My Deaf Identity
I’d like to talk about my Deaf identity. The reason for this is because since I started working for RAD in June 2003, I have experienced such a huge, steep learning curve with regard to the Deaf community and culture, and an assertion of my own Deaf identity and use of BSL.
Although I have always considered myself as Deaf – I was never ashamed of being Deaf; fed up yes, sometimes, but ashamed, never – I didn’t quite realise how un-Deaf I was until I started working for RAD and interacted with Deaf BSL users. To put it bluntly, before I started working for RAD, I was an oralist who did not believe in the value of BSL. Now, I consider myself a BSL user as well as oralist, which I guess means that I’m bi-lingual? Perhaps Alison can clarify that point for me. Actually, why do I need to label myself in the first place?!
I remember Alison told me once that when I first started working for RAD, she and John Savva used to laugh about me being so pro-oral, and they were sure that I would change my ideas before long. They were proved to be right! After working with Deaf BSL users for 17 months, I have come to realise that BSL is a beautiful language, and I find it so much easier to understand than lipspoken English. I also love to produce BSL, and find it extremely impressive and relaxing. Much more interesting than simply saying a few words.
I find myself more and more convinced that I am no longer a disabled person; I am a member of a language minority. This notion hasn’t quite been resolved in my mind yet, because of my bi-lingualism. Does being oral mean that I’m disabled? Or am I hearing? Can it mean I’m Deaf? Is being oral part of Deaf culture, of Deaf identity?
One thing I should say though, life is very interesting. I believe life is a constant re-assertion of identity – as one gets older, one beings to realise things about oneself that oneself never considered before.
There is one problem with my Deaf identity. It has made me very political and very defensive. I can give an example: an hearing friend recently talked about Deaf people driving cars and the likelihood of revving because we can’t hear the engine and consequently wearing out the clutch before its time. I was struggling to stay calm. While it may be a valid point, I just don’t like people identifying weaknesses in being Deaf. Oooh, that’s a new thought. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that.
Perhaps all Deaf people go through this; a sort of philosophical “what is the meaning of life?” but with a Deaf perspective.