Gary Thomas: Coming out as being deaf

Posted on May 10, 2012

My name is Gary Thomas, I am an artist, filmmaker and writer. I’ve had ‘hidden disabilities’ for most of my life (it’s a long story, wait for the autobiography!).

I’ve been deaf for some time, after being born with a flat nose and cleft pallet, but it’s only in the past two or three years that I’ve given in and accepted it. This is despite working with people with all kinds of disabilities.

Charlie asked me to write a post for Limping Chicken about being deaf, or, more precisely, ‘coming out’ as being deaf. This worried me slightly.

Thing is, I’m not completely out. I have 70% hearing loss in one ear, so I can get away with not wearing a hearing aid most of the time. But when I do wear it, it helps enormously.

I’m sitting on the train on my way to Bristol with my noise cancelling headphones on right now (a deaf guy wearing headphones, who’d have thought!) and I’m going to a event on low budget feature films.

Here’s the problem. I’m going to wear my hearing aid when I get to the event. But I might not.

I might get there and not feel confident about using it. I might put it on and get a load of feedback from it (very annoying!!) and have to take it off. So, what to do…

Halfway in?

So I still feel halfway between the deaf and hearing worlds.

When I went to an event in Brighton last year, a friend was practising signing with the interpreters, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Because of the background noise, I couldn’t quite hear them either.

Sad face!

I still wonder if I have a ‘right’ to go to the subtitled screenings I see posted on Facebook, because I can hear OK in my right ear. I still wonder if I should tick the ‘deaf’ boxes in monitoring forms, when I don’t need interpreters. Lets face it, I have no problem ticking the disabled box. (I hope that box gets the appropriate level of care it needs).

Anyway, I’m getting more used to it, and to the idea that actually it’s up to me what I do, and how I cope with things. Having had what are called ‘hidden disabilities’ for a long time, I got to the point where I accepted that I could do with a hearing aid.

I think my fear was that having been able to pick and choose who I tell about my hidden disabilities, I thought the hearing aid would be the most obvious thing in the world. (This despite wearing a T-Shirt with the word ‘Disabled’ on it for a photo shoot!)

I told people maybe a year ago, when I first started wearing it. Literally one time I pointed at it rather excitedly to the group I was working with.

I’m still surprised when I see video of me and you notice my hearing aid (especially when I’ve had my haircut). But ultimately, it’s up to me how I use it. I just wish it would work better.

Gary Thomas is an artist, filmmaker and writer. He’s made 8 short films, and has been funded by Arts Council, DADA-South, Screen South and Unltd. His work focuses on sexuality and his own experiences with disability, particularly mental health. He has just completed a film installation inspired by the London Olympics, ‘The Dog & The Palace’ (it has subtitles!). You can follow him on twitter @2weddings, look at his website or become a fan:

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