Download Neither-Nor: A Young Australian's Experience with Deafness (Deaf Lives Series, Vol. 5) PDF

TitleNeither-Nor: A Young Australian's Experience with Deafness (Deaf Lives Series, Vol. 5)
File Size1.2 MB
Total Pages222
Document Text Contents
Page 1


Paul Jacobs

A Young Australian’s Experience with Deafness

Page 2


FM_Jacobs_193017_4.qxd 3/21/07 11:25 AM Page i

Page 111

Heavy cloth blocked the light of the small windows thus nullifying the
security of sight. I hugged my chest and prayed for a safe exit from this
horrible caravan. When sleep came, I dreamed that my dying body was
slung over a pile of corpses in a pit. A young bearded man picked me up
and raised me into a blinding light.

At sunrise, I was truly amazed to awake unharmed. Michaela wasn’t
impressed that all I wanted to do was leave and catch the train to play
cricket. It was a hollow farewell. When the train came, I found a private
enclosure and cried, partly with relief to be free but also with the sadness
of knowing I would never see Michaela again.

The sun was shining as I followed the same path Michaela and I had
walked hours earlier from Adelaide Central Station to Kensington. Heat
trailed on a soft northern wind from the Australian Outback. It was a per-
fect day for cricket. I collected my gear from a friend’s car at the cricket
oval and quietly changed into my creams. All I wanted to do was focus on
the game, but I couldn’t escape people asking, “Get a root last night?” in
sign language. The captain saw my lack of enthusiasm for the banter and
asked how I was. I searched my cricket bag for a pen and paper and then
wrote, “Please don’t say anything about the girl. I’m hurting.”

I opened the batting as usual. My sore heart made me concentrate
and play better than ever before. Caressing balls to the boundary with
ease, my timing with the bat was superb. I just wanted to stay on the field
and prove to myself that life goes on. I made eighty-three runs that day.

n e i t h e r- n o r102

CH13_Jacobs_193017_4.qxd 3/14/07 2:25 PM Page 102

Page 112

The Language That Has No Name

The Victorian Deaf Cricket team won the Grand Final a few days later.
It was the first time Victoria had won the Australian title in thirty-two
years. In the rooms showered in champagne, Peter, the captain, called me
over for a private talk. He proved to be a shrewd captain and one of the
better cricketers despite him being in his late thirties—an age when most
have long quit the sport. He had been deaf since birth, had no speech,
and never wore hearing aids. The only time I heard his voice was when
he wailed in pain after being hit by a cricket ball—a croak-like cry that
was the legacy of voice muscles that had never been used. One thing that
amazed me was the fact that he could speechread me without any hear-
ing whatsoever. I thought he would rely on my teammate Harry’s trans-
lation, but Peter was reading my speech and understood everything I
said. The only delay was my own, caused by Harry relaying Peter’s mes-

Harry interpreted for us. “Paul, we play well, we win well,” he said.
“Victoria strong team. You helped win trophy. I am very happy with you.
Thank you.” I was flattered. The premiership medallion remains one of
my prized possessions to this day.

Peter left us to join the celebration in the next room. I asked Harry
what Peter did for a living.

“He works for a weather station,” was the reply.
“With hearing people?”
“Yeah.” This probably explained his speechreading ability.
“How does he communicate?”
“Through writing,” he stated. “He gets lots of money. Much more

than most Deaf people.” I’d noticed that.
“But he’s culturally Deaf.” The words slipped out.
“So what?” said Harry. “I’m culturally Deaf and I earn money.”


CH14_Jacobs_193017_4.qxd 3/14/07 2:26 PM Page 103

Page 221

only—to be real. Hide and die. Truths are constantly confronted, many
of them ugly. Like a gym junkie, I get enormous satisfaction in meeting
these daily tests; they keep my soul strong, taut, and trim. I take great
pride in this spiritual mettle.

Perfect hearing and belonging to a nuclear family—two threads re-
moved from my tapestry—are not necessarily passports to quality of life.
Temptations to comfortably and mindlessly go through life are aplenty
for those who have all the available sensory, mental, and psychological
means. A life made too easy can come at the cost of arrested personal de-
velopment, of perpetual psychic angst. My life could have been smoother,
less adventurous. But it is likely that I could have gone through the mo-
tions, pretended. Love and work could have been attained more easily. I
have seen the ease at which hearing peers acquire these crucial themes of
social belongingness, the seeming effortlessness at which they blend in
and exercise privileges of normalcy. I have been unlucky, the logic may
follow. This is untrue. My less-than-ideal introduction to this world has
forged a tenacity that has exposed me to people of different walks of life
and to rich happenstances otherwise not met or experienced. So, in a
sense, my “tragic circumstances” have been extremely useful.

An Australian experience of deafness is not greatly different from that
of an American, Briton, or that of any other nation with a dominant
Western influence. Assistive hearing technology, education in mainstream
scholarly institutions, mass use of electronic communications that re-
quire no hearing, captioned television programs and DVDs, and a wide-
spread acceptance of people who are different—all have enabled me to
function as an equal. These historical and cultural “accidents” were
mostly unavailable twenty years ago. As a result, my independence,
choices, and opportunities are comparatively phenomenal. I and many
others who are deaf and enjoy a mainstreamed life have been winners in
the birth lottery. We are the first to earn and be granted equality with the
majority. I am the product of my age and Western culture. The odds—of
being born in this specific age, in a country that provides benefits, and to
a loving father—are several million to one, perhaps billions to one.

I am neither-nor. I am neither hearing nor Deaf. That’s the way I like
it. I am part of a new social entity made possible by a combination of fa-
vorable environmental conditions and individual willpower. But we owe
much to the political activism of the culturally Deaf. My education,

n e i t h e r- n o r214

CH32_Jacobs_193017_4.qxd 3/14/07 2:48 PM Page 214

Page 222

a f t e r w o r d 215

worldliness, extensive vocabulary, social skills, and speechreading capac-
ity are all rooted in my watching of subtitled television and DVDs. The
culturally Deaf, campaigning throughout the Western world, have en-
sured widespread captioning through legislation. My quality of life
would have been much poorer without them.

There is, however, a common belief among the Deaf that people like
myself are “culturally homeless”—a phrase used by author Harlan Lane.
We are “pretend deaf people,” as stated by author Anthony Hogan.
These baseless biases are discriminatory rhetoric akin to racism and sex-
ism. I will never dismiss the importance of identity and cultural affirma-
tion for the Deaf, nor recant hard-won services provided in the form of
interpreters and the like. Yet, I am very concerned with the victim ethos
practiced by certain members of Deaf communities. The belief that “so-
ciety is to blame, not me” is futile. Society has changed for the better. Re-
fute this at your own peril. It’s not what happens to you, but how you
view it. Power comes from within, not without. Sure, deafness makes one
prone to be stigmatized. Yet having a disability can act as a stimulus for
greater personal growth, richer experiences, and more genuine relation-

Did the Fates weave the tapestry that is my life? No. Character is des-
tiny. We are, first and foremost, individuals and humans. Love is deaf to
terms like gender, disability, race, or species. What matters deafness of
the ear, asked the immortal Victor Hugo, when the only true incurable
deafness is that of the mind?

February 2007
Melbourne, Australia

CH32_Jacobs_193017_4.qxd 3/14/07 2:48 PM Page 215

Similer Documents