Salt Lake Comic Con is coming up in a week’s time, and I am getting excited. One of the things that I am really looking forward to is participating in a panel. I really enjoy attending the different panels and feel like they are always interesting and informative, and I am hoping that I’ll have something interesting to add when I am one of the panelists, instead of just sitting in the audience. My panel is next Friday night at 6 pm in room 255E, and the topic is Disabilities in Pop Culture. I wanted to take an opportunity to explain why I wanted to be on this panel.
7 years ago, almost to the day, we found out that our newest addition, Eliza, had a hearing loss. We didn’t really know what that would mean for us. The audiologist let us know that it was a permanent loss, and that it was a mild to moderate loss, nothing that hearing aids wouldn’t be able to help. Further tests revealed that it was a particular type of hearing loss that was progressive, meaning it could, probably would, get worse with time. Eventually, she may even lose all of her hearing. This changed our whole world. We had never even considered that our kids would be born with a hearing loss. It didn’t run in either of our families, so it was completely unexpected. It also led to more questions. Our oldest child, Johnny, was almost 2 at the time, and wasn’t talking at all. He had previously mimicked sounds, but lately, that had stopped. It seemed like he was going backward. We took him in to get him tested, and sure enough, he also had a hearing loss, only his had progressed past the mild to moderate phase. His was a severe hearing loss, which is a fancy way of saying he was deaf. In a matter of months, in my mind, I had gone from having 2 normal kids to having kids who were “hearing impaired.” It was an adjustment, to say the least, but eventually we fooled ourselves into believing that we had it figured out.
When our fourth child came along, Lucy would join her older brother and sister as our third deaf child. With her, we decided to have some genetic testing done. That’s when we found out that my wife and I each carried a recessive gene and passed it down to our kids. They said it was a mutated gene. Wait…did you say mutated? Like, our kids were mutants? Like the X-Men? I guess as a geek, I relate to the world in geeky terms. All of a sudden, my kids’ hearing loss wasn’t a disability. It was a super power, a gift.
In a lot of ways, having a deaf child is a lot like having a mutant child in the Marvel Universe. The deaf culture is not well understood by the hearing world. Hearing doctors and audiologists and scientists are always looking for ways to cure the deaf population, while the Deaf (notice the capital “D”) Community doesn’t see a need to be “cured.” Many are proud to be deaf and to be part of that community and part of that history and part of that culture. A lot of hearing people don’t know how to react around deaf people. Do they pity them? Avoid them? How do they interact with them? Usually, discomfort leads to avoidance. My kids even go to a special school for deaf kids with other deaf kids speaking their own language and learning how to be proud of who they are. My kids are real, live X-Men. Fortunately, right now, they are not hunted down and put into concentration camps, but many are still forced to conform to the hearing world, and if you study Deaf History at all, it’s not hard to find examples of hearing oppression that is not dissimilar to concentration camps.
The world is changing, though. We are viewing disabilities in a whole new way, and a lot of that comes from geek culture that has now become mainstream. Maybe it’s because geeks understand what it feels like to be different, to be an outsider, so it leads us to be more tolerant. We understand to value what people can bring to the table, instead of only seeing what they can’t. In any case, I feel like we geeks are paving the way for more acceptance of people of all abilities. Which is awesome. My kids can look at a lot of pop culture and see people who succeeding who are different. Then they see they can do anything as well. That’s why this topic is important to me. I want my kids to look at a world full of heroes who are doing amazing things, whether they can see, or hear, or walk or whatever. Seeing those kinds of characters, like a Matt Murdock, like a Geordi LaForge, like a Barbara Gordon, it inspires my kids to reach for anything and know that really can do and be what they want. It makes me proud and happy to be raising my own “gifted youngsters” and to see the amazing things they’ll do.
What do you think? Who are some of the characters in geek culture who have had to overcome extra obstacles? Let us know in the comments either here, or in our Facebook page.