Thursday, July 06, 2006

320: deafhood not militancy



Someone on deafDC called Paddy Ladd a militant, for his statements against cochlear implants and mainstreaming (despite the fact that the man is in another country, where different conditions obtain.)

Paddy Ladd is hardly militant. Listen, ok? Other groups have their intensive studies - women, for example; african-american studies is quite popular now. Religious studies, of which I took quite a few, in an old barn where the moonlight drifted through the roof.

Deaf studies has always existed but it was primarily conceived of as an admixture of educational methods and audiological measurements. Ladd's book boosts it to a new level. Hearing people were already studying psychology; he is attempting instead to paint the psyche.

It is a job for which maybe he is the only appropriate one. He approaches Deaf people both as a Deaf person and someone from outside the Deaf community - his history with music (Bob Dylan comes to mind) is as not-Deaf as you could find (although I know plenty of people who have plenty of Deafhood who would argue otherwise.) He has earned his Deafhood, but he still has knowledge from outside the community. The figure in Deaf history he is most like is not Clerc, but Clerc's teacher: Massieu, who also moved between two worlds. Massieu was the wild intellectual; Clerc was the patient, but sometimes slow thinker. Massieu was the rebellious one; Clerc was the "good boy." Massieu was the rock star, with the cool watches.

Which is much more the point to Deafhood than militancy. It's not about making good music. Leave that to fucking Beethoven. Deafhood is about performance. You know what? I think you find your Deafhood when you stop apologizing to people about who you are and stop being embarrassed by it. You know that old story about a Deaf person who doesn't know their neighbors? You know why he doesn't know his neighbors? He has no confidence. He has no Deafhood. He has lost touch with his human curiosity about the world. He has accepted boredom as part of his lot in life. He has accepted a kind of slavery.

One of my friends is extremely Deaf, and sometimes a bit weird. But he has a ton of Deafhood. It's what finally made me want to be friends with him. You know why? He knows everyone around him. Deaf, hearing - it doesn't matter. He lets nothing stop him from talking to anyone. And he still manages to be totally himself - and totally a Deaf person - while doing it. That's real Deafhood. It's pretty cool. It isn't what you usually consider a "Deaf militant," is it? The boogeymen who, people say, prefer ASL ONLY and say FUCK YOU to English?

My friend zLotte? Also lots of Deafhood. She refuses to be put "in her place" by anyone. In fact, I would say pretty much all of my friends have achieved a degree of Deafhood. I think a lot of people posting here have achieved some. The rest of it - implants or hearing aids, ASL or English - really just details. But a lot of people haven't achieved jack shit, and the point of Ladd's discussion on colonization is to point out how much of that is due to being oppressed by opportunity-seekers who position themselves between Deaf and hearing people, who actually create walls of shame, culture, and embarrassment, and actively promote a state of confusion about what it means to be a Deaf person among Deaf people, among hearing people.

Gay people get this. This is why so many gays and lesbians know sign language. Have you noticed that? They get the part where we stop apologizing for being who we are. So do people from other groups, races... It's in large part what makes up the things some people call "Deaf culture" which aren't cultural but are: the distance, for example, which we like to keep between us when we're just chatting, because of our visual needs (and yes, people who don't sign do this too, for lipreading, and just really for personal awareness.)

Maybe I'm being all hyperbolic and shit, about the rock stars. But really, to me this is it. And if you think about this and understand this, it can help you understand the point behind advocacy of ASL and the point behind concerns about cochlear implants, at least for myself. It's about ensuring the complete health (physical and mental) and independence of the Deaf individual.

Let's remember that there was a great period in this country where Deaf people, like those who tried to attend the conference in France held before Milan (what was the name? Some idiot has my copy of WTMH - I'm so cross) were shut out of the educational process - and this resulted in harm to Deaf people. No matter that the technology now is improved - much of the structure is still the same. We question this because we have a duty to to fix the problems we see - and ensure that Deaf children, like women, like gays and lesbians, have the ability to be themselves.

Maybe that's wild. Some people are Clercs. Some people are Massieus. It does take all kinds to make a world. But that's not militancy, to get back to my original point. Militancy is unthinking, lockstep agreement with a single opinion - and Deafhood as I've described it leaves plenty of room for variation. Has to. The point is development. You can't develop in a cage. (Break out.)

4 comments:

Ridor said...

Amen! You totally nailed on this subject!!

R-

C.A. Fanara said...

Thanks, this was definitely beautifully said!

Keep on bloggin', I'm hooked!

Lonamstven said...

you and I can make good bedfellows as great minds think alike but don't take it personally. it's just a figure of speech here.

jay lassiter said...

As a hearing person lookin in from out here, it's clear that this is rocking the boat of deaf culture.

As a sociolinguist I find this debate fascinating. If I had a deaf kid, i don't know what I'd dO.