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Exploring my hearing loss identity as a deaf teen

As I approach the end of my teens years and head off to college soon, I have reflected a lot upon my hearing loss identity.

I wanted to learn more about Deaf culture and my identity as a deaf teen.

I was born profoundly deaf. My parents made the decision that I would be implanted with a cochlear implant. I was implanted at 13 months and thrived in listening and developing speech. I never questioned my implants. No one in my family is deaf. Once I was mainstreamed, I was the only deaf child at my school for several years. My family has always been a part of the hearing world and my cochlear implants allowed me to be a part of this world too. For that reason, growing up I never imagined life without my implant.

Deaf Culture

But with time, curiosity grew. I became aware of Deaf Culture and started wondering what my life would have been like had I not been implanted. Would I be in a different school? Have different friends? What would my family relationships be like as the only deaf family member? It all boiled down to one question: the decision that my parents made to have me implanted – was that the right choice for me? Was that what I needed or what they needed?

These questions started to arise when I was 16. I spent that year doing all the research I could on Deaf Culture, studying the controversy on cochlear implants. Any assignment given to me at school was based around this internal conflict. I did a term paper about the controversy within Deaf Culture, wrote essays on my story, and did college research with the determination that I would be going to Gallaudet University. I even saw its campus, where I fell in love with a school for the first time.

Facts

As I started gathering information, the facts came to light. I’ve only ever known life as a deaf individual in the hearing world. I was used to being misinterpreted as hearing. But I had no exposure to Deaf Culture. I knew everything on life with cochlear implants, but nothing about life without them. Once I had gathered all the information I could, I took a step back and started reflecting on the known truths in front of me.

Realizations

I started to realize that I would have chosen to implant myself too. But realizing this for myself was different than having my parents realize it for me. And the more I analyzed, I realized that my initial question wasn’t so simple. At the beginning the question was “Would I have chosen Deaf Culture or cochlear implants?” I realized that my answer didn’t fit the one-or-the-other nature of this question.

I would have implanted myself, yes. But I also would have exposed myself to Deaf Culture. I realized that though I was never immersed in Deaf Culture, its history is also my history – something that sets me apart from my hearing peers. That being said, I don’t belong in the hearing world either. I belong in my version of the hearing world. I grew up there, it’s where my family is, where my friends are, but most importantly – it’s where my passions lie.

Passions

I grew up to be a strong advocate for myself and for those who are deaf. I have always wanted to help others learn how to advocate for themselves and how to have their needs met. Now I’m a mentor for my cochlear implant company. Parents who are considering a cochlear implant for their child can ask questions and get a firsthand perspective from someone who lives life with an implant in the hearing world. It’s this concept that places me in between two worlds.

“I am not hearing, but I am also not Deaf. I’ve created my own little world.”

The journey

This journey of discovering which world I belong in was a crucial step in becoming more confident with where I am. I could have chosen at that time to immerse myself in Deaf Culture. For me, that would have meant taking my cochlear implant off and living without it. I could have chosen this despite having been implanted for 15 years.

Instead, I made a decision for myself. I did what I knew I needed. I discovered where I truly belong. My journey gave me the courage to believe what I say in regards to these two worlds. And most importantly, it motivated me to keep looking forward with confidence because I knew then that it was right for me, despite being decided by others years earlier.

Read more: Celebrating the diversity of deafness

Decision

So while I started this journey asking which world I’d rather be in, I discovered that I don’t want to be in either of them. I want to be in, and stay in, my world. The world where I get to interact with both worlds. Where I get to be a leader and advocate for those like me. A world where I can be a role model to others and their families. Because it doesn’t have to be one or the other – it can be both. And I choose the in-between of both worlds; I choose a version where the two worlds collide.

Where do you feel you belong?

Emmy Cartwright
Author Details
Emmy is a Phonak Teen Advisory Board member and wears an Advanced Bionics Cochlear Implant and Phonak CROS.
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Emmy Cartwright
Emmy is a Phonak Teen Advisory Board member and wears an Advanced Bionics Cochlear Implant and Phonak CROS.
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