the swarming spores of the mold of language that grows in our shower stalls, our lungs, our groins, our daily bread.
Deaf Space, I suppose, can be no more free of it than anywhere else… but in coming out, in breaking through the Hearing World, into this different space, one hears more clearly, more truly… for a time. Until the poison of reason reinfects us.
#381, from October, 2015. 29×32. Acrylic on Canvas. I called this: “Self Portrait.” It seems to be moving from hearing, to a visual deaf space, with hands raised and ready to begin to sign… I began to learn ASL in 2016.
In the ten years or so since I began to notice the change in my hearing, I’ve found that whatever inconveniences I’ve experienced, what I’ve learned about Deaf history– beginning ASL, it’s place in the Deaf community–that whatever inconveniences I’ve experienced have been far outweighed by what I’ve gained.
Following the several deaf/Deaf hoh pages on FB, I see this fabricated wall created between sign, and Hearing language. The social and political and medical effects of which have been so damaging, historically, and hardly less now. The discussions and fights on the advantages of techno-props to bring people into the Hearing world, versus learning sign (especially those around surgical procedures to infants to give them cochlear implants), go on as though these were mutually exclusive options.
The assumptions of the advantages of Hearing, as one might expect from a privileged class, become masks to stigma and stereotyping. Language has always been more than vocalization. “Gestures” are as grammatical as speech. Sign languages are not subsidiaries, or alternative of speech, but a natural unfolding out of the larger set that constitutes language.
I’m surrounded by sound. Voices which I sometimes understand, but as alien. I feel myself entering a new kind of Space. Voice Off… it flows out of me.
Nothing is absent here. Nothing lost.
I feel a wish to be outside of them–their world. In going Voice Off, a space flows out of me.
It’s not interior to Hearing Space–but encompasses the whole of it, the whole of which Hearing Space is part… and alien. Present & alien, as Deaf Space is present & alien to those at home in the Hearing World.
The room I”m in was empty when I came. I’m waiting for the play to begin. As people enter, the room fills, fills with voices that merge into a single buzz and thrum (not unlike my tinnitus) voices that are like an analog of silence, more and more closely resembling Deaf Space…or that aspect of it that presses on the boundaries of the Hearing World.
Awareness of Hearing Space increases with my alienation from it–as something Other … as something no longer mine. I feel increasingly at home here, here… where I’ve begun to find myself. Something telling me… that I’m no longer the person who lived in that Other and increasingly alien, Hearing World.
Why then would I want or need hearing aids? No one is ever what they were. No longer what I was, let me become what I will be.
“The modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes.”
James Joyce, from Ulysses.
Other post tagged under “Deaf Space.”
Enter Deaf Space… Voice Off… from the Hearing world it’s negative space. Defined by what is not there. But cross over to the other pole and there is a reversal. There is no longer negative space. Suddenly …
Nothing is missing.
SIGN … can be a ‘second language:’ an English speaker learning French… or any spoken language not one’s mother tongue. But enter Deaf Space… and it is something else. A different reality. A difference greater, and different than, that between aural languages–as important and precious as they are in their kind.
I saw… and felt this happening for the first time at an ASL meet-up. I didn’t understand. Beneath the excitement of learning, and sharing something new… there was a touch of … fear. Of what? And that wasn’t the only time–this odd sense of something… uncanny.
My first glimmer of understanding came a few weeks ago, at an opening reception at an art gallery. It was loud; carrying on a conversation was going to be impossible. That… and out of some deeper impulse, I went Voice Off. The experience was transformative.
I’m not ‘deaf.’ My hearing, under certain conditions, no longer supports full participation in the Hearing world. I began to learn ASL. Three years ago: three classes, practice meet-up, hours a day working at it, and I’m still struggling. My expressive skills way exceed my receptive abilities, but again and again, when I’ve entered Voice Off… Deaf Space… it’s felt like home. Like a baby born into a new reality… trying out my first words (Maybe, better! — Cause they’re not Names in the Oedipal triangle!) … I say that, not entirely in jest… because this may play a part in what has opened me to the Other Side of Mirror.
What one sees from the Hearing world is partial, and incomplete. As is what we see from any one side of our muti-sided mirrors of perception. The problem with the Hearing world…is that it imagines itself as whole. Complete. And divergence, as a defect that needs fixing. From there, it is an easy step to create programs to destroy what cannot be seen or understood from the one side. Just as we are destroying the worlds of our surviving indigenous cultures. Just as they are doing in Denmark, where 90% of the children are given cochlear implants, and Danish Sign Language is disappearing.
… an all too easy step toward genocide.
What I see in my baby glimpse–from the Deaf side of the mirror… is no ideal world, nothing that is not … simply… human… but a vital part of what makes us human, without which, we–as a species, are defective–a loss of a vital part of our Being, another loss among many, with each language lost, each culture, lost… all the many ranges of Neural Diversity, Sexual and gender diversity… Lost, not by being absorbed into some greater whole.. but exterminated. Murdered.
Genocide is no hyperbole.
I choose to go Voice Off in public. As witness. As protest. Because I’ve begun to learn something I feel vital and important, for myself. And I hope… for others.
I went to a gallery opening tonight. Room full of people, makes it hard– not impossible–but hard– to understand or carry on a meaningful conversation. I was depressed to start with. When I went to the host to request a glass of wine–I signed. She understood! Knew a bit of ASL. I’m far from fluent–but something changed in that brief exchange. I turned off my voice. For the rest of my time there.There were people who know me, so I wasn’t concerned about anyone thinking I was playing at being deaf. And they knew I’d been learning ASL. That I was HoH. Others, who didn’t know me… accepted without explanation–one person, inexplicably, started mouthing without voice…not any that I could hear anyway. … like maybe I’d be more able to read her lips. Strange.It felt so.. I don’t know… I don’t want to overexplain it, but it was like– I felt more ‘there,’ and more distant at the same time. People so often misunderstand, misread, just… miss… when I speak. “Mismeeting,” was Martin Buber’s word for this. Something beyond, misunderstanding.I wanted tonight–to give up voice. Turn it off — and not ever again use it.All the way home… buying brush soap at Blicks, a bottle of wine, passing a street citizen who, by his signing to himself, I saw was deaf–and stopping for moment to chat briefly in sign.Then passing the stairs to the subway, I thought I’d get out of the rain–not walk the extra block to elevator to the subway.I missed a step at the bottom of the first landing, fell.. broke my walking stick and the bottle of wine. Did not hurt myself, not at all. The things I carried took all the damage.Was there a message for me in that?I went back to Blick for Modpodge–which I’ll use to repair the walking stick–wrapping strips of canvas soaked in Modpodge around it, as I had done for two previous fractures.And to the wine store.I told my story to the deaf street citizen. In sign.What if I were to take a vow of silence? I feel this as a world I want to enter. A world no longer dissonant, clashing with that of my inner voice. I have felt so torn, so out of place, dislocated. Why do I feel so much more at home when signing at meet-ups–as weak as my ASL is at this point?I don’t know.It’s not the first time I’ve imagined doing this.I can write–there is my link to my mother tongue. But in my personal space… speech, more betrays, than serves me.I’ll take a pad of paper and pen with me.A new way to be in the world.