Nyle DiMarco: Hey, wassup, hello

So imagine my mama, who is becoming more adept at social media/using the internet than I am (embarrassing) saying, “Shayna. Have you heard about the newest winner of America’s Next Top Model? He’s deaf, dark haired, blue-eyed, and handsome.” Since I have been living under a ROCK for the past month (finals finals finals), my answer was no. Since I have no intentions of emerging out from under said rock to interact with the world just yet, I spent the past two days watching an entire season of America’s Next Top Model (with closed captions) like it was going out of style (lol never).

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Sure, cycle 22 may have been the most dramatic season I’ve ever seen, but it was also the most intriguing, and that is because of Nyle. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be on a T.V. show, especially considering my deafness. However, Nyle’s task is one that even I cannot pretend to comprehend.

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Nyle is a member of the Deaf community, which means he uses nonverbal communication and sign language as his means of expressing himself. The other 21 contestants were hearing individuals. No matter what kind of drama those other people got up to, if Nyle was in the shot, I was focused on him.

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And not just ’cause he’s cute, okay? Okay.

It was so inspiring to see Nyle keep up with the others. His reasons for doing the show (proving that deaf/Deaf people can do anything) and his method of going about it just blew my mind. He was so composed and so patient, and while I can’t say I fully understand what it is like to be in his shoes, I feel that I understand more so than the average person.

When Nyle’s phone, which was one of his primary forms of communication with the other contestants (via various talk-to-text and sign-to-speech technologies) was taken from him so another contestant could take selfies, I felt his anger and his frustration. Obviously, what that contestant did was not cool and it should not have happened. At the same time, I understand Nyle’s desire to keep peace and not disrupt the vibe, choosing instead to internalize the frustration rather than express it. Many times, I have been in social situations where my hearing impairment was either forgotten or just completely disregarded, sometimes maliciously. Still, I wanted to give others the benefit of the doubt, to allow them the naiveté of not having to adopt another person’s perspective or burden.

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When Nyle was a cast member on Tyra Banks’ music video, I was so stoked to see him keep time with the music (with some help from the crew and Tyra). He even did better than some hearing individuals!

When Nyle had to do a photoshoot in the pitch black of night (no sight AND no sound?!) I felt that bewilderment and desperation to succeed, in spite of a so-called “disability.” I was reminded of various nighttime talks I would have with my friends, around campfires, on buses, or just because. I remember feeling lost, like I had no anchor to hold on to, no visual cues, no facial expressions — just sound, which for me, and most other deaf individuals, is not always enough.

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When Nyle had to walk the final runway to the sound of violins (no bass? Really, people, really?) I was taken back to my days as a songleader in high school, where I was able to perform in front of large crowds despite the fact that I couldn’t always hear the music. I had a job to do and an image to sell, and deafness didn’t really have a place in that description.

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When Nyle won, I could not comprehend how he must have felt. Yes, I understand pretty much every step of his story. I feel his pain, confusion, frustration, excitement, determination, and enthusiasm. He handled feeling invisible (because no one else spoke his language) with absolute poise and maturity. He kept his wit and humor despite the difficulty on many fronts — social, modeling, and beyond. Yes, I too, have been in similar shoes. But Nyle DiMarco did it without spoken language. As a result, I was positively mind-boggled. I once heard a person say, “blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from other people.” Watching Nyle DiMarco, and keeping in mind my own experiences, I just know this isn’t true.

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We are all bound by the human condition, and we all have different battles. A deaf/Deaf individual can connect to another person just as well as the next person. But other people have different obstacles to face and overcome. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t any one type of minority group keeping up with a majority. I think it is high time we all understood that life is the story of individuals not only keeping up with each other, but also holding each other up.

