I have permanent congenital hearing loss in both ears. When I was a little girl, the first time I told someone I’m hard of hearing, I think I was in fifth grade. The conversation at my school’s recess went something like this:
The Girl: TWAAAAANNA!!!
The Girl: Are you deaf?!?!? I’ve been calling your name.
ME: I didn’t hear you. I’m hard of hearing.
The Girl: [laughs, doesn't believe me] What?
ME: No, seriously. I was born with hearing loss and I’ve had surgeries on both of my ears.
So, of course — because kids can be shitty little assholes — the girl proceeded to pretend she was using sign language and did a so-called “mock retard” move by beating her hand against her chest. Thinking about it now makes me laugh because it was so fucking ridiculous. But, then again, I’m several decades removed from the experience and pain. Perhaps, I should’ve had thicker skin as a child. I didn’t. So, it really hurt my feelings.
We moved around a bunch when I was a kid. I was often the new girl who didn’t have friends in school, and I didn’t really fit in. I’m not a special case; I’m sure lots of people felt out of place in elementary, junior high or high school. Each of us has our own scars. One of mine is that I was sensitive about my hearing loss — mainly, because it was invisible. If I was Deaf, maybe I’d speech read, speak with a deaf accent or use ASL. And, of course, people would think it was insensitive to make jokes about my situation. But, I wasn’t deaf; I just couldn’t hear very well and it wasn’t something you’d notice unless you knew the signs. I still have them.
- My television is never on without closed captioning.
- During summer, if we’re in a room with an oscillating fan, I’ll turn it off or move away from it. You see, the background hum of the motor’s whirl blends with your voice and my ears can’t segregate which sounds are words and what’s just noise.
- Men with really deep voices who mumble annoy the shit out of me. I can’t hear them, and they frustrate easily when I repeatedly ask, “Huh? Sorry? What did you say?”
- If I’m on a street corner and you call out my name from the distance, I’ll spin in all directions to find you because I can’t tell from which direction your voice came.
- If we’re in a crowded place like a bar, I’ll lean into you much closer than others so I can actually hear you.
- In some cases, I’ve had a few people SHOUT at me when I tell them I’m hard of hearing. You need only speak louder; you don’t have to yell at me.
“Can’t you get a hearing aid?” people often ask. Hearing aids (and, quite frankly, sound in general) are more complex than I thought before I started really getting into this stuff. The quick and dirty is this: When people hear the phrase hearing loss, they typically think of old folks. Grandma and gramps aren’t “sexy,” so a lot of innovation in this arena isn’t as strong as it could be …. kind of like how HIV/AIDS didn’t get mass attention until Ryan White got it. My guess? Research about hearing loss will matter more when more people who “matter” lose their hearing. Come on boomers!!! I’m holding out for you!!! But, I digress.
In case you were wondering what any of this has to do with sex, dating or relationships … Rewind to last night. I’m reviewing a sex-related movie that hasn’t come out yet. The film’s people sent me an advanced copy so I’ll actually know what I’m talking about when I interview the director the next day. Sitting on my couch, I’ve just popped a bag of Orville Redenbacher‘s yummy microwave popcorn and I slip the DVD into the player. No closed captioning. I’m used to it. Because screeners are rarely captioned, it takes me 1.5 – 2.0X as long to watch them, rewinding and replaying the parts where people talked so softly that I couldn’t hear them. (You’d be surprised how often actors mumble on camera!) Ah, hearing loss. It’s certainly not tragic; it just is what it is.