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The Deaf Body in Public Space - NY Times

Deaf News: The Deaf Body in Public Space from New York Times.

NEW YORK CITY -- “It’s rude to point,” my friend told me from across the elementary-school cafeteria table. I grasped her words as I read them off her lips. She stared at my index finger, which I held raised in midair, gesturing toward a mutual classmate. “My mom said so.”

I was 6 or 7 years old, but I remember stopping with a jolt. Something inside me froze, too, went suddenly cold.

“I’m signing,” I said out loud. “That’s not rude.”

As the only Deaf student in my elementary school, I had already stumbled across the challenges of straddling two languages and two modes of communication. My family was hearing, but they still empowered me by using both English and sign language at home.

A sign language interpreter accompanied me throughout the day at school, and my teachers created a welcoming environment for me to learn, but finding a place to belong with kids my own age often felt more difficult. I tried to speak to them, and occasionally they reciprocated the effort by learning some basic signs. But usually I felt separate.

I went home that day and asked my mother about what my friend had said. “Don’t worry,” my mother said, “she doesn’t know the social rules are different with signing. You aren’t being rude.” With that, matter-of-fact as always, she brought the conversation to an end. But I still felt a lingering self-consciousness, entirely novel and difficult to shake.

This was perhaps the first time I realized that other people could see me as obtrusive, as taking up too much space, when I was simply communicating just as I was.

When I reflect on this memory two decades later, I recognize how my childhood friend, whom at the time I had found to be so accusatory, had really gaped at me with a sort of wonder. My signing challenged the rules of social conduct she’d absorbed from adults, and to her I must have seemed ignorant or radically rebellious, or perhaps both. But pointing was a truly fundamental act for me; it was how I expressed what my grown-up scholarly self would call relationality - the idea of being in the world in relation to others. Through sign language, a properly poised finger allowed me to say you and me and he and she and they. If I did not point, how could I make a human connection? ... Read More at New York Times.
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