“On paper she didn’t sound deaf . . .” (98).
Brenda Jo Brueggemann’s “On (Almost) Passing” is a revealing account of one woman’s journey of growth and reflection, as she embraces the many truths of her life that are illustrated through the use of mirror images of herself. It is amazing to see how she negotiates her existence between the d/Deaf and h/Hearing worlds while navigating through varying degrees of silence. Still it is important to note that when we think of mirrors, they throw back the “seen” physical representation. But Brueggemann’s mirrors are in her ears and are influenced by her judgments, moods, intelligence, and realities. This multi-level “self-evaluation” causes her to see the impossible demands of “passing,” or in her case, “almost passing.”
As a “hard-of-hearing- individual, she does not completely fit into the d/Deaf world and is isolated in the h/Hearing world, forced to rely on her husband and other hearing supporters. By “passing” as a hearing individual, she was able to maintain a “likeness” of a hearing person, while not recognizing your own needs. This attempt to belong was not so successful when trying to “pass” as a d/Deaf person. Full membership into the d/Deaf community, and many others, require “successful” individuals to fully accept themselves and embrace their realities that are a reflection of individual passages.
I was most impressed that she likened her “almost passing” journey to “coming out,” “literate passing.” “. . . this place as the art and act of rhetoric,” “books are easier to control,” and “doing literacy.” Brueggemann’s self-evaluations included not only the physical, but encompassed her negotiations with language and its usage. Through her writing, and to a lesser degree talking, she was able to shape her roles in the h/Hear and d/Deaf communities. As a way of passing, she found safety in talking because she did not have to listen, thereby holding off external judgments. Writing allowed her created a closed environment of her choosing, where she had total control, absent of negative external factors. She found safety in two arenas in which h/Hearing individuals may view as opposite spectrums: safety in talking and silence. Still, as a hard-of-hearing individual, for Brueggemann, both talking and silence provided the same reinforcement. The h/Hear community would most likely argue that both cannot exist in the same space and product the same outcome. Is this not an excellent example of the usage of rhetorical strategies and how one navigates personal encounters?
Brueggemann said that her talents of being a storyteller, writer, and talker allowed her to “pass” as being a member of the h/Hearing community and a member of the “The Deaf Way.” She notes that the creation of narratives, within the two cultures, has different approaches. The “Deaf Way” narrative formation is shaped through the experience and user’s language abilities to recreate that experience. On the other hand, the experience drives the narrative for the h/Hearing world, which is less dependent on the individual’s communication skills or the listeners. Such passage navigations lead one to understand the “Gallaudet Meanness” and the lack of understanding from those who are not d/Deaf, as related by the desperate mother’s explanation of her daughter’s behavior in the chapter. Brueggemann said, “When I get to feeling this way—trapped, nailed, stuck in between overwhelming options—I tend to get frantic, nervously energized, even mean. And my will to pass, to get through and beyond at all cost, kicks in ferociously” (93). She finds strength in her circumstances and uses her strengths of writing to navigate her way.
“Writing is my passageway; writing is my pass; through writing, I pass” (99).
What are the rhetorical implications of the “Gallaudet Meanness?”
Can one say that from a hearing individual’s questioning Brueggemann’s “accent” or “nationality” was a way of normalizing the “otherness” of difference that may be displayed through d/Deafness?