There is a fire burning in the distance. I make my way to it, in the night. In the fog. In the chill of the winter. I climb my way through the hills and the mists and the fire blazes brightly, tended to by elders, the keeper of the flame, the holder of stories.
I would like to ask my elders: I wonder sometimes if all this emphasis on access hurts us ultimately. I wonder if we have lost our way. As I arrive to the bonfire, the words begin to spill from me almost immediately, before I even think to say hello.
"As a people, we are rich with history, language, and amazing individuals doing amazing things all through time. Much of if lost to it, except to you elders who have much to share. "
I am full of questions, of youthful naivete. I am filled with longing to take up space, and to talk for hours on end the way the young do, emboldened with passion. I have not yet learned to listen, it seems. But I must ask. I must talk.
"It seems to me, that reducing our plight to the obstacles we face is in fact causing the very harm or at least exacerbating it, that we seek to undo.I wonder too, about the deconstructionist lens versus a revisionist approach that focuses on tearing down what is not working instead of remembering what we are working towards. I cannot believe, I refuse to believe that the ultimate goal is access. Because behind that quest for access, is the assumption that access will equal assimilation into a broader culture that has no use for us, that has no need of us, that wishes to fix us, and eradicate our existence."
The elders smile slightly, as they fan the flame, sending smoke into my face. I cough a bit and offer to put on another log. And I continue, almost breathless now.
"For we are so much more than the shitty interpreters, the lack of access, the non captioned videos, the refused relay calls, the non-signing teachers, the forced cochlear implants, the hours of involuntary speech therapy, the isolation in classrooms.
We are so much more than what has been done to us.
And yet... much of our energy is focused on removing those barriers and mitigating the harm that has been done to us- passing legislation, we create and look to advocacy organizations, to interpreter training programs, to Video Relay Services and so on.
At this, our elders smile more broadly and their heads begin to nod. Still they remain silent.
"When we stand up for who we are as a people, we begin to walk away from asking to be viewed as a problem that needs to be fixed and instead we walk towards being seen as whole and beautiful, just as we are. Just as we have always been. In my heart of hearts, I believe we need to focus less on the access and more on the language and history that is deserving of respect and dignity.
And at this they hold up their hands and motion me to sit.
"Forget about "them"- hearing people. Forget about educating them. Forget about reaching them and changing their hearts and minds. Forget about fighting against institutionalized power. No, really. Forget them. They really don't matter. And the sooner we realize that, the faster we take away their power over us. We cannot, we must not wait for them to give our own power to us. It is folly, for they never will.
Remember us, instead.
And let us remember together with complexity, with understanding that we are a vast, varied people.
Remember the depths and breadths of who we are as a people- for we are far more than ears that don't work. We are varied and and reflect a multitude of experiences far-far beyond our Deaf experience. The color of our skin, the gender we are assigned, the sexual orientation we embody, the financial class we live in, the additional disAbilities we experience - all of this informs and shapes our experience as Deaf people.
I sit there, stunned. And lost in my thoughts. And let it sink in just how different we all are.
No wonder, that sometimes we reach for the thing that commonly defines us- the experience of being Deaf in a hearing world and the shared challenges that arise from it. No wonder we define ourselves by a world that views us a broken and seeks to put us back together into hearing-normative wholeness.
Yet we were never broken.
Yet... yet we forget we are a people of the eye. A people of the hand. A people of the heart- with many (many!) stories to tell and re-tell to each other, again and again. We need to come back to one another, come closer, sit around the fire and tell our stories once more, and ever-more. Then we will begin to find the light.
At this, almost as if they can see into my thoughts and read the landscape of my heart, they light a torch and pass it to me. I take it with me and in the darkness, walk the long way home.