It was the question I had been dreading:
“Perhaps our visitors could tell us a bit about their experiences with girlfriends when they were younger?”
I was at a National Deaf Children’s Society Family Weekend to give a short talk about my own personal experiences growing up deaf. This one was for in Chingford, speaking to around 25 parents of deaf children.
I’ve done quite a few of these now. I go through some family photos and do my joke about not being the secret love child of Boris Johnson. But really my aim is two-fold: firstly, to show that deaf people can get through life and succeed and hopefully inspire parents to have high expectations of their own deaf children. And secondly, to outline some of the challenges that befell me in the hope that parents can learn from some of own experiences. 9 out of 10 deaf children are born to parents with no experience of deafness so these kind of weekends where families get practical information and the opportunity to meet other parents are pretty important, in my view.
I talk, for example, about how I always hated being patronised at school and how it made more determined to do well and go to Cambridge. I also talk about how I got more embarrassed about being deaf as I became a teenager, began to hate drawing attention to my deafness and the consequences this had when I had to start fending for myself at university. And so on. I normally finish by saying what I would do if I had a Tardis and could meet a younger version of myself. I would give him 3 pointers:
1) Accept that you’re deaf and be assertive about it. Make a fuss when you need to.
2) Information is power. Know what support is out there and what support you can get. You can’t make informed decisions about what you need otherwise.
3) Roll with it. Being deaf in a hearing world is a challenge. But in the future, you’ll see how the challenges can help you develop.
It’s always interesting to see what questions they come up with at the end. At this weekend, I was asked for my views on the future of the Deaf community, whether I was able to develop an emotional connection with music when listening to it and, yes, how successful my love life was as a deaf teen. It can sometimes be a little emotionally draining but I hope it’s all worthwhile and the parents enjoy it and walk away with something useful.
And in case you were wondering, the embarrassing question was answered with some quick references to schmoozing a girl by buying her chips in the park every other lunchtime, taking another girl to see Dumb and Dumber at the cinema on a date that, quite literally, put me off girls for life and, finally, how I got all my sex education from reading Cosmo. Well, they asked.