Hearing Loss/ Hearing-Loss

Foto 143
November 2011

I live with a literal loss everyday. The language of lack and difficulty is assigned to me: “hard of hearing” “hearing impaired” “hearing loss.” Oddly enough, it’s likely that I never had “normal” hearing. I’ve had bilateral hearing loss since birth, even though I was not diagnosed until three years of silence (really, an utter disinterest in speech). Now I retreat in near-silence, lamenting the interminable ringing in my ears and their waning ability to distinguish between consonant sounds.

“Discrimination,” the audiologist said, “is when your brain distinguishes between consonant sounds. According to your tests, you misidentified 65% of the words. This, compared to previous tests, suggests that you are losing…” Ah. yes. I’m losing what I didn’t know I had- on top of losing what I probably never had. “Nerve damage.. can’t be fixed with surgery… maybe if she got an implant…” Funny how the audiologist mutters under his breath, forgetting my multiple literacies. I read lips as well as I read books, and I understand that, in his eyes, I am a subject in need of “fixing.”

I even had a lover ask me, “If you could be fixed, would you do it?”

I shook my head, “No. I love my ears as they are. I do not feel disabled until you tell me that I am in need of fixing.”

He persisted, “Well, I would fix my ears if I were you.”

I blinked away tears and disbelief.

“Are you sure that this isn’t just a kneejerk reaction? Wanting to be fixed doesn’t make you self-loathing.”

Suddenly, my feet were intensely interesting, and I felt his piercing gaze that did not truly see. Needless to say, we did not last very long.

A few months ago, in a despondent moment I wrote the following excerpt:

  1. Birth Trauma

I am the unexpected. My parents called me “foam baby” because I was conceived in spite of their use of contraceptives and barrier methods. My mother never used the word ‘accident.’ She preferred ‘miracle.’

My birth was a traumatic one. My first contact with the world was an expulsion from a warm, dark space and a wrenching. The cold, metallic tools that wrested me from my nascent space of belonging were the same ones that crushed my ear drums and unwittingly turned my umbilical cord into a slipknot. I did not cry out until they extricated me from the death-grip that was once my life source.

I should not have survived intact. I should have been born with a sign: “Handle with care.” My first breath should not have been delayed as long as it was. Even as a baby, I represented a breach in someone’s narrative. “She’ll never function at the level of her age-peers. She’ll never speak.” But just as I was prepared to enter the world feet-first, I defied their prognostications.

I read before I ever spoke with my mouth. My hands did the talking before I ever uttered a word. And soon, I lost the instinctual, tactile language and its bodily grammar through disuse. I was ‘mainstreamed.’ I learned by immersion that I was not ‘normal.’ Nor-mal. Norm-al. Outlier. Out-lier. Out-liar.

Discontinuity. Perhaps I was the discontinuity in y = (x-2)(x+4)/ (x-2)*[1]. Or maybe I was one of the many asymptotes in the y = tan(x) graph. Whatever it was, I was there but not-there. The should-have-been-there, the intuitive there-ness of being.

[1] In solving this problem, it would be a mistake to be reductive. The principle of divisibility is not infinite. Puns intended.


  1. I can relate so much to parts of this, namely, the “fixing” suggestions. I applaud you for sharing and remaining strong in the face of people who seek to deny your identity.

    1. Hi Sumayyah,

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      To be honest, the suggestions for “fixing” leave me speechless. People really don’t stop and think before they speak.


  2. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I admire your strength and I understanding how “fixing” can be demeaning and unthoughtful. And I agree that there is something important about acceptance of the bodies that we are born with or that others are born with. On the other hand, perhaps fixing needn’t imply that we all need to be the same–to fit some standard. Or that the individual in need of “fixing” is somehow less human. Humans are imperfect–we all need some sort of fix be it physical or emotional or whatever. Some of us, most of us, need to “fix”/adjust our level of empathy. Many of us need to fix our finances.

    Some people wear hearing aids to “fix” their hearing. I wear glasses to “fix” my vision. I have a strong astigmatism. I have worn glasses for so long that they feel like a part of my body (perhaps that is why I have never considered corrective surgery for my eyes). My vision will never be perfect or standard. As you know people who are visually impaired sometimes develop remarkable ways of compensating for not being able to “see” in the conventional sense. In this since we are hard wired for fixing.

    I recall being moved to tears a few years back by the viral video of the young woman who was able to hear her own voice for the first time. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a whole person before these recent technological inventions, rather the technology expands her opportunities to engage the world around her and for the world to engage her.

    On the other hand, in the same way that you were discouraged to not talk with your hands, this technology might also constitute a sort of “loss” in the sense that technology has moved her closer to “normativity” thus diminishing her unique mode of social engagement. Perhaps all of the human stuff is this dance with social engagement. The imperfect back-and-forth between accepting our individual bodies (and the bodies of others) and the human proclivity to “fix.” kzs

    1. I cried the first time I heard w/ my hearing aids b/c it was overwhelming. 23 years later, I am still not used to the constant noise and the effort it takes to understand speech.

      If you are not hearing impaired/HoH/Deaf, you don’t understand the difference between “hearing” with devices vs hearing without them (intuitive, tactile, vibrations). I prefer hearing without them.

  3. Thanks for sharing that. Diagnosing hearing problems at
    birth is often hard due to the inability to communicate as a baby.
    As you demonstrate, people often adapt better to
    a condition when it’s present from birth. Of course, the outside world might always think you need “fixing”, because they use their own frame of reference, but it’s great to see you’re doing just fine as you are!

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