What is it really like to be Deaf?

Thanks to a nap I recently took, approximately from 5 pm to 7 pm, I couldn’t sleep despite the fact I finished reading a new book I started two days ago, Freakonomics, which is a fascinating book btw. Thanks to my little friend in my head, I thought about a few things and thought I’d write a few words about what it’s like to be a Deaf person.

A good start to this would be to ask, “how did I become deaf?” Well, pathologically, the cause is unknown but it is possibly hereditary because I was born deaf, and so was my older sister. However, we’re the only ones who are deaf in our family. So, I’ve been deaf since I was born. Ironically enough, it’s my deafness that has brought me here in America. Otherwise, I’d be still in Korea with my family and probably would be working on some rice farm or studying to become a priest. My sister’s husband is a priest, so to speak. I don’t know which is more blessing: being deaf and here in America or being hearing and stay with the family in Korea. Either way, I’m happy with who I am and where I ended up in.

Now, onto being a Deaf person, it annoys the hell out of me when a hearing person says “Oh, I wish I could be deaf like you, so I don’t have to be bothered by all those noises or having to hear those awful things.” Bull$hit. That is like telling a blind person that you wish you’re blind so you don’t see awful things (would you say porn is an awful thing to see?) on TV. I’m not gonna pretend/lie here and say that I embrace every moment of being Deaf or that it’s the best thing ever happened to me. I’m telling you right now, being deaf is HARD and if I were to be hearing, I have no doubts I’d be a lot different person than I am now. But again, I do not know if I’m actually better off being Deaf or hearing. I might end up being a drug lord, being homeless on the street or getting killed in Iraq (people with hearing loss can’t serve in army). I could be anything else in such a way that I won’t find myself writing this entry.

Since Deaf people only account less than 1% of the entire U.S. population, Deaf world is a lot like a high school except it’s a lot smaller. We keep bumping each other and everyone knows who f*cked whom. It sucks when you’re trying to date someone; that someone is also your ex-girlfriend’s best friend or roommate. And when you do that, everyone back-stab you and call you a player. Much unlike Hearing world where you could meet a person at a bar, get some alcohol going, having a good time and you both decide to have a little extra fun and spend a night together. The next morning, you may realize it wasn’t what you thought it’d be, you simply walk out and never expect to see her/him again. Case closed. Unfortunately, that isn’t so with the Deaf world.

I take the metro to work everyday so it’s not uncommon when tourists come up at me and ask where the f*ck are they or where they’re supposed to go. Depends on my mood, I may act nice and try to lip-read, which I guess more than I actually lip-read, their mouths. It looks like they want to go to the Washington monument or Union Station, whatever. But admittedly, most of the time, I simply point to my ear and shake my head as to say “sorry, I’m deaf and can’t understand what you say.” Nothing harm, right? Except when tourists happen to be a hot-looking lady in a short shorts with long legs. I’d be more than obliged to be her tour guide and if she’s visiting just for the weekend, perfect. I can show her around the city and she’d be out of my sight by Sunday. (Think of Adam Sandler in “The first 50 dates” with Drew Barrymore).

Food. I can’t really customize my meal as much as a hearing person can. “Hey waiter, this isn’t what I want. I said no condiments on my burger but I want a Swiss cheese and onions. And this is overcooked; I want mine medium-well. Oh, these buns are overburned too.” Or whatever the hell like that. I suppose I could write on some napkin to tell him what I want but he’d still f*ck it up and got my order wrong. So I just mouth, “everything” and when I get the burger, I have to customize it with my fingers or spitting it out of my mouth barbarically. If I’m allergic to something, God bless me.

So, that’s what I have to deal by being Deaf. First of all, you may notice why I keep using capital D, instead of just deaf. Well, you know, being Deaf doesn’t simply mean you cannot hear and still be able to function within the hearing world as if there’s a perfect harmony between us. When you cannot hear a f*cking word since you were born, you perceive the world differently. You learn the language differently. You can only imagine the sounds but never actually hear it. You end up interacting with similar people, not those who could hear. When you have more than one generation who’s also Deaf, the pattern continues and gradually becomes into this world we all have come to know—the Deaf world. We’re not just deaf; we’re Deaf. When we say that, we don’t mean we’re perfect; we all have shortcomings like everybody else and we dream what it’d be like to be a hearing one day, as much as you’d dream abt being a Spider-man, the next U.S. President, or even Bill Gates the Geek. But don’t ever tell us you wish you’re deaf.


8 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. ???

