You want to be normal? A Deaf writer reflects on “disabled”

Op/Ed By Raymond Luczak

I learned early on that I was to use my hearing aids and undergo speech therapy. Sign language was forbidden. I knew I was attracted to men, but I was afraid to tell anyone. I was a total wallflower with imperfect speech. I had grown up as the only Deaf person in a hearing family of nine children in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

When I arrived at Gallaudet University, though, I saw that I wasn’t the only Deaf gay person on campus. I came out and mastered American Sign Language (ASL). I felt as if sunshine had filled the shadows of my soul. I would become confident and accomplish a great many things, which I indeed have. Being fully Deaf and gay has freed me.

The Deaf community (the word “Deaf,” when capitalized, refers to those who use Sign to communicate, and the lowercased “deaf” refers to those who subscribe to the medical view of hearing loss) have long resisted the label “disabled” because they want to be seen as a language minority, just like hearing communities who use languages other than English in this country.

Yet deafness is about information inaccessibility in a hearing world. D/deaf people have varying communication needs—not all of us require ASL interpreters, captions, better lighting, and quieter environments.

So what is my opinion of the label “disabled”?

I certainly don’t think of myself as disabled, but as long as the hearing world insists on their kind of normalcy without providing me with full access, they have disabled me. Their fear of disability stems from the concept of “normal.”

“Normal” implies a standard that one must meet in order to be accepted. The expectation of “normality,” however defined by any religion or society, could be considered the root of all prejudice, including homophobia, ableism, racism, audism (oppression of D/deaf people), ageism, and so on. Disability—and queerness, too—is a wonderful slap in the face of normality.

It is necessary to accept all that makes each of us defiantly unique or our community will weaken. And we must stop defining what is beautiful for others because too many of us have felt ugly for far too long. We can start by avoiding the concept of “normal” right now.

Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of 19 books, including The Kinda Fella I Am: Stories (Reclamation Press: March 2018). He lives in Minneapolis.