Self Identification As A deaf Individual
Updated: Aug 3, 2022
The concept of self identity was yet another thing I hadn't realized was something to have an opinion on until I was in high school. It seems that there are many things regarding my deafness that I hadn't noticed until high school - listening fatigue, ear off time, deaf identity. In fact, I don't remember noticing how others addressed or labeled my deafness. The labels and terminology never stood out to me. But as I started learning the differences and what each term really meant, I noticed that I had a specific preference in my own self identification. Because Deaf and deaf, hard of hearing and hearing impaired are all different terms I've noticed people identifying themselves with. Each persons preference in identification is theirs to make for themselves; it's a personal preference. And there is no blanket answer or definition behind each terminology. That being said, this is how I personally identify and how I see each term.
I don't see myself as Deaf. The word 'Deaf' with an uppercase 'D' associates with the Deaf Culture. For me, labeling myself as Deaf is inaccurate as the culture that the uppercase 'D' carries with it is not one that I live in or identify with. That's not to say I don't relate to the Deaf Culture, because I do. I believe in ASL and I believe in finding a strong and close knit community of your own people. But there are also some Deaf Culture beliefs I don't believe in, and it's not a community I choose to live in or be a part of.
Hard of hearing:
I also don't see myself as hard of hearing; that term implies that I do have some degree of hearing. The way I personally see it is that to be hard of hearing you have some level of hearing and struggle to some extent with it. But let's be real - I'm profoundly deaf, put a band or plane next to me and I'll still be smiling at the book I'm reading while completely clueless to the world around me. I'll look up if I feel something and acknowledge how neat that band or plane is, smile and read on. I simply can't classify myself as hard of hearing if I never had any hearing to be 'hard' of.
To me (and many others in the deaf community), this term is offensive. My hearing loss is not an impairment. There is nothing wrong with me or my deafness. I may be profoundly deaf, but I have a tremendous sense of deaf gain. I lost nothing from my deafness. I didn't lose my hearing, instead I gained a whole new world, and a different perspective. I gained a community of friends and family and a whole new set of passions. Nothing with that much personal and communal gain can be considered an impairment. My hearing loss is not an impairment and it doesn't affect me. I gained so much more from my deafness than I lost.
While this is another term that is used and is valid and genuine, here's what I think of in regards to myself when using the word 'hearing loss': I never had any hearing to begin with, so how could I have lost my hearing? I didn't lose my hearing, I gained my deafness. This concept of deaf gain is the idea that I am proud of my deafness because it's a part of me I love and is a part of me that has given me so much more than it has taken.
I don't see myself as Deaf or hard of hearing, and I honestly don't consider 'hearing impaired' to be in my vocabulary selection. I also don't use the term 'hearing loss' when talking about myself, but I know there are others who may choose to. The word 'deaf' is my Goldilocks of terminology when it comes to self identifying vocabulary within this concept. Notice how I'm intentional about using a lowercase 'd' when I use this word. Deaf with an uppercase 'D' is associated to the Deaf Culture while the word 'deaf' with a lowercase 'd' refers to those who are completely deaf but may use cochlear implants or hearing aids and are not a part of the Deaf Culture. It's the term that fits best for me. I am deaf; I have no hearing. I am deaf and am a bilateral cochlear implant recipient, but even when I wear these cochlear implants, I am still deaf. Terminology does not change when my ears are on or off... deaf is still deaf.