This post is written as part of the “Blogging against disablism day“. I’ve struggled with making this post for the last week. I’ve known today, May 1st, that i had to write this post, and i knew what i wanted to write. I even sat down to write it last night but it just wouldn’t… come. it wouldn’t.. pour out onto the keyboard, what i wrote, felt wrong, felt hateful, angry… i needed to face it down and think on it some more. I’m still not sure i’m ready to post this, but the day ends in half an hour, and if i don’t get it posted.. life will get in the way and the opportunity to face some of my past, my feelings, will be gone. So post i will. What i have to write may upset some people, but i would say that these are my experiences. If you feel offended by what i’ve said.. just hit the X, and don’t let the door slam behind you on the way out.
Among the more unpleasant varieties of prejudice one may face has to be the kind you face from your own kind. Be it racism, sexism, disabilism, any other ism (i feel like the BT advert: “oooh you got an ology!”)… facing discrimination from those who are similar to you.. but different, and on the basis of the similarity.
Whether its a black person hounded by other black people because he’s got a black/white girlfriend/mother/father… the woman bullied by a female boss because she has to take a large amount of time off work because of crippling period pains.. the christian who has to listen to jibes from other christians because they don’t believe in creationism.. it stinks.
Sadly, I’ve faced it throughout much of my interaction with other Deaf people.
I need to explain here, the difference between the Deaf and deaf labels. Deaf is culturally deaf – a sign language user. They mix with other Deaf people at Deaf clubs, laugh at Deaf jokes, make Deaf TV the must-watch of the week. Its a small community – 3,000 or so, across the UK, everyone knows everyone else. Everyone knows the embarrassing mistake you made at the age of 12.. its like family you can never get away from. The vast majority of the Deaf are born that way, or become so shortly after birth. They often learn sign language, if not from their families, from other children at school.
deaf is disabled. Those who speak. Often those who grew up hearing, immersed in a hearing world, and became deaf when they were older. Often those who have a milder hearing loss compared to others. your grandpa will be deaf. Mrs Smith down the street who waves her arms in that funny way will be Deaf. its a common way to self identify in the Deaf community.
The Deaf tend to dislike those who are Oral. By that i mean those who’ve become deaf at a relatively young age (i.e. as a child/baby, what’s termed pre-lingually deaf), and yet who speak verbally reasonably well. Even if they learn sign language and use it well, the dislike, the prejudice is still there. I think its because many of those who were prelingually deaf and yet who learned to speak verbally, in times past have grown up to treat those who could not speak verbally as being somewhat inferior – and encouraged those hearing people who had to deal with the deaf in an official capacity to treat them in a similar way. And i faced that dislike from many many Deaf people within the Deaf community – so much that it eventually drove me out.
I’ve faced this kind of discrimination at school where other children bullied me because i speak so well, and because i didn’t (initially) know sign language. I endured seven years of that, trapped at a boarding school where the staff didn’t care, (and told me it was my fault) and i wasn’t able to tell my parents because i didn’t want to upset them. I learned to deal with it eventually, i had to, in order to survive.
I’ve faced it within Deaf clubs…. from being told to “get out” of a Deaf club because i came from “that” school and i was oral and i put other deaf people down (which i hadn’t and didn’t) to being told “what are you doing here, you’re hearing!” (in really dedregatory tones) at a Deaf party when someone saw me speaking to the hearing barman… to being told that I should stop being “superior” when i tried to help someone by interpreting when there was no official interpreter available…
it drove me from the Deaf clubs, from Deaf culture, from Deaf society. I don’t want anything to do with them. from what i’ve seen.. they’re insular, intolerant, judgemental. That may sound like i’m being intolerant and judgemental.. and maybe i am, but all i can say is that that’s been my experience of them.. and i don’t particularly want to try again.
I accepted a while ago that me and the Deaf world were not meant to mix. and that’s okay, it really is. I don’t identify as being Deaf. I identify as being deaf… i’m disabled. I’m not part of a linguistic minority. i understand my background, i understand where i’ve come from, and i understand where i want to go. And its not within the Deaf world. I sometimes touch the Deaf world – like when i need the occasional interpreter (e.g a court appearance where i was a witness), or run into someone Deaf on the street who starts talking to me when they see my hearing aids. They may be nice enough individuals, and they invariably try to get me to go to Deaf clubs.. but i feel i have nothing in common with them other than my deafness. My deafness just isn’t a large enough part of my life to make me want to go there again.. to make me want to face those attitudes, that prejudice.
My world is the hearing world. My parents are hearing. Michiel is hearing. My children will – in all probability – be hearing. My best friend is hearing. 99% of my friends are hearing. About the only one (and yes, BEG, i do count you as a friend!) who isn’t is on the other side of the world and the medium in which we communicate.. is the same regardless of our disability. I know my place, i know my label…
.. and yet that rejection by the Deaf world still hurts. I sometimes see crowds of Deaf people in the street, signing away happily, oblivious to the stares of passers by. I envy their little closed world, where they’re accepted for who they are. I suppose i wish i’d been accepted too, although i think its too late now. I can’t go back, and change my past, change what made me what i am today.
Prejudice, discrimination, is awful no matter who is perpetrating it. But when its your “own kind”, the betrayal hurts twice as much. I feel for those who’ve experienced it. I’ve been there.