Loss of Identity

I’m in the process of watching “Sound and Fury.” If you are, or ever have been interested in the deaf culture, I would highly recommend seeing this movie.

It tells the story of two families, one hearing, one deaf, both of which have deaf children. The hearing family decides to get a cochlear implant for their son. And the daughter of the deaf family says she wants an implant as well. She says she wants to hear the sound of babies crying, of cars crashing, talk on the phone, hear alarms.

The little girl’s parents do a lot of research, speaking with deaf and hearing families whose children have gotten cochlear implants. The father, of the girl, is against getting the implant cause he’s worried that the girl will lose her deaf identity and not be able to grow up with the deaf culture. The mother decides to extend her research and goes to the medical labs to find out if she, for herself, could get the implant. The representative at the lab explains to her that it’s much easier if the deaf individual is younger, so her daughter, at five, could get the implant without much adjustment, but for the mother it would be a major life change and it’s likely that the mom would keep signing.

The film shows the devastated deaf grandparents of the boy whose parents decide to get the cochlear implant and the crying grandmother whose deaf son decides not to get the implant for his daughter. I watched the movie, amazed at how similar it was to other common arguments I grew up with. A Jewish family whose daughter wants to marry a non-Jew, interracial couplings, a parent who moves into another country but wants to raise her children immersed in the culture she grew up with. At first look, there appears to be little difference between this argument and one of a French mother trying to send her kids to French-only schools and surrounding them with other French speaking children.

But then deafness is a disability.

Or so people say. And such, the issue becomes one of “if you could convert your child from a disabled one to a ‘normal’ one, wouldn’t you choose to?”

The movie addressed two main issues. One was specific to this girl whose parents were convinced that allowing her to have a cochlear implant would strip all of her deaf culture away. The father, keenly, observes that a girl who grows up with an implant and deaf parents, cannot speak English properly whereas a girl with hearing parents knows nothing about sign language or deafness. Such, they worry that the implant would mean she would end up belonging in neither the deaf nor the speaking world.

On a bigger scale, deaf people are concerned that if cochlear implants take over, every parent will implant one in their deaf baby and deaf culture will eventually disappear. Like Spanish people would cry at the loss of their culture, deaf people were crying at the potential death of theirs.

As a speaking person, it’s easy to judge. It’s easy to say that deafness is a disability and that if the girl could possibly hear, the parents owe it to the girl to explore that option. It’s easy to assume that since we can hear, hearing people must have a better life, more options. After all, I can sign and I can hear, so don’t I have the best of both worlds?

And yet, the movie made me think that maybe it’s not better. Maybe deafness is a culture just like ethnicity and religion. Maybe this girl will feel a stronger sense of belonging if she grows up deaf in the deaf community of her parents. Maybe much of life is accepting who you are and not forcing to fit in with the norm, assuming we even know what the norm is.


Or maybe not.

Previously? A Fickle Relationship .

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