Opinion: Are hearing people afraid to date us?

alexis borochoff

After a bad dating experience Alexis Borochoff set up a forum to find out deaf and hearing people’s feelings about dating each other.

I met Cameron, my friend, at a bar. “I have something to ask you!” he exclaimed. “Did you go out on a date with some guy from online named Ben?”

The name rang a bell. It didn’t take long before I remembered a brief moment where I met up with a man from OKCupid at Starbucks. The date only lasted 10 minutes as there was
no chemistry and ended with him begging for me to come back to his place. I declined.

“He’s a client,” Cameron said. “He came into my work and we were all talking about deaf people for some reason. Then he started talking about a girl he went on a date with who didn’t tell him she was deaf and how he was mad that he was tricked into going on a date with a deaf woman.”

He gasped along with me. The nerve of that guy! But it got me wondering. Did I really trick him? Is there some unwritten taboo that comes with dating deaf people? Are hearing people afraid to date us?

This provoked me to start an online forum asking both the hearing and deaf population about the role and stereotype of dating deaf people.

Philip, a hearing 20-something guy with no knowledge of Deaf culture said it wouldn’t be an issue to date a deaf woman. However, he notes some concerns of having friends and family making fun of the relationship and potential fear that people may feel he is taking advantage of the woman’s disability. “I’d learn sign language though,” he said.

Megan, a 20-something deaf woman has never dated a deaf person before: “Most of the deaf guys I’ve met write using the ASL grammatical structure. It is a major turnoff. I understand why it happens, but I can’t deal with it on an everyday basis. I’m not strong enough to put up with that. I know a few deaf guys who can write in proper English, but I was never attracted to them for other reasons – they were just friends.” But when it comes to hearing men, she wants them to sign: “It’s definitely a deal breaker. Communication is one of the most vital things you need in a relationship. I’m not going to write back and forth for the rest of my life. I’ll give the hearing person a chance to start picking up signs in the beginning of a relationship while we start getting to know each other over messaging systems (text/chat). That’s pretty much what happened with both of the relationships (ex and current) I’ve had in my life so far.”

Blake is a deaf man in his early 30s who is married to a deaf woman says he found dating deaf people easier, “since we both knew sign language and I’m comfortable with it”. He adds, “I’ve dated hearing girls before but not all of them wanted to learn sign language and I didn’t like that. There were a lot of communication problems. They always expected me to do all the work in lipreading.”

Lindsey, a 20-something deaf student at Gallaudet University said she could go both ways but would prefer someone who signs already: “I dated boyfriends in the past that I taught sign language but they either eventually stopped making efforts or we broke up. So having someone who signs will gives us equal access.”

She can’t be bothered with men who don’t sign “because hearing guys don’t always interpret for me and it is a hassle for them to do it if they don’t know sign”. She adds: “Deaf guys makes my heart jump, hearing guys don’t seem to do that anymore.”

Genevieve, a 30-something hearing costume designer with no access to the Deaf community said she is a talker: “I NEED to be able to talk to someone I am dating. So if I were to date a deaf person, I would probably have to develop a relationship online or through text. If we clicked there I would feel compelled to learn to sign.”

Meghan is a 30-something hearing mother and wife who signs said she would date deaf people and wouldn’t expect them to sign. “I know enough ASL to carry on a decent conversation with a patient deaf signer, and I would quickly improve if I used it more … A sign-only deaf person would not be able to communicate with my family or most of my friends … While the deaf person has always had to deal with these challenges and isolation, this would be new to me, and I would hope the deaf person would recognise the change I would be making. As someone who has spent some time with the Deaf community one thing that would be of concern is whether it would accept her: “I would be neither deaf, nor CODA. I have seen the Deaf community discriminate against others, claiming they’re not Deaf enough. It would be complicated, but love always is.”

Barbara, a hearing sign language interpreter in her late 40s made some interesting points, saying the social status of a hearing person will change if they date a deaf person; for example, they might also be seen as “someone taking advantage of a deaf partner, or portrayed as a saint for being ‘kind enough to date them’. Meanwhile within the Deaf community there is “an outspoken preference for deafness when dating is not kept secretive”.

My mind journeys back to the conversation at the bar with Cameron years earlier, after a shocking report of my “trickery.” I took a sip of my cocktail and responded: “Well HE didn’t tell me he was hearing.”