”You don’t look deaf” a phrase I have heard too many times. What does that even mean? What do people expect.. three eyes, no ears? What is ‘looking deaf’?
Those four words have played on my mind for a long time and have been a big part in my fear surrounding identifying as deaf. The fear of not ‘looking’ deaf, the fear of not being ‘old’ enough to be deaf is all apart of an irrational fear based off real life stereotypes which I’m sure a lot of individuals who are D/deaf have experienced at some point.
Although I have had a severe hearing loss for at least 6 years I had never thought or referred to myself as ‘deaf’. I never felt ‘deaf’ enough. But this mindset only pushed me to feel confused and feel stuck in the middle of two worlds. Using the term ‘hard of hearing’ also never resonated with my true self, to me it felt like a very misunderstood term. I was scared of judgement from people surrounding me and even strangers I would come across because to them I might not look deaf. I was also scared of not being ‘worthy’ of using the term deaf. I could hear certain sounds and I had been under the impression ‘deaf’ was not being able to hear anything – I now know how naive and ignorant this impression was.
In 2020 when lockdown hit and masks became mandatory I really started to notice how much I desperately relied on lip reading to be able to understand and follow spoken conversations. In the April of 2021 I went to coffee shop and remember standing in line running through my order in my mind hoping that I wouldn’t be asked any questions by the barista. I stood in front of the till point and asked for my order. A moment of silence was followed by a few seconds of awkward eye contact (although it felt like a lifetime) between myself and the barista and it was in this moment the words ”sorry I am deaf” came out. I had said it. I had said those words out loud for the first time and I couldn’t believe it. It felt scary yet weirdly comforting. It felt like 6 years of struggling, feeling stuck in between two worlds and not knowing how to identify my hearing loss was over and I had reclaimed my hearing loss as mine without anybody else deciding for me.
It was a strange moment, I felt like I deserved a standing ovation and a huge clap for saying those words out loud. To me, it was a big moment of coming to terms and saying it to the world – and when I say world I mean the one barista standing before me. But nothing happened, he removed his masked and repeated his question and that was that. My big moment was nothing but a regular statement to the barista and life carried on.
I have since identified as deaf and I am extremely proud of this and I am proud of my journey to feeling confident enough to be able to reclaim my deafness and allow myself to be comfortable using the term because the truth is I am deaf and always will be.
So.. what is ‘looking deaf’? Well for me- it’s brunette hair, hazel eyes, 5ft 3 and a little bit of extra body padding (am I allowed to blame lockdown for that?). But the point is ‘looking deaf’ isn’t one thing. There is no ‘looking deaf’ and I think although the phrase is usually intended in a non insulting way it still makes no sense. For me it made my journey harder than it should of been due to the fear of not fitting a non existent look. But I made it. I may not ‘look deaf’ but I am and I couldn’t be prouder.