Over this last weekend there manifested several instances of chaotic thought vying for a spot on this blog. There are two thought experiences that won out, their common thread: identity politics, of course!
[Warning: the following blog assumes a general acquaintance with identity politics in Deaf and Queer communities and includes some ASL (American Sign Language) glosses. Please enjoy with a grain of salt!]
Funny, you’d think by now I’d have a general grasp on the intricacies of identity having struggled with my own for several years prior to and during university and ultimately studying the stuff (hehe, as though it were a substance). The truth is that identity is fluid and especially in moving to a new place with new people and new micro-cultures… I’m finding myself having to reassert and re-examine much more regularly than prior to the move. In a lot of ways I think this is freeing and educating, not allowing me to become TOO comfortable (addressed in a bit) with any situation at any time. Traveling will do this to a person–force you to re-evaluate constantly and if you want to locate a support system or common bond to really search yourself and your experiences. If all of this has you nodding in agreement and waiting for the point well then you’ll enjoy this next bit. With that! . . .
I spent the weekend at the Seattle Deaf Film Festival (the details of that experience you’ll be able to read about on Vagabonds shortly, if you so choose), and after two rounds of films we joined a group for dinner near the University of Washington campus. The topics of the evening harkened to the film content which of course included Deaf and Queer/Trans (capitalization? hmm… future topic!) identity issues. In a conversation with Austin of ‘Austin Unbound’ I mentioned the ballots that were passed out asking the audience members to rate the films. I expressed my discomfort with the identity labels provided in the ‘who are you’ section of the ballot which attempts to glean the demographic of the audience:
- Deaf; Hard of Hearing; Deaf-Blind; Non-disabled (which we all promptly crossed out)
- Male; Female; Trans; Other
After a brief lament on the insufficiency of identity labels in general I stated that I simply crossed out ‘non-disable’ and wrote in an ‘other’ box and marked it, remarking that -gloss- HEARING DIFFFERENT++ HAVE, my intended point being that simply ‘hearing’ would also be an insufficient label for the various types of hearing members of the Deaf community (topic for another blog). However, Austin’s response was at once unexpected, heartening, and intriguing: YES, LIKE HEARING-BLIND, with a thoughtful look on his face.
Hearing-Blind. Of course, what a natural parallel with the familiar Deaf-Blind identity label (silly Mary, why shouldn’t this occur to you?). But hearing people would never identify this way, certainly hearing people outside the D/deaf community would never identify as ‘Hearing’ either. Hearing is certainly, if you’ll allow the allusion to countless Deaf and disability theory writings, an invisible identity. However, unlike invisible disabilities, hearing as an invisible identity is theoretically invisible to itself; not attempting to define itself but seeking only to identify all those which it is NOT and placing itself in opposition to those classifications. This unconscious practice often results in hegemonic ideologies. This is the position of a hearing person who does not know oneself to be hearing. This is the ‘hearing’ I believe D/deaf individuals to invoke in their articulation of HEARING. Because of this, when I or someone in the community identifies me as Hearing, I only feel a separation between myself and the D/deaf individuals with whom I’m trying to connect. I do not identify with this word: HEARING. Perhaps I should? Perhaps those of us with an eye on this invisible identity should move to give it form and meaning? Are hearing and Deaf mutually exclusive identities? (Topic for another blog.)
The interesting thing for me about Austin’s effortless articulation of HEARING-BLIND is its function in obscuring the paralleled identities of DEAF/HEARING in a linguistic subversion of the existing hegemony. This instantly (and temporarily) replaces the identity Deaf as the dominant paradigm. Ultimately, this subversion simultaneously directs the Deaf identity toward the established status of… non-disabled*, and therefor requires that the hearing identity disambiguate. This is a fairly typical mobility for ‘Deaf’, indicative of its multi-faceted nature and its evolution from a finite oppositional classification to a cultural-linguistic identity label, but a refreshingly simple and relatively novel demand made upon ‘hearing’. -smile- So what the hell does hearing mean anyway!? Dumb word! (HAHA, oh the multiple turns of that phrase!)
Some concluding questions:
Would language serve more egalitarian purposes if currently invisible identities (i.e. hearing, white, straight, male) gained cognizant cultural identities effectively joining the masses of mediated and performed identities?
Or, would it be best to dispense of identity labels entirely–or at least their faithful performance–and compel individuals and communities to perform disidentification(1) practices to this end?
*How very ironic, I wonder if anyone checked both boxes? Deaf; Non-disabled…I wish everyone just checked that box!! Non-disabled… or maybe… hmmm oh what are some other fun labeling games we can play with all of that? List below please!
And so is concluded part 1 of 2. The second topic which won its place in my mind and on the blog is shortly to follow. In the meantime let’s play a game! It’s kind of like… pin the tail on the donkey. This being my first post (although I will always remain open to criticism) I’d love to hear from anyone who reads: where are my most pressing assumptions? Please, if you have questions of just want to point out what an ass if been in making a blatant assumption, post below! I have just appointed you my peer editor, thanks in advance for playing the part.