Technology: Deaf Dating Hearing

The other day I watched this amazing (15 minute) short film about a hearing man that falls for a Deaf girl:

It was well done culturally, though everything is emphatic. But it trying to educate, so I get that.

The signs are Auslan (Australian Sign Language), so it is not a way to pick up American Sign Language, but the cultural depictions are really good and very accurate (though most of my Deaf friends would be more kind than the ones in that scene). I would also hope that my hearing friends wouldn’t be as rude and insulting as the example in the stairwell.

It really resonated with a lot I have been thinking about lately, and I was glad to have found the film.

If I did not have cochlear implants, there is no way I would be living here and dating someone from another city. It would just be too hard, almost impossible.

But that’s what the cochlear implants do: keep making the impossible possible.

That said, sign language is still very important, in a lot of ways. Cochlear implants don’t make me un-Deaf.

Nathan and I have talked about it, and he is learning some on his own, and he will take classes when he moves here.

His parents are already taking local classes. I didn’t ask them to, they just found a teacher and arranged it. It makes me cry, and I think it is so sweet and supportive and participatory.

All of them actually have a good foundation already, even in concept and neuropathways from back in the day, because Nathan’s sister was deaf. It’s a crazy story, a classic Emily World story, but that’s not the story I am telling today. The point is that they all learned some sign language when Nathan was young. This means that even we are not starting from scratch, and just have to wake it all up and build from there. I love that it is a part of our story (way to take one for the team, sister-in-law!).

But seriously, the whole Deaf-hearing thing has been something we have talked about a little. Nathan understands that besides those times when I don’t wear my processors – like in the rain, swimming, in the mornings, at the end of the day, when I am sick, or when I am tired, etc. – it is always the language of my heart. It is the language I will teach my children, whether they can hear or not (yay for bilingual, trilingual, quintilingual babies!). I do love my cochlear implants, and they are amazing, but sign language will always be a part of me.

This is why it was so special he proposed to me in sign. I will never forget it.

Actually, it was so amazing, and I was so blown away by such a simple but hugely significant gift to me that he had to ask me twice. I was too stunned the first time to answer. Stunned in a good way! It was amazing!

Besides any theoretical discussion, Nathan and I have already experienced and learned many of the cultural pieces. He knows that I have to see him to hear him, that I can only hear one sound at a time, and that I use a special microphone in the car to be able to hear above car sounds. He knows to repeat what he says the same way if I don’t understand, rather than saying it a different way and making me start all over trying to understand. We are signed up for TAP, the organization in New York City that schedules ASL interpretations on Broadway. We know which musicals on Broadway have open captions available for every show. We have chosen the interpreters for our sealing and reception, talked about open captions at the movies, and he has seen my fancy equipment I use at church. He has been there when I had to try different settings in a restaurant, and we are learning together how to clarify sounds or speaking or communication in ways that are different culturally or sensory-ily, and doing a good job of learning together. It is a challenge, and requires a lot of learning for both of us.

I don’t mean that it is all hard, because lots of it is good. This week we had a date on FaceTime, and that is so much easier than the phone because I can lip read and will not have to work so hard. I can be more relaxed, and enjoy the conversation for what it is, rather than just working to understand. I was so excited, and so grateful for technology! To me, every second was a miracle – both for technology and for him – and what marvelous timing that God has sent me both, to make for such an incredible experience. I am so grateful.

The question the movie brought up for me, actually, wasn’t about dating so much as it was about technology. I am not worried about Nathan, long as we keep learning together. But the technology things, which are such miracles, are changing so fast!

In the short film, they demonstrate how to use relay to make phone calls between Deaf and hearing. The film is new enough that they use online relay (that’s who sponsored the film, too, so I am sure that was part of it), and so didn’t even show how to use a TTY.

Not only that, but there was no videophone (VP) used in the film.

That’s when I realized that, other than work when I have to be more professional, I really don’t use VP that much anymore.

I have online relay (like in the film) and video relay on my laptop, and have FaceTime and Skype on my phone and my laptop.

I don’t think my VP at home even works since mom got satellite. Not that anything is wrong with satellite, but that’s when it got unplugged, when all the cords got shuffled around. I think I only use the one at my office now. VP was once a miracle, but now with FaceTime and Skype – especially since I am rarely at home or in my office – it is just almost un-necessary.

So it was an interesting moment of grieving, a moment to remember technology that I once relied on but now is ancient and passed its time, both because I don’t rely on it anymore and because new technology has surpassed it.

Regardless, I reflected on how special it was to have chosen well someone who understands the importance of my language and its culture, with a willingness to meet halfway. That’s the first requirement for any relationship, no matter the culture or communication issues. It says a lot about him and his family, and it makes me love them even more. I love that they are not just willing to try, but having some initiative and really working at it. That is such a gift to my heart!

It also brings me great comfort. I think of the moments I want to share that are not a time I can keep the implants on my head. I remember last year in crisis with my father in the hospital and trying to keep them charged, or when the days and nights blended together and I just couldn’t keep them on my head that much. It is a great comfort to me that I will not be abandoned or isolated in those moments in our future, all of which surely come just as much as the moments of joy: dancing in the rain, jumping in the pool, running through the park.

I won’t always have my cochlear implants on my head every single second of our future together.

Probably not even half.

But I will always have love in my heart and words on my hands.

For a “short and sweet” hearing/Deaf dating short film, see this one below. The problem, though, with this one, is that the girl wears headphones to pretend that’s why she doesn’t notice sounds around her. That’s not entirely cool, really. But if I call her out, then I also have to accept being called out by my advocate who says I should still be signing when I speak. She read THIS BLOG (Cochlear Implants: Two Years Later) that I wrote recently, and while she was supportive and understanding, she did a good job identifying my role in people forgetting my Deafness: I quit signing to hearing people. I should have that choice, technically, but if you don’t sign, people quit trying. It’s called “code switching“, whether it’s hearing-Deaf or different sign languages or English to French to Spanish. If I don’t sign, people “code switch” to only English and forget to keep learning until they finally just stop trying. Then I am sad and overwhelmed, but really should do my part to keep things going. So she was saying that since Nathan’s family and my family are working so hard to learn, that I should be signing more even though I can talk to them. It’s all new, everything is different, and it makes my brain hurt. But she is right, and that would be better than to just stop talking when babies arrive… or being left behind when babies start talking. This way, too, we are all ready if there are any Deaf babies that come along.

Babies. That’s just funny to talk about. My doctor started it, whacky ovaries and genetic testing and all.

But we aren’t talking about babies today.

We are talking about before that, in the falling in love part:

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