I'm Not Deaf But I'm Not Hearing. Where Do I Belong?

I've always wanted to be a part of both worlds, but I don't fully fit in with either.
The author saying "I love you" in American Sign Language.
The author saying "I love you" in American Sign Language.

I’m too hard of hearing to be considered part of the hearing world, but I’m not deaf enough to be considered part of the Deaf world.

I was born with a moderate bilateral high-frequency hearing loss. According to my family, I had enough hearing to adapt to the hearing world and attend mainstream school. I struggled through school, not only to hear my teachers ― some of whom begged for my parents to get me hearing aids ― but also to hear my classmates. I felt isolated and disconnected from people most of the time, even though my mother is deaf and the Deaf world was part of my life. I experienced the jokes, bullying and rejections of growing up hard of hearing in a world where everyone can hear.

Yet I did learn how to adapt to the hearing world. I learned to read lips, decipher body language, and find patterns in daily activities to predict conversations. (People are predictable.) I even use reading to learn new words so it will be easier for me to grasp words within conversations. I’m grateful that I understand at least 85 percent of most conversations around me. I can glide around mainstream culture and act as if I have normal hearing even if I’m not wearing my hearing aids.

If I’m not wearing my hearing aids, I pretend I can hear everything when I really don’t, just to be part of the hearing world. The truth is I miss words and nod to inaudible conversations while smiling. Sometimes, I depend on other people to tell me what’s going on. On most days, that works.

I use my phone flash for notifications and captions to watch TV. I ask people to repeat themselves, and I can’t follow a group conversation in a noisy restaurant. I can’t walk and listen at the same time. I need to see a person’s face to get the full conversation. I have to strain to hear certain voices ― like children’s ― even if I have hearing aids. The aftermath is that I get exhausted more easily. Then I avoid these necessary social interactions, even if I want to be a part of them. These challenges leave me feeling isolated, lonely and fatigued.

“The truth is I miss words and nod to inaudible conversations while smiling. Sometimes, I depend on other people to tell me what’s going on.”

I don’t feel like I fit into the hearing world. But I don’t fit into the Deaf world either.

My mom gave me an inherited connection to the Deaf world. She is immersed in the Deaf culture ― a vibrant, talented beautiful community. Profoundly deaf in one ear since birth, my mother attended schools for Deaf children and uses interpreters to communicate with the hearing world. Her experiences provide her with a sense of belonging to the Deaf world, but they also come with constant discrimination from the hearing world.

There are some differences that create a disconnection between me and the Deaf world. As a CODA ― child of a deaf adult ― when I’m with Deaf friends, my default role becomes that of an unofficial interpreter. I become the assigned interpreter of the group because I have enough hearing to carry a conversation with a hearing person. I remember having to interpret for my mother as a child. I was forced to interpret for her at doctor’s appointments, government offices and everywhere else. Most times, I’d have to miss school to attend these appointments with her.

While the ADA law states that an interpreter must be provided to a Deaf person, the reality is that more often than not, an interpreter is not offered. So I interpret for her, but having moderate hearing loss affects my ability to interpret. I always feel anxious; I have to listen to all the verbal and non-verbal cues of the speaker, process the message, and translate to American Sign Language (ASL) ― all while delivering the message simultaneously to the Deaf person. This is a much more involved and complicated process that I have not fully mastered even after years of practice.

My hearing usually leaves me uncertain of the message and stressed about the implication of delivering it incorrectly. Basically, I am terrified of getting it wrong. If I’m interpreting for a friend at a doctor’s office, misunderstanding how many pills she has to take can result in an overdose. Many times, a person can fully hear the message someone else is trying to communicate but doesn’t understand it. This added stress makes me shy away from Deaf friends. I feel guilty because I want to relax with friends without the pressure of interpreting.

“When I’ve tried to immerse myself in the Deaf world, I have felt that my hearing loss is not profound enough to fully embrace the Deaf culture.”

Another reason I don’t fit entirely into the Deaf world is that I don’t need to use some of the resources available to that community. I don’t personally use an interpreter to communicate. I don’t need a flashing doorbell or flashing smoke alarms. I don’t need video phones. I learned ASL as a child but I mainly communicate with my voice, speaking English or Spanish to friends and family.

When I’ve tried to immerse myself in the Deaf world, I have felt that my hearing loss is not profound enough to fully embrace the Deaf culture. In the past, I’ve been discouraged from using my voice and pushed to only communicate in ASL. But using my voice is part of who I am, not a denial of the Deaf culture.

I have a hearing husband and two sons, one whom is hard of hearing. None of them have fully mastered ASL. Learning a language is difficult and requires years of practice. Even if my husband and sons take the time to learn the language, they may never be completely fluent. Thus, we still use our voices at home when we communicate.

Don’t get me wrong, the Deaf community has been welcoming to me. I’ve always wanted to feel like I belonged in both the Deaf and hearing worlds, but I don’t fully feel a part of either.

As I continue my journey, I realize how badly I need more accessibility, compassion and acceptance from the hearing world. I don’t use the same resources other people with hearing loss may request, but I still need certain accommodations. I rely on subtitles, and as a consumer of all media platforms, I still find gaps when I access videos. Video feeds have expanded; the option to caption videos in all platforms should expand as well. This is especially true for live video streams such as Instagram Live. As a creator of Facebook and Instagram videos, I find myself with limited captioning options, so I understand the limitations. Yet it is a necessary feature.

“As noisy as the world is, I’m amazed at how we take for granted that someone ― with or without a hearing loss ― can hear or understand us.”

Face-to-face conversations are perfect opportunities to show compassion. It’s helpful when people look at me while they speak and don’t get frustrated if I ask them to repeat themselves. It’s hard for me to hear people when they cover their mouths, turn away from me or talk to me from another room. Some people get frustrated when I ask them to repeat themselves, and their first response is to say, “nevermind.” Nevermind sounds to me like “You are not worth my time.” As noisy as the world is, I’m amazed at how we take for granted that someone ― with or without a hearing loss ― can hear or understand us.

Above all, I would like for people to accept that despite my hearing loss, I can accomplish anything I want. I’m neither lucky nor unlucky. I’m a professional writer, a data analyst, and I’m successful in my life. My hearing loss is not a hindrance. My hearing loss does not determine my intelligence, skills, talent, focus or the lack thereof. I am hard of hearing and I work hard to succeed. I use all the resources I need to make my life work for me. Any hinderance I face comes from the unacceptability of my uniqueness.

I invite the hearing world to embrace our differences so we can learn from each other and create a new world full of opportunities and adventures for everyone.

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