This ASL Here workshop was incredible! Not only did the presenter, Butch Zein, talk about Deaf History (I mean back to Ottoman Empire history) but he also explained other parts of Audism like Colonialism. That isn’t a word we use in English Vocabulary everyday. It has to do with one culture conquering or supplanting another. The example used was British Colonization of India. The presenter made a great point — that it is possible for one minority group to discriminate against other group. He also had us thinking about what privilege we have and how we can use that to combat audism. I guess I could say while I am Hearing — Audism is part of the system I belong to — but I am an ANTI-AUDIST.
WARNING: This post contains sensitive information about and a discussion of AUDISM and HUMAN SEXUALITY. My intent isn’t to offend only to contrast and compare a person with multiple types of discrimination in their life!
My next adventure was an interview. To protect the identity of this individual I will call him Mr. Incredible.
Mr. Incredible was born to incredible parents who love him and wanted the best in life for him. He has a twin brother and while his mom was pregnant she was exposed to Rubella (or German Measles). Because his parents or the physician didn’t know there would be twins, his mother wasn’t given enough vaccine to counter-act the effects of exposure, consequently he was born Deaf.
Mr. Incredible experienced taunting and teasing (we can read this as Audism) as a child and teen. He wore hearing aids and often other children who didn’t understand thought he had a personal radio!
Mr. Incredible’s family experienced a few moves while he was growning up. One of those moves included a chance to go to a Deaf School where Sign Language was used. His feeling was that he didn’t want to go there and learn Sign — this I’m sure had a lot to do with the prevailing negative perception of American Sign Language at the time.
Time went by and soon he found himself graduating high school and going on to college. This is where not only did he begin learning Sign Language he also he had his first homosexual experience. I was nearly reduced to tears as Mr. Incredible told me of the violence, heart-ache and discrimination he felt from the fledgling LGBT community and the growing scare of AIDS. He told me of the anger that is left over not having the appropriate health information when it should have been available. I sat and realized that he wasn’t the only person who had experienced violence and crime at such a young age. I knew of others who had been taken advantage of because the perpetrator thought they had the upper hand. They had stumbled on a “helpless” Deaf victim who was less capable of ensuring the law would punish a despicable human for such a horrible crime. He also described the joy of finding a place where he belonged — in both communities. I learned it can be difficult and rewarding to be a part of more than one community, and while both communities can embrace, they can all be the source of the discrimination and heart-ache. I had met a person who at this time of life was comfortable and confident. Time as it seemed had become wisdom.
I learned that he felt comfort in the Deaf community, it was also a source of discrimination and ugly hate. He spoke of a community that should be understanding and supportive sometimes instead spewed gossip and rumor. Mr. Incredible found himself in the center of it.
His question to me caused me to stop for a moment. “WHY?” his hands signed furiously, “are there no Deaf-Gay clubs? Why do we have no meetings for them? We have groups for Deaf-Blind, Deaf Seniors, Hard-of-Hearing, and support for those who are just entering the community because they are a loved-one are loosing their hearing. Why no Deaf-Gay Groups in a safe place?” I sat guilty that I didn’t know, nor had thought of anything like it myself. I thought of other groups who certainly could use a safe space to meet and find strength in numbers and common experience.
I posed a hypothetical question — suppose you must choose one community and give the other up. (It wasn’t a very fair question — one doesn’t just simply do that, especially when your identity belongs to both communities HEAVILY.) His answer was exactly what I thought — he is Deaf first. Just as I said, it was an unfair question since removing oneself in that manner would be like deciding which body part should be removed and discarded.
Thank you Mr. Incredible. You truly are incredible.