How I Hear

Bettina Liang

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Content Warning: Ableism

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Yes, I was born deaf.

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No, it doesn’t run in my family. No, I don’t know sign language. I am simply deaf. And being deaf means: 

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Always having that fear in the back of your mind, since your cochlear implants aren’t waterproof and thus you can’t hear in the shower.

Coming second at the swimming carnivals because the teacher would be slow in tapping your shoulder when the gun goes off.

Feeling isolated and alone sitting in a sea of other students during assembly, boiling with rage, desperation, and defeat when everyone laughs at a principal’s joke you couldn’t hear.

Being an expert in the deaf nod, and knowing exactly when to agree because you have been reading body language since you were a child.

Struggling severely during COVID-19 because face masks obscure the lips you read. 

Finding out that you hear with the level of someone with a mild hearing loss, even with your cochlear implants.

Realising hearing people have some 12,000 hair cells that also help them balance, and remembering that awful time in PE when you couldn’t walk across the beam because your hearing loss affects your equilibrium.

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I hear sound through twenty-two electrodes in my cochlear implant, in a small incision behind my ear. The scar has now faded.

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I hear sound through body language: the way someone mirrors my movements or doesn’t, their tone of voice, the way they are sitting or standing.

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I sense sound through the way the crowd turns their head towards the source.

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I see sound through the jolt in someone’s body, the arched eyebrows that signify shock or horror.

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I read sound in the way my brain creates the whisper of ‘wind rustling’ in the subtitles — even as I hear nothing.

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I feel sound when someone taps my shoulder after I don’t respond to them shouting my name over three times. 

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I am hearing-impaired.

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And I am frustrated when people don’t repeat themselves — you wouldn’t understand how your twenty second recap of what just happened can make me feel so included.

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I do hear sound — but I rely on so much more than my ears.