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Why are deaf people always laughing under their breath?

[ 43 ] October 22, 2012 |

Because every time our attention flags, this is what happens to the world:

For further reference, let me repeat what I wrote six years ago because I am old and write too much [and am “only” about 90 percent deaf so I lip-read but still listen to music]:

I want to talk to you about staring at women’s breasts. I do it all the time. I’ll be standing there talking to a woman only to be stricken by the sudden and irresistible urge to stare at her breasts. She’ll register her discomfort by pulling her lapels close or yanking her plunging neckline chin-high. Then she’ll become intensely interested in objects in the general vicinity of her feet. But I won’t let that deter me. I’ll continue to stare at her breasts until she won’t be able to take it anymore and informs me in tones of suppressed outrage that she had some important elsewhere to be fifteen minutes ago. Then she’ll never talk to me again.

Such is the experience of the deaf man in America today. When the eyes of a hearing man break contact and wander south, the obvious conclusion is the correct one: he is staring at her breasts and she is justifiably uncomfortable. When a deaf man who relies on verbal cues and lip-reading to converse lets his eyes drift south of his conversant’s, he stops at her lips. (You can tell because if he didn’t—that is, if he actually stared at her breasts—he would have no clue how to answer whatever it is she would have said to him while he indulged in some “covert” sexism.)

Why mention this in the one forum this commonplace of deaf life will never make anyone uncomfortable? Because I’ve acquired another rude habit:

Talking to people while wearing headphones. People who know me—for example, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barry Siegel—won’t bat an eye when I talk to them with my headphones on because they’ll know that I’m reading their lips and not paying attention to the music. They’ll know that I’m so invested in the conversation that I’ve forgotten that I have the headphones on and have merely neglected to remove them. But other people—for example, the inimitable Gay Talese—will look at me horrified as I chat with Barry without removing my headphones. His eyes will rebel against the solipsistic impertinence of youth culture he detects in my actions.

I register his discomfort but, blinded by reputation and desperately trying to impress him, I won’t understand what it is I’ve said that so offends him. I’ll rifle my brain for the offensive statement the entire walk home and come up empty. Only later that night, as I force myself to stop thinking about the events of the day, will I realize what I’ve done. And then?

So much for sleep.

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Comments (43)

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  1. Superking says:

    Can I admit to being confused by the blockquote? SEK, are you deaf? If so, why are you wearing headphones?

    • SEK says:

      I should make that more clear: I’m 90 percent deaf, so I can and do listen to music. What don’t I hear? I don’t know, but I do like what I can hear. Make sense?

      • Barry Freed says:

        How do you deal with that with all the TV shows that you watch that are the subject of your always informative and entertaining visual rhetoric posts? Do you use closed captioning? And if so do you find that makes it more difficult to focus on the visual aspect of the media? Or do you just say screw the neighbors and turn it up to 11?

        • SEK says:

          I have a variety of coping mechanisms: I use these when I watch alone or am re-watching something to teach/write about; CC or 11 when I watch something with the wife, or I go see things in IMAX; because then I’m the only person who doesn’t have to stuff wads of cotton in his/her ears.

          I also inform my neighbors that I’m deaf and that if the TV gets too loud, they can just ring the doorbell and I’ll turn it down, apologetically. And how do I hear the doorbell ring with the TV that loud? I don’t, but the cats all jump up, so I know it’s been rung.

          All of which seems perfectly normal to me. It’s funny how what seem, to other people, like needlessly complex and unworkable systems just become intuitive after a while.

          • OzarkHillbilly says:

            I have a variety of coping mechanisms: I use these when I watch alone or am re-watching something to teach/write about; CC or 11 when I watch something with the wife,

            Oh Yeah, watching something with the wife. I watch. She watches and listens.

      • Jonathan says:

        Fun fact: they can now shine a laser onto your ear drum and watch the response to various frequencies of sound. So you could get a profile of exactly what you do, and do not, hear.

  2. cpinva says:

    that seemed a bit odd to me as well. a video of something in front of your face i could (sort of) understand, but headphones?

    • SEK says:

      People who know me know that if I’m in a crowded room I’m going to be reading lips, so if they walk up to me on Ring Road when it’s crowded they don’t, for example, yell me name (I won’t hear), they tap me on the shoulder. And if I don’t take my headphones off, it’s because they know I don’t need to in order to understand them, because I’m paying attention. But if my attention drifts, say, at a party, the world really does turn into something approximating the video above. I stop caring about context and my brain just starts processing, which results in me wondering what it is the sofa bears don’t know.

  3. The Dark Avenger says:

    90% hearing loss means you can hear something turned up loud, hence the headphones.

    99% hearing loss, like in my own right ear, means you don’t hear anything, although I probably would be somewhat immune to a aural attack weapon of some sort.

  4. cpinva says:

    okm sure, works for me. oh, a comment:

    She’ll register her discomfort by pulling her lapels close or yanking her plunging neckline chin-high.

    if her neckline is plunging that much, it’s intentional, and it’s reasonable to assume she wants people looking at it. therefore, she’s lost any right to be offended. it’s like wearing a thong at the beach, it’s worn so people will stare at your butt. otherwise, you wouldn’t wear it to begin with.

    • Barry Freed says:

      Exactly! That’s why I always take a picture and post it on Reddit for everyone to see and get off on. Sheesh. Are you serious or just trolling?

    • SEK says:

      I’m gonna agree with Barry, here: “covert sexism” is bad, even if — actually, because — it’s actively encouraged by insecure women living in a patriarchal society.

