In a previous piece entitled, “Hearing Loss/Hearing-Loss,” I touched on my feelings about my progressive loss of the ability to distinguish between consonants. Yesterday, after a phone call for work, I sank into a blue funk upon the realization that I could not distinguish between “two” and “three” without reading lips. I asked the woman on the other end to repeat herself thrice, writing the numerical sequence enough times to commit it to memory. After I hung up, I became painfully aware of the constant ringing in my ears, and the crushing sense that it may be getting worse. I thought about it too long and lost my confidence for a moment. How could I trust my ears when they deceived me so?
I had a confidence-crushing moment when a loved one inadvertently told me that my hearing loss was apparent in my speech and affect. It was something about my enunciation. Self-doubt crept into the unexamined crevices and I cried, cried, cried for the first time in months. Perhaps it was my internalized ableism/audism, but my first question was, “You mean I sound hearing-impaired?”
It was an odd question coming from someone whose first language was ASL, who did not speak until age 3. Spoken English was never my ‘native’ language. My ‘native’ language is and will always be one of silence and signs. I find solace in the quiet, respite even in the constant ringing of my ears.
Nonetheless, I do not feel “disabled” until I am around others. The fast speech that tumbles and cascades is just as alienating as the low mumbles. “Why are you so quiet? Why don’t you talk?” they ask. My only reply is that I cannot understand what they are saying, and therefore I cannot engage them meaningfully. In response, the well-meaning ones say, “I didn’t even notice that you were hearing impaired!”
I replied, informing them that I needed them to make eye contact when they speak so that I could read their eyes. Things got a little better afterward, but I still needed to escape to the bathroom to cry in a stall.
“Don’t be so sensitive.” “Toughen up.” Trust me, I’ve heard it all. What doesn’t kill me doesn’t make me stronger. It just cuts at my ankles and makes my journey more arduous. At every turn, I am reminded that the social spaces I inhabit were not created for people like me- especially not Black women with disabilities. I am expected to be doubly strong, on the bases of being a Black woman (“strong Black woman”) and a person with a disability (“stoic disabled person who serves as an inspiration.”) My overcoming is seen as ‘proof’ that things aren’t so bad. My exceptionalism is used to reinforce the status quo.
Yet… to give up or fail is not an option.