I’m Deaf

I chose to watch the episode of True Life that follows two young deaf people.  Both Christopher and Amanda were born deaf and have decided to integrate in the hearing world.  Being deaf is a condition where there is partial or complete inability to hear, and it many causes, such as, genetics, physical trauma, or illness. Many people don’t consider deafness to be an illness because there is such a strong sense of community, bonding, and celebration over what they can do, but being deaf is considered a medical condition.

Both Christopher and Amanda are using quest narratives to explain and make sense of being deaf.  For them, being deaf is part of their identity and part of who they are, it’s not something they necessarily need to “overcome”.

Amanda has hearing aids that allow her to integrate with the hearing world, but hearing aids can’t fully restore her hearing, so I wouldn’t consider the hearing aids an attempt to fully become physically restored.  She goes to regular university and in this episode of True Life, they demonstrate her quest narrative while she is trying to make the Baltimore Raven’s cheer squad.  Growing up, Amanda’s mom enrolled her in dance so she could make friends with hearing people, and be included in the hearing world. She learned to dance by feeling the vibrations of the music and by following visual cues.  Trying out for the Raven’s cheer squad was a journey because she had to do everything that hearing people could do, without the benefit of being able to clearly hear all of the instructions. Part of her identity is being deaf and it isn’t something she tries to hide from others.  She introduces herself as deaf, she asks for clarifications when she needs them, and overall, she seems very proud of who she is. In the video, they showed her getting new hearing aids that would help her hear better when she is dancing.  The medical professionals that she worked with were very understanding and really tried to help her to the best of their ability.  When her hearing aids weren’t doing the job, they were able to make her softer ones that worked better.  In the end, Amanda didn’t make the cheer squad, and it’s always hard to decide whether it was because she wasn’t good enough, or whether it was because of the social stigma attached to being deaf.  Although deaf people can do everything that hearing people can do, they are often stigmatized and looked down upon.

Christopher also uses a quest narrative to explain his illness. At the start of the episode, Christopher decides to get a cochlear implant in order to improve himself.  He wants to be able to interact more freely with the people around him, and he wants to be able to develop better relationships with the hearing people in his life. He goes to a school that has both deaf and hearing students.  Some classes are separates and others are integrated.  Culturally, I think being deaf is accepted, but not as widely tolerated and understood. In the integrated classes, they show the social stigma that western culture imposes on Christopher because he is deaf.  The hearing students don’t want to be partners with the deaf students and they often don’t take the time to understand what is trying to be said to them. Interacting with medical professionals seemed to be difficult at times.  Christopher often needed to bring his parents as interpreters so they could communicate effectively.  Overall, the medical professionals seemed very encouraging and understanding of his medical condition. Although the cochlear implant allows him to hear noises, Christopher is still considered to have a medical condition because it will take him a very long time to learn to understand the noises and sounds that he hears.  He will need to work on learning English as a spoken language, and he will need to learn how to use his own voice.  Being able to hear is part of his new identity, but being deaf will always remain part of him.

Since Christopher and Amanda were both born and raised as deaf people, I don’t think they had a very significant sick role.  They both recognized their medical condition, and submitted to the care of health professionals, but they have the same rights and responsibilities that hearing people have.  Neither of them seemed to be excused from responsibilities that they might otherwise have.

Illness narratives are stories that people tell about their illness to doctors, families, friends, etc.  They document they way people feel about their illness and how they go about living with their illness and how they go about healing their illness.  Illness narratives are a great way to make sense of illness for the individual and for society.  The teller can make sense of their illness, while feeling empowered and less isolated.  The listener can feel less isolated and more comfortable with the illness.  I think illness narratives are a great way to resolve social stigma and make illness more accepted and understood culturally.

Lecture 4.1 Experiencing Illness. Week 4: Experimental Approach.  ANP 204. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp204-us14/week-4-lecture-1

Lecture 4.2 Illness Narratives. Week 4: Experimental Approach. ANP 204. http://anthropology.msu.edu/anp204-us14/week-4-lecture-2/

True Life: I’m Deaf. Directed by Elyse Neiman.: MTV, 2008.

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