Unravel's Release Week: Some Identities You Embrace
Greetings readers! We are into the full swing of release week, with Unravel officially launching into the world yesterday. Today on the blog we are handing the reins over to Amelia.
Some Identities You Embrace by Amelia Loken
Early in 2021, shortly after I signed with Sword and Silk Publishing, I was brainstorming marketing ideas, trying to come up with the ultimate catchphrase and I came up with this:
"Deaf. Princess. Witch. Some identities you embrace. Some will get you killed."
I loved it! Marguerite’s character, her struggle, the dangers she faced, and hints towards her ultimate victory were all right there.
There was also some truth staring me in the face. Truth I didn’t want to face.
I am hard-of-hearing.
I had my first hints about six years ago, when I turned forty. My posse of five sons, were entering the teen years and had become such mumblers! I nagged at them to speak up, not realizing the problem might be me.
A year later, when I had earned my ASL/English Interpreting license and was close to graduating with a Bachelor’s degree from my Interpreter Education Program, I took a hearing test for one of my classes. When I got my audiogram, there was hard proof I couldn’t ignore. My classmates, mostly twenty-somethings, passed their audiograms around the classroom. Their normal hearing was charted as straight, horizontal lines at the top of the chart, showing they could hear all the pitches at the quietest volumes The lines that represented my hearing were fairly high on the left side of the chart, indicating I could hear low tones fine. Then, still within the area of normal speech tones, the lines dipped. The slope was enviable if it represented a neighboring hill – perfect for sledding. It wasn’t great for a new sign language interpreter who needed to use her listening skills on behalf of her clients.
A couple of years into my career as an interpreter, I couldn’t ignore how hearing loss was affecting me. I found silver linings in a new career path, still working in the field of disability access and accommodations. It’s a good fit. I could still be a helper, like Mr. Rogers encouraged us to be. I liked that role. I’m the oldest daughter in my family. I’m a mom. I derive a great deal of praise and self-worth from my ability to help others.
Like Luisa sings in Surface Pressure, from Encanto, (the most delightful personal attack I’ve ever received): Under the surface, I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service…
I was still doing something worthwhile. I was still “A HELPER.”
Then, the pandemic hit. I’ve been wearing a mask for almost two years now (except for a few weeks when it seemed we were out of danger) in my workplace and elsewhere. The masks made it difficult for me to hear. It doesn’t just muffle the sound; it covers everyone’s mouth making it hard to lip read. On Deaf/HH Twitter, I read of others experiencing the same thing. I felt that sense of community. They understood the tension between communication and health safety.
Having that community, not feeling so alone in this experience, gave me the courage to speak up – literally and figuratively. It was awkward at first. Internalized ableism kept me minimizing the problem.
“These masks, you know, make it hard to understand. Can your repeat that?”
Eventually, I started identifying myself as hard-of-hearing. Still minimizing.
“I have a little hearing problem. Could you speak a bit louder?”
The results were sometimes better. Sometimes louder. But to get the results I needed, I had to self-identify with my disability. I had opportunities multiple times a week.
“Hey, I’m hard-of-hearing. I didn’t understand what you just said.”
This experience of calling myself hard-of-hearing over, and over, and over again has helped to decrease the sting of stigmatism. I’m learning how to use humor in awkward situations. I feel more comfortable in my skin, with this label. And yet…
I’m pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration to further my skills in my new career, and in January, the university returned to in-person classes. Fully masked.
The pandemic kept my classes in previous semesters on-line. While I’ve got Zoom-fatigue as well as the next person, it was great to have my classmates in little squares with their names and full faces. I could turn up the volume to hear mostly everything. The chat function was useful. But now we were face-to-face. And to keep safe, we need to keep our masks on.
I sat on the front row to make sure I could get all the visual and auditory information possible as the professor shared his lecture.
It wasn’t a lecture.
It was a group discussion led by the professor. I swiveled constantly, trying to identify speakers by their body movements, while sorting through chunks of their auditory message. The class was only an hour and a half. I asked someone to repeat what they said, or I repeated what I thought I heard to get clarification, about fifteen times. I was self-identifying and self-advocating on average every six minutes and working all my other communication skills the rest of the time.
I cried in the car on the way home. I had a headache. I was exhausted.
I reached out to the Disability Resource Center on campus. I’d avoided asking for help in any of my classes so far because I was fine.
But I am not fine in this environment. I do not understand everything that is going on. I need help. I need accommodations.
The next class, I had two interpreters – friends of mine – who sat in front of me. It was jarring to be in the other seat now. Uncomfortable to be dependent on others for access. But at the end of class, I was smiling and laughing. There are some weird moments still, but the workload is so much lighter.
Just like Marguerite in my novel, UNRAVEL, I am learning to embrace this part of my identity. Sometimes it is easy. Most times, it comes with a big dose of awkward. Or embarrassment. Or denial. Or bias. Or discrimination. Or… or… or…
Stepping into your disability identity is difficult. (Sometimes you step right back out.)
It becomes easier with time. With repetition.
It’s so much easier with community. With allies and advocates.
Whatever your journey, I wish you luck. I also invite you to join Marguerite on her journey. Hers is also difficult. It’s filled with friends, allies, enemies and frenemies, love, despair, self-doubt, pride, courage, and hope.
I wrote it for you, but I also wrote it for me.