343: what is deafhood? the original definition
Yesterday I sat behind my office on a metal stair with the Demon Queen and talked a little about Deafhood. I explained what's been going on in the Deaf blogosphere, with a ton of extremists taking over the discussion. "But," she exclaimed, "hasn't anyone read the book?"
No. Nor is anyone quoting. So, since I have the book, and I need something to take my mind off of things, here's Dr. Ladd's definition of Deafhood. I cite the complete paragraph:
...I found myself coining a new label of 'Deafhood.' Deafhood is not, however, a 'static' medical condition like 'deafness.' Instead, it represents a process - the struggle by each Deaf child, Deaf family and Deaf adult to explain to themselves and each other their own existence in the world. In sharing their lives with each other as a community, and enacting those explanations rather than writing books about them, Deaf people are engaged in a daily praxis, a continuing internal and external dialogue. (p.3, "Understanding Deaf Culture" by Ladd)
Go back and reread that. It's a pretty complicated statement! First, let's look at the first three sentences. Summarize: Deafhood is a new word. Deafhood doesn't describe a specific medical state. Deafhood describes a process. You can call yourself hard of hearing, be a CI user, be a hearing person who is involved with the Deaf community. Your Deafhood comes from analyzing your relationship to the world, from a proactive analysis instead of passive reception. When you start figuring things out for yourself, in short.
What about the second half of that statement? What about "the struggle to explain our own existence?" What does that mean? When I was a Master's student at Bristol University, Professor Jim Kyle asked our introduction to Deaf Studies class: "What is Deaf culture?" He proceeded to ask us for Deaf clothes, Deaf music. We had to find items to validate our culture. Was there a Deaf food? Deaf water? There's Deaf theater and some Deaf actors, but Deaf culture is not always what hearing people think of as culture. My response was, people continually create and re-create culture. (Most of the things Kyle asked about were cultural artifacts anyway; only a tiny percentage of people still walk around wearing klompen.) Also, there are other cultures which surprise expectations, and cross boundaries between the physical and cultural.
We should not be forced to struggle to explain and justify our existence all the time. But Deaf people know this struggle. Anyone who has been asked "What is it like to be a Deaf person," anyone who's had to explain about interpreters or work out ways to take control of a communication situation before it takes control of you, we all know this. We have all had to summon the courage to speak up, to stand up for ourselves and for others. A lot of this courage comes from each other. I was a lot more passive before I had the massive dose of MSSD exposure!
Now, some people might argue that the reason many people are concerned about CI is that, like the children of oralism or even mainstreaming, many people who are isolated from the community do not reach the point where they can constructively analyze their own deafhood because they are continually "trying to be" instead of "being" - and because, like Ladd states, it is important to have dialogue to achieve praxis (praxis is the academic word for understanding/enlightenment, without the frills.)
I would like to state that this is because of an old saw: "Others see us better than we see ourselves." We need to be able to exchange our ideas with people who have gone through the same experiences. Deafhood can be internal, but this is limited. We need to be able to speak to others and have them understand, and speak back. Don't always have to say the same things. Just have to have a much better awareness of the why and how of our reactions - it means a lot.
It may also be why a high percentage of Deaf people marry other Deaf people. (Something like 80%.)
This dialogue is the key to finding Deafhood. Not rigidity. Not being stuck in your own idea of what it means to be a Deaf person, because you can never be sure whether that idea is 100% of the truth. Artists know this: that's why they push boundaries. It's the reason I have this blog: almost every post here, in some way or another, concerns my quest to retain my Deafhood while living my life. And that's one reason I really like working with shows that involve both Deaf/hearing people. Check out my YouTube Archive for some recent projects. Off to get coffee... feel like colombian roast this morning.