ON HAND: “Bluntness” is NOT Deaf culture

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

When I gained 25 pounds my freshman year in college, a friend I hadn’t seen in a while said to me, “Wow you gain! Fat!” I smiled and nodded as if I didn’t care. Ten minutes later, I was bawling my eyes out in the privacy of my dorm room, humiliated by what I’d just been told.

Years later (and 20 pounds lighter), I brought this conversation up with the same friend to see if she remembered it. She was embarrassed and said, “But I was just being blunt– that’s Deaf culture!”

Is bluntness really a trait of Deaf culture?

Maybe you’ll disagree, but I don’t think saying how fat someone looks qualifies as being part of Deaf culture. That’s just being rude. I find it jarring when people new to the deaf community intentionally say something rude, and say gleefully, “That’s part of Deaf culture!”

Yet, do a search on the web using the words “deaf culture blunt,” and you’ll find page after page saying that being blunt is part of Deaf culture. I don’t know if I should buy it. Nor do I know if we should accept bluntness as being a trait of Deaf culture.

We all know deaf people are close-knit and more comfortable with each other where they can be more open and upfront about their thoughts. And of course, in ASL, the sign for “overweight” and “fat” is basically the same, much like “losing hair” and “bald” have the same sign. It’s easy to see how one could be more straightforward using ASL rather than if English was used. But where’s the fine line between being open and quick to comment, and being rude?

I’m a straightforward person by nature. But it’s not because I grew up in a Deaf family nor is it because I am culturally Deaf. It’s simply because that’s who I am. I think we need to tread carefully before attributing bluntness to being part of Deaf culture.

There’s a fine line between being rude and being straightforward. And we all need to find this fine line, regardless of whether we’re deaf or hearing.

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