      • Medrawt says:

        Not to mention that when people try to present themselves in an aesthetically appealing way, they still probably don’t want that to be the focus of social interaction. I appreciate it when someone compliments my tie; I would be weirded out if someone seemed more focused on my tie than they were on my side of the conversation. The ways in which this is a terrible analogy actually, in my opinion, make the point more strongly.

      • Origami Isopod says:

        insecure

        Yep, that must be it. Not that women are penalized for not adhering to patriarchal appearance standards, especially in work situations. Or that some women, including feminists, like to dress sexy in appropriate situations such as clubbing. They all must be “insecure.” So saith the man who writes creepily about not being able to pull his eyeballs out of their cleavages. Who then deems their “insecurity” the biggest reason to fight against sexism.

        With “allies” like you….

        • Barry Freed says:

          So saith the man who writes creepily about not being able to pull his eyeballs out of their cleavages

          Reading comprehension fail.

          • Origami Isopod says:

            I’m pretty sure that, being a woman, I’m more qualified than you are to judge how creepy it was.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Did you read the part where he says that, to read lips, he looks at people’s mouths, and not at their breasts?

              Judge creepiness all you want. We’re judging your ability to read.

            • Curmudgeon says:

              What a wonderful humanitarian you are to degrade the disabled, using the same terminology used to describe sexual predators, for the coping techniques they must use to participate in society.

              • Origami Isopod says:

                I love people who pit the rights of women against the rights of other oppressed groups. It speaks volumes about them.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Please, please, please read all of the words in the post. You’ll be glad you did.

                • Curmudgeon says:

                  So, in your view, is the wish of women not to be made uncomfortable by the eye movements of others more important than the right of the lip-reading deaf to speak to other people, or even leave their own homes?

                  Get over yourself.

                  Your wish to feel comfortable isn’t worth more than the needs of the disabled to earn a living or their right to participate in society to the best of their abilities.

                  If you believe otherwise, then you are a narcissist and a moral cripple.

        • SEK says:

          So saith the man who writes creepily about not being able to pull his eyeballs out of their cleavages.

          I’m with everyone else in the thread: you need to read the entire post before you decide, then declare that it means the opposite.

          • Curmudgeon says:

            Similar serious arguments have been raised by enough radical feminists that there’s a non-trivial probability the poster did read everything and came to the conclusion it did regardless.

            There feminists out there who would rather people with some disabilities weren’t allowed out in public so women with hypersensitive “creep” detectors aren’t made uncomfortable by the behaviors or compensation strategies associated with some disorders.

      • Rhino says:

        More trolling? Surely wearing a low cut neckline can have more motivations than insecurity?

      • OzarkHillbilly says:

        I’m gonna agree with Barry, here: “covert sexism” is bad, even if — actually, because — it’s actively encouraged by insecure women living in a patriarchal society.

        I have to point out that the appearance of a woman on a job site is a big deal. Not as much as it used to be (every now and again, a female electrician shows up). Look, I am being honest here. Been working in this biz for 30 + yrs. When I started, wolf whistling was an accepted part of it (and yes, some women enjoyed it) (I won’t get into the whole “patriarchal society” discussion) nowadays we have code words… “96!!!”

        I am not saying it is right. What I am saying is that we are sexual beings. Women notice. Men notice.

        Thank Janus.

        • Barry Freed says:

          (and yes, some women enjoyed it

          )

          Did they really? How would you really know? Or, as I suspect, did they just tell you that because they had to go along to get along in a hostile and male-dominated workplace.

          • Medrawt says:

            My (Puerto Rican) grandmother told a story about how distressed she was on moving to New York as a young woman to attend grad school because compared to San Juan the men were much less vocal in appreciation of her walking down the street. This would’ve been in the mid 1940s. (My dad reports that as a kid in San Juan in the ’50s he remembers getting a haircut and all the men employed in the barbershop running outside to holler at a particularly pretty woman.)

            For most people you get used to what you’re used to, and adjust accordingly. That doesn’t make it right. And given that my grandma was a Puerto Rican (albeit one of some familial means) woman who went to NYC to get a graduate degree and pursue a career, I think she was pretty ahead of her time/place in terms of not settling for what was expected of a woman like her. And yet she’d been acculturated to the idea that when she looked good, strangers would let her know about it.

    • Origami Isopod says:

      It’s okay to take a discreet look, fucknuts. It’s not okay to wedge your eyeballs into her décolletage.

    • Rhino says:

      It is not reasonable to automatically assume that she wants *everyone* to look, however.

  5. I, for one, welcome our new cyborg overlords.

  6. Aaron B. says:

    I would pay good money for a full-length “Eye of the Sparrow” song. It has a very epic sound to it, and the lyrics are no more incoherent than Bon Iver.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Over the years I have grown progressively hard of hearing. I do not read lips. I fill in the blanks. This works as long as I hear every 2nd or 3rd word. When I am only hearing every 4th or 5th word, I am screwed.

    That and when a woman is showing me her cleavage….

    Seriously, is showing cleavage acceptable in an office environment? I am a union carpenter and have not seen cleavage on the job since 1972. But when I watch “Breaking Bad” I can not take my eyes off Skyler’s cleavage.

  8. Phoenix_rising says:

    True story from London 2012 (as seen on my TV):

    NBC sports dude: That Missy Franklin, time blah blah blah, colleges blah blah Justin Bieber fan blah blah.

    12 year old with 40% of normal hearing who is furious that the CC isn’t keeping up: Hey, why’d that guy say that Missy Franklin is just a beaver? That’s not how they swim at a…Never mind.

    This is my living room.

  9. Eli Rabett says:

    A year ago we ran a summer research program for deaf and hearing students. We worried how they would communicate with each other. No problem, they just texted to each other on their cell phones. Thumbs up:)

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