The Art of Being Deaf (2014) by Donna McDonald
I read this book as part of my immersion in Deafhood for my AusLan class. I’m very new to learning about Deafhood and the Deaf community, and I think this book was a good place to start; it was recommended through a friend of a friend as a memoir of a Deaf woman exploring her relationship with her deafness while ‘passing’ as a hearing woman in a hearing world.
The book is quite short, less than 200 pages, but in it Donna McDonald goes on a personal journey of discover after being haunted by a therapist’s statement/question: ‘Your hearing loss must have had a big impact on you’. Using this question as a sort of thesis statement, McDonald revisits her childhood friends and teachers from when she attended the Oral Deaf Preschool at Yeronga, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland. Although she later attended a mainstream primary and high school, McDonald continues to remember her time and her friends from the Deaf School as some of the best in her life. Over several years she reads, researches, presents and reflects on her life as a Deaf woman in a hearing world, the work her parents, and particularly her mother, put in to give her the best access to education, and the tension between teaching oralism and signing in the time that she grew up: 1950s and ‘60s Australia.
I don’t read much memoir so had to adjust to the slower rhythms of this book, which has a very gentle story arc, and is focussed on an immensely personal journey with many factors contributing to McDonald’s overall conclusions. But as a starting point for learning about Deafhood it is very helpful as, through McDonald’s own research, it becomes clear that Deafhood can be approached from any number of directions. Some memoirs she reads and dislikes as the author had a bad relationship with their deafness: hating it and being ashamed of it their entire life. Other memoirs she reads and takes comfort in as it is clear that the author did not let being Deaf define their life. Her conclusion, after her years of research, reflection, and conversations with her Deaf friends, is that ‘maybe the art of being deaf is the art of life, which, of course, is the art of love.’
She cites many other works by and about Deaf people through history and around the world, so I have many more resources to explore thanks to this text.