Here are a few responses (my comments are in italics) to the Living Without Sound mini-workshop, anonymized as per participant request. All participants had normal hearing. This first reply was from a male engineer in his mid-twenties.
I found the readings really compelling, so I was determined to do the exercises. So determined, in fact, that I tried braving the world of ChatRoulette!
...wait, this is a great idea. Right! ChatRoulette -- people with expectations of conversational interestingness lowers barriers somewhat! (On the other hand, I do need to talk with my landlord, my professors, airline ticket counter agents, etc. and other people who do have more influence/sway over my life -- some over multiple conversations or even years -- so the realism is slightly mitigated here as well. Just a note on experimental setup tradeoffs.)
In a hilarious coincidence, the first person who stuck with me (after a long stream of bored looking creepy guys who were just hoping that I'd be an woman) had a broken microphone, so she kept replying to me in text!
The next session that stuck was a pair of teenagers, the second of whom was both more talkative and in the shadows.
What I took away:
Starting out, it was really scary. I had no idea what I was going to do if someone actually tried talking to me. Would they get angry if they realized that I wasn't understanding?
Yup. How might that make your world smaller, over years of constantly being in that situation? (And what sort of external risk-taking profile do you need to develop in order to bust out of it?)
Talking with some college friends, I realized that "Mel doesn't go to parties" was a part of my undergrad identity. Thing is, I actually like parties. I just never realized this until after college when I went to a party with really good acoustics and some people using ASL. The point is being able to meet and talk with other people! I was probably something like 21 when I realized this -- because in normal parties, I can't understand conversations, so I didn't meet or talk with anybody, so I always just thought parties were pointless.
Once I got comfortable with the idea of trying to start a conversation with someone, I was thrown for a loop by the teenagers. I think that one of the fears that would never go away for me is that of unusual situations - I could imagine getting proficient at dealing with one-on-one interactions in nice environments, but what if there are two people rapidly interrupting each other? What if the light is intermittent? What if they reach down for something? You could never get to the point of having "seen it all."
People really don't know what to do when they realize that you can't hear them. It throws them off nearly as much as I'm already off balance, which doesn't make for a smooth conversation.
Yep! And people keep asking me "why do you continue to pass for hearing in daily life? doesn't that take a lot of effort?" It does, but spares you other things. Again, tradeoff.
Yeah. This is a huge concern for me. Imagine having a husband you literally can't talk to, or constantly responding to doorbells and phones and kids and visitors because your wife doesn't pick up on it, or what it's like to take the burden of facilitating communication at a party for someone you're dating. Imagine thinking about having kids and thinking about the communication-coping burden your deafness, or your spouse's deafness, might have on them (and in some cases -- though not mine -- the knowledge that you're genetically likely to pass your deafness to your kids). What if your baby cries or your toddler falls or your child screams and you simply don't know?
It affects relationships a lot, and a lot of people don't really want to put up with the burden. You see me coping well, almost invisibly, in public because I'm constantly pouring out a huge stream of energy to keep things up -- but I need to be able to not do that when I'm home, so I can rest. Who wants to be the only (or at least the primary) person in the world to put up with an exhausted deaf Mel who wants to rest instead of being functional? It's not an easy job, and it's one thing that's made thinking about relationship stuff extraordinarily difficult for me over the years, and even now.