ON HAND: Deaf of Deaf

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

I can’t count how many times I’ve been at gatherings, sitting in a circle chatting, and suddenly realize that most of the people in the circle have deaf parents. I’ve always been fascinated by the phenomenon of deaf people who have deaf parents (or DOD–Deaf of Deaf) gathering with each other unplanned. And I’ve been told by deaf people who have hearing parents as they roll their eyes, “Nothing new! Deaf family always group-group, reject hearing family!” Even though most DOD people socialize with all types of people (it’d be impossible not to), I started wondering why this congregation tends to happen. The number of DOD people is supposedly now at seven percent, down from ten percent.

How is it that such DOD folks, as few as they are, seem to always end up together at events?

So I decided to survey several DOD people to find out why this natural attraction to each other happens. Mind you, the folks I surveyed are hardly elitist. Some are married to hearing spouses; others to deaf spouses from hearing families; some are partnered with other DOD people; some are from public school backgrounds; others are from deaf schools; and so on.

Yet most of the people I talked with said the same thing: it’s probably because we grew up in the same culture with the same values. When we get together, even if our backgrounds are vastly different, we automatically chat as if we’ve known each other all our lives. It’s also easy for us to quickly detect a person is from a deaf family. Perhaps it’s the language fluency. Perhaps it’s the deeply embedded cultural aspects of having grown up with minimal or no communication problems. Or perhaps it’s just because we all come from the same childhood.

The respondents were also in agreement on one thing: it’s almost never intentional. I often find myself feeling a strong, unspoken kinship with DOD people and CODA, even if I meet them only once. I can’t explain why. When I’m with these people, I know we share an intimate understanding of how it is to grow up attending deaf events as early as a baby, seeing our parents go about their lives, and having full access to their conversations and thoughts.

There is a family here that I visit often. As I chat with the deaf parents, their three deaf kids often sit and watch our conversations, soaking up every word. This always takes me back to my childhood, when I would sit and watch my parents talk to their friends, absorbing everything, especially the adult topics and cuss words. This is an experience that can be best understood by those who had parents that provided full communication access, such as hearing of hearing or DOD.

I wonder: if DOD folks formed an organization of sorts–much like CODA International–would it cause bitterness among the rest of the deaf community? Would we be ostracized as being too elitist carrying a hidden agenda? Hard of hearing people have their own groups, late-deafened people have their own groups, oral people have their own groups, and so on. But they aren’t called elitist, are they? Hmm.

What I do know is that deaf individuals who have deaf parents have a natural, unintentional bond. And I will never, ever apologize for this bond.

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