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The Problem of Speaking

The Problem of Speaking

I’ve adopted a saying lately: “Nothing is without weight.”

I say this to myself in my mind as I go through my day, as my meanderings are halted with the shock of seeing speaking in front of me when I had barely become accustomed to the relief and comfort of visual communication (on what the world deems sacred space for such: Gallaudet University).

They don’t know the weight of what they are doing.  They do not care to pause and have a moment of self-examination towards what they are really doing.  Tsk.

I turn away with a sense of dismay and haughtiness, wrestling with what I could possibly do to interrupt such situations without having labels of “militant” hurled towards me.  Or should I even care?

But then recent memories knock me off of my self-imposed pedestal.

~

At the beginning of this past summer, I told someone, with all sincerity, that I wished I could destroy my ability to speak.  This occurred after this person pointed out that I let sounds escape me as I had a heated argument the night before.  I was ashamed that I let myself produce voiced utterances, albeit in a moment of passion, towards another Deaf person.  How could I have done that when I struggle with seeing speaking in front of me on a daily basis, within a space that the world looks towards as a Mecca of [only] sign language use?  It was a paradox that I had no desire to amend.

So yes, I wanted to destroy that ability.  Annihilate it.  I thought being able to do so would consolidate my self-perceived tenuous position in the Deaf community.  The paradox that had impulsively occurred would just be able to disappear, and my life could be unproblematic.

If only life was so sweetly simple.

At the end of the summer, I was sitting next an old classmate of mine, from the days of my solitary indoctrination of ubiquitous bodily normalcy through the K-12 education system.  Fill in the blanks—I was speaking.

We were laughing and drinking, as two young people in their mid-twenties do on balmy summer nights.  Unbeknownst to him, I was stumbling among internally awkward moments when he would animatedly chatter away about the most interesting things that I was manically working to piece together in order to keep up.  We know how that game goes.

At the end of the night, as we walked through a dimly lit downtown street, he started a new topic, which I was able to follow to about three sentences in.  Somehow my mind captured one phrase impeccably: “…these two guys sitting across from us knew that you were hearing-impaired and so…”

It was like all motion stopped, and every aspect of my consciousness zoomed in towards those two words, my eyes wide.  He chatted away, but I was still fixating on those two words floating in my mind.

But I’m not. I’m not. I spent an hour explaining all things DEAF, big D-Deaf, A-Z.  I bade farewell to a hearing-ized lifestyle three years ago, and I’m devoting the next two years of my life delving deeper and deeper into studying all things Deaf, A-Z.  He knows this.  How did I become HEARING-FUCKING-IMPAIRED?

My friend picked up on the immediate crash of the good vibes that we were floating on for the majority of the night.  I simply said, “I’m not hearing-impaired.  I’m Deaf.  Deaf.”

“But are you really?  We’ve been communicating just fine all this time….”

“No. I’m Deaf.  Deaf. It’s not a dirty word.”

Fortunately this fellow is one of the good varieties, and shortly after this cultural face-off, he apologized and vowed repeatedly to become more knowledgeable on all things Deaf, A-Z, the best he could.

I stored the event in the back of my mind, anxious to keep having a good evening.  The next day, I uncovered it, and I looked at it.  I examined it.

I spoke.  Therefore, I was not Deaf.  This was a problem, indeed.

~

There has to be a middle way to things.  How we can speak, utter, without automatically submitting to an abstract yet dominant ideal of how humans are supposed to be—speaking bodies? Or is there a middle way?  Are we to traverse from point A to point B, two ideal forms of being, between being widely accepted cacophonous bodies to silent bodies that burst with a visual beauty in our language, yet be thrown against the tall walls of social marginalization while doing so?

When we see the vast array of deaf actors in various media pieces utter phrase after phrase, be it the infamous Marlee Matlin, last year’s See What I’m Saying production, or even MTV-U’s special on Gallaudet University that showcased quite a few students opting to use their voices as their hands puttered away with marginal ASL utterances as the cameras whirred on… I ask: what sort of representation is really happening?  What sort of stage are these entertainers and general deaf people setting, or for that matter, perpetuating?  Are we sinking lower and lower with the weight of submitting?

When I amble about campus and am confronted with a throng of young, predominantly white women in their 20s, clutching their Speech Disorders textbooks and chattering away, it has weight.  This situation has weight.  Its weight hangs heavily within me. It is a direct invasion of the space I hold so very dear as an escape from the twenty-plus years of fierce pressure I bore… pressure to speak.  But it is a weight that I still take upon myself not so infrequently, seeing that I am from a large, multigenerational hearing family that holds only one person who uses sign language to communicate with me.  My ability to speak has not been destroyed, and once in awhile, I still feel a tragic moment with this fact.

I am still left wondering, how might I distribute this weight evenly upon my former classmate?  Or any other hearing, non-signing person I encounter whom I do have a genuinely deep connection with?  Or will it always be the case that when I opt to open my mouth rather than lift my hands, I am lowering my head to have heavy iron chains of social ideals hung upon me?

For us to claim that speaking is without weight, without meaning, without seemingly invisible repercussions, is a position of dire ignorance and denial.  But how may we step upon an indeterminate territory, a territory that is grounded in mutual trust and understanding, a territory that could transcend the dichotomous ideals of being, Deaf or hearing, signing or speaking?

Can we?

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