| First Published in Kouga Express |
As a child, I didn’t like it when people saw my hearing aids. I did everything I could to hide it: I wore my hair down as often as I could; I even braided my hair sideways. When people saw my hearing aids, their demeanor towards me would change instantly. They’d make assumptions, speak too loudly, treat me differently than my hearing friends, or even try to speak sign language to me.
I did my best to hide my big, chunky, heavy hearing aids. I naively thought, ‘If people can’t see my hearing aids, they will see the real me. They will see me for who I really am.’
As I started growing up, I noticed that discrimination in this society ran even deeper. Discrimination towards gender, skin colour, religion, and even hair colour. Yes, towards hair colour! I have naturally brown hair, but I’ve highlighted it blonde most of my life. At one stage I went completely red, and I immediately noticed that people – men, especially – treated me differently.
I recently attended a conference in Gqueberha. Hayley Braun spoke about her daughter, Liberty. ‘I have noticed that people don’t separate the person from the condition. My daughter isn’t Down Syndrome; my daughter is Liberty. She has a condition called Down Syndrome.’
This statement was a profound moment for me, for this is what I have been trying to convey to others for so long. I never once made my hearing loss my identity. Yes, it is part of my life, but it is far from who I am.
There’s a familiar story of Bartimaeus, the blind man in the New Testament. He wore a beggar’s cloak, which permitted him to beg. When Bartimaeus heard Jesus coming, he threw off his cloak – his status, his identity – and ran towards Him. It is highly significant that Bartimaeus threw off his cloak; it was a symbolic gesture from his side. He was getting rid of his past, his condition, his blindness. He was shrugging off people’s definition of him, and most importantly, how he had defined himself all his life.
How do you see yourself? What is it that you say to others about yourself? Do you label yourself as single, married or divorced? As a rich or poor person? Black or white, victorious or victim?
Probably the most important question you can ask yourself is the following, ‘Who is Jesus to me?’ God has made us in His image, but we were born in a war for our souls. This world is full of challenges that have to be overcome. It is up to us to find our identity in Him, and Him alone. If you don’t know who you are, first find out who God is. By doing that, you will come to know yourself in the process.
Having hearing loss is not who I am. It’s a great story to tell; it has affected my life in a great way, but it’s not who I am. The same goes for my Miss Deaf South Africa cloak. It’s something I won, but it’s not my identity.
Who I am is deeper, more profound. It will most probably take a lifetime to discover the deep, unknown treasures of me, things that I never knew nor discovered before. Cloak by cloak, I am getting rid of the perceptions I have of myself, as well as the perceptions others have of me.
Watch the full video clip of Hayley Braun speaking about her daughter: