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[personal profile] foxfetch
Dealing with Quebecois French (or, you know, FAILING to deal) is bringing up a lot of stuff about being deaf. All the crap I dealt with in my childhood, when people treated me like an idiot because I couldn't understand them (including teachers), and I wasn't supposed to talk about it or admit that there was anything "wrong"....

I can't understand what people are saying and their lip shapes are all wrong and they look at you with such contempt. At least I'm used to not being able to understand most conversations people are having in public places.

I remember when I was...9? Must've been about 9.. In my very traditional school, we had a teacher that year with Modern Ideas. (She didn't last.) She decided to do a whole thing about the senses. Some of this included stuff around sensory impairments. And some of it included, basically, blindfolding each of us and making us stand in the middle of the room while our classmates called stuff out and we had to find them.

I couldn't do it. I just stood there, unable to move, completely disorientated. For me it was such an extra level of sensory deprivation; because I lived with a lot of dizziness as well (I still get this sometimes, mostly when I'm waking up) I could hardly even tell what was up and down. I felt like I was falling. (I have difficulty walking blindfolded. I literally fall over.) And everyone, including the teacher, was mocking me.

You know my parents didn't realise I was deaf until I was three or four? (I can't remember precisely when - my childhood memories are pretty vague, in self-defence.) I had just enough hearing that I had learned to "talk" in my own language (which I thought was the same as standard English, because it was the English I heard), that my family could just about understand and no one else. I could read and write at an unusual level for my age, because I was so hungry for communication. It was my father - my alcoholic, mostly-absent father - who realised. I was sitting watching TV with the sound very low, and he asked how I could hear it like that. Apparently I looked at him for a while, then basically said, "...hear it?"

I wasn't supposed to talk about it. It was one of those things where no one ever sat me down and said, don't tell anyone - but they never told me not to talk about what was going on at home, either. I had an op on my ears when I was four - I remember being in the hospital - where it turned out that part of my lack of hearing was physical obstruction in my left ear. They sorted that out, but the right is sensoneurinal deafness, un"fix"able. I woke up from the anaesthetic and, apparently, complained about the noise. No one understood what I was talking about, until they realised I could hear the traffic noise outside for the first time.

I still couldn't talk "right". There's a reason that mentions of speech therapy make me twitch. I've always hated hearing my own voice, though that's better now that it's actually broken. But I still can't pronounce certain sounds right, and people have teased me about that up to the present day. To them, it's an amusing quirk. To me, it's devastating.

My mum told the school, of course. I was supposed to sit at the front of the class, so I could hear. (And see - they didn't figure out my visual problems for a long time, and then gave me glasses which with the degree of anisometropia I had gave me headaches and messed up my binocular vision and depth perception - you can imagine how much fun THAT was for sports....)

The school didn't believe in "coddling" things like disabilities, though. (They also didn't believe in dyslexia, which messed up several of my friends.) Initially teachers called me stupid, but when it became apparent that, actually, I'm pretty damn bright, they called me lazy, inattentive, careless. My peers just kept calling me stupid when I couldn't understand what they were saying, and teasing me for saying what or sorry or pardon.

I was supposed to just cope, keep quiet, suck it up. I didn't understand - even until a few years ago - that so much of what I dealt with was due to my deafness, NOT due to me being lazy, inattentive, stupid, socially inept. All those fast, high-pitched child-voices. I couldn't understand what they were saying or how to interact. I only knew it was something wrong with me, and I had to hide it. (And jesus, do not even get me started on how that then interacted with being trans and knowing I was queer from an early age...)

I learned, in self-defence, to get by, to lipread a lot, to figure out what people are saying from context. There're people who've known me for years who are astounded when they find out about my hearing. When I worked at the fricking disability charity, most people didn't know. Because I was always meant to integrate, integrate, integrate. Because there was something wrong with me.

I only realised this morning how much not understanding what people are saying here brings this up. Not random background conversations, but when I try to talk to people on the phone, in shops, to officials. I find myself cringing, smiling apologetically, that ape-grimace that says don't hurt me, I'm sorry, it's my fault. Making myself small. But no matter how much you do that, it never really helps. They get impatient and contemptuous, and I panic. And I feel stupid, wrong, clownish, contemptible. I feel like I'm standing in the middle of that classroom again, blindfolded, with sounds coming from all around me and mockery and I can't, I can't, I can't.

I need to work through this crap, I know. I know ultimately I'll pick the Weird French up, find a way to get by, even if I have to work my arse off to get there. (Are there any resources for learning specifically Quebecois French?) And in the process, hopefully I'll deal with this emotional shit from my childhood. (Maybe learning to sign would help, emotionally? Not sure.), that was unexpected. All because of some woman over the alley shouting in Quebecois French. At least now I understand some more of what's going on in me, even if I still have no fucking clue what people are saying.

After all, it's not like I'm not used to understanding written language better than spoken. I just never quite expected to go back to that, at my age.


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March 2011

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