    What?? Wait??? You’re telling me that hearing people sometimes tell you they wish they were deaf?? I agree they’re full of shit.
    I sometimes hear other hard of hearing people say that because of people getting mad at them when they can’t understand something, but they usually come back to that they enjoy the hearing they have and would miss it if it were gone.

  2. anon

    I’ve heard people say that but they’re never serious. Some people might have the impression that HA fixes it so at that point ta-da you can choose to be either with a flick of the switch…

  3. Sandmist

    Hmm, This is interesting article that you wrote. I agree with you on some of your points. As for the Hearing wishing that they were Deaf… I can understand that because I have had my share of people coming up to me with the same quote. I know one, my parents said they were glad that I am Deaf because I didn’t have to hear my children- I have three. It was when we visted my Hearing parents for weekend. My children were talking, yelling and playing loudly. It drove my parents nuts. My mother got upset and asked me to talk to the kids. I found that the kids would increase their vocal sound over other kid’s sounds. So it sorta went like this “overlapping” others til their ears burst. So I discussed this with the children and encouraged them not to make too much noise that hurts their ears. My Hearing children even thinks the whole world is full of Deaf. I had homeschooled my children til they were ready for public school. Its also because of our language– American Sign Language; the children understands the educational materials when communicated in their first language. Their another set of grandparents are Deaf, even their aunts n uncles. So my son would argue with me over loud sounds that he made. I told him that the neighborhood can hear him, explained to him that the whole world isn’t full of Deaf people. I said it is the opposite. At that point, I knew he was ready to face the world. I sent him to a public school. He learned the hard way and understood.

  4. Hey there, I finally got time to catch up with blogs and liked your article about what it is like to be Deaf.

    Wanted to point out something else hearing people do that really annoys me. At work, when I meet new co-workers, they ask me all sorts of dumb questions, such as can Deaf people get married, can Deaf people have kids, can Deaf people drive? And the list goes on.

    It makes me feel that Deaf people should be in charge of the world just to prove that we can do anything except hear.

  5. Ana

    I think this is extremely interesting. I’ve always wanted to converse with someone born deaf. I would just like to mention one topic– music! How do you feel, not knowing what music is like? Have you never heard anything such as a note or a chord? Well, that’s a stupid question.. but doesn’t it bother you? I see, or hear, people everyday talking about how great music is to them, how it has saved their live, all this and that. Have you never wondered what it would be like? Do you hear anything inside your head? I’ve heard that some deaf people hear ringing, or something similar. Is it just completely silent? Do you have any idea what it would be like to experience any type of sound at all? Or is it a sensation that just not exist at all, and you cannot comprehend what it would be like? I can’t clearly express the message that I’m trying to get through.. Ugh I just want to talk to you forever about this. I think it’s so interesting.

  6. Dee

    It just amazes me how clueless hearing people are to the deaf community. I’m hearing, so I know I fall under the catogory. Im still learning, but I know better than to say I wish I were deaf, because you’re right, that would be a lie. I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to live in a world where people dont even attempt to learn. For me, I feel in Asl is the easiest language to learn and we should be all be encouraged to learn it all through school. In texas, spainish is becoming a required language and I think thats wonderful, but I do feel we should be required to take asl first. It makes sence to me, but perhaps I am wrong. Have you ever tried going after a hearing girl? You never know what could happen lol Michael- Im sorry people ask you! People dont even realize its discrimination.

  7. Kathy


    To hear! is to be able to sense! the tone! through sound.
    To listen! is to be able to understand!
    Learn to sign! and you wont just have all those silly questions answered, you will also learn how better it is to be able to understand and! communicate in a deaf world. If we all grew up to be taught sign as a second language instead of french or spannish, we can better listen!! to their world and support a growing complex language..
    Besides that both deaf and the hearing will find it easier to order the right drinks in a crowded noisy bar/club ;-)

  8. Janis

    I thought that your story was very interesting. Both of my parents are Deaf…my two younger sisters and I were born ‘hearing’, and I too get asked many questions regarding my parents, (some good, some silly, and yes, even some stupid ones), by my friends, strangers, and even those whom I am interpreting for when my parents need me to speak for them.
    Questions such as: 1. “How can your dad drive a car if he can’t hear sirens, or people honking at them?”, 2. “Can your parents read and/or write?”, and my all-time favorite, “Did you have to go to school to learn how to talk with your hands?” And my answer is always the same…1.”it’s no different than when a hearing person cranks up the volume of his car stereo while he’s driving.”, 2. “Of course they can read and write….they can do anything, except hear and talk.”, 3. “Well, did you have to go to school to learn how to talk with your mouth?” Then they get it.
    But there is this one question that even I find myself wondering….
    When Deaf people are thinking…..do they use sign language in their head?

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