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On Deafness and Being Heard

Shlomo's picture

I've been thinking more about what rachelr said in her post and what we discussed in class about the repetitive nature of Eli Clare's book.  I remembered an experience I had that helped me better understand the Clare's repitition, so I will share it in the hope that whoever reads it might gain something from it.

Last summer, I interned with a judge who worked with both civil and criminal cases.  One of the cases I got to sit in on had been brought by a deaf woman.  In court, when a questioning attorney asks a question, the witness is supposed to just answer that question, not add anything else.  But whenever this woman was asked a question about what had happened, she not only answered the question; she went on at great length about other details until the judge inevitably cut her off.  It was strange and somewhat frustrating.  I had trouble understanding why she kept over-answering after both attorneys and the judge asked her to stop.

One of her interpreters (there were two; American sign language is not like many spoken languages where each sentence can only be interpreted one way, so they like to have two interpreters work together to make sure that the correct meaning is conveyed) was able to shed some light on the situation.  She said that among the deaf community, it is common to be overly repetitive or long-worded when telling a story or sharing an opinion.  This stems from the feeling of the community (not a universal, stereotyped feeling, but a common feeling nonetheless) that they are not heard.  They feel that that they are not listened to and not fully understood.  So as a way of forcing others to pay more attention and hopefully gain a better understanding, many deaf people express themselves wordily and repetitively.

I know Eli Clare isn't deaf, and I also know that to put all disabled people in a common box perpetuates the "normal myth" and the idea that all disabled people are the same.  However, I think that the deaf metaphor deserves to be extended not just to disabled people, but to all marginalized people.  Anyone who has ever felt shunned or kicked to the wayside by society likely fears that they will never be truly heard or understood.  This could explain, at least partly, why Clare is so over-persistent in driving his points home.  He has, at various times in his life, been a part of various marginalized groups: disabled people, women, lesbians, working class people.  With so many overlapping marginalizations and oppressions, I would imagine that being heard is a definite concern.  I worry about being heard, and the only one of these that applies to me is womanhood.