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Seeing how Nyle found ways to reach his fellow contestants and seeing how they, Tyra, the judges, and the crew reached out to him was something special. As a deaf individual, it is reinforcing to see someone similar to me go out on a limb like that and succeed. Not necessarily because I feel like I can’t do it too, but simply because it is beautiful. It is progress. It is not a solution, it is not a clear announcement that okay, now being deaf is totally mainstreamed and normal, but I’d say it’s a start. A fierce one, at that.

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Nyle DiMarco is helping amplify the voices (and signs) of so many deaf/Deaf people coming out of their shells and sharing their stories. His journey has been awe-inspiring from the get-go, and there is nowhere for him to go but up. Many thanks to Nyle, to America’s Next Top Model, and to the viewers who had open minds for helping to redefine what beauty is in the 21st century.

Nyle has an InstagramTwitter, and Facebook page. Follow him, like him, spread the love.

 

 

Wake me up when September ends?

Would you look at that . . .  One whole fall semester has (basically) gone by. Just like that. I have somehow managed to remain radio silent for almost three months.

I suppose I could blame my cyberslumber on my continual procrastination — repeatedly pressing the snooze button on my good intentions to post another blog. I could also blame my absence on every student’s go-to excuse: “school is just soooo crazy right now.”

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But let’s be honest, here folks. I kind of . . . forgot? In my every day routine of close-t0-normalcy, it sort of slipped my mind that I had a blog about what made me farther-from-normalcy. I also maaaayyyy have forgotten my username and password. The result? My first blog post in an embarrassingly long time.

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As if I wasn’t already shamefully logging in for the first time in months like a student showing up to classes for the first time in the final weeks of the semester, wordpress has decided to add insult to injury. With new formats and fonts and a slightly updated layout, I can almost hear wordpress taunting me: “oh, thereeee you are.”

Okay, rant aside, let’s talk about what brought me back here.

Recently, I had a sibling of a friend reach out to me to ask if I could be in her student documentary project on the Deaf/deaf debate. I got to spend a whole hour babbling in front of a camera about the same stuff I talked about in A Word. The whole time, there was a little voice in the back of mind saying “wow, this is really fun — I should talk about this more often in a public forum for all to read as they please!”

Oh wait.

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So yeah, that’s kind of embarrassing. Another reason that brings me back is a recent conversation I had with a fellow USC friend. We were talking about what it takes to stay positive in what feels like a constant whirlwind of negativity. At school, it gets easy to stress out and enter this cycle of negativity that won’t relent. We were remarking that while it seems that positive, happy people just seem to have it made, remaining positive is a constant battle. It is a choice we must make on a daily basis even if we don’t feeeeeel like being positive on that day. Positivity and success require hard work and diligence, but the pay-offs are immense. Unfortunately, the pay-offs are often what people see, not the battle.

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We were exchanging stories and reasons behind our continual decisions to choose positivity, and I kept thinking that positivity was a decision I made long ago. When faced with the prospect of deafness, it can be extremely easy to choose negativity. But I didn’t really like that option, so I didn’t choose it. Compared to that decision, choosing to remain positive about things like school, extracurricular activities, and friends (while important), are much simpler decisions. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but my journey with deafness has been a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to have perspective and clarity about what is important and what is perhaps more fleeting. That worked out well!

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Okay, second rant over.

Thanks for listening! Hope you all have a wonderful, positive, perspective-filled Thanksgiving with your loved ones, I know I will!

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(This is me at the dinner table on Thursday)

 

When to Say When

When to say when . . . I think it is safe to say that we all, as human beings, have faced this issue at one point or another. Whether it it’s struggling to figure out when to tell someone you like them or when to tell the waiter to stop pouring cheese on your pasta, trying to nail down the art of timing is Rubik’s Cube of life. Or maybe that is just me. Either way, I have a constant, on-going when-to-say-when issue in my life.

As a deaf individual, trying to figure out when to tell someone you’re deaf is the most confusing thing on the planet. It has gotten to the point where I roll my eyes and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. But before I explain what I mean by that statement, let me fill you in on the situation itself.

Close your eyes and imagine you’re me. And if you don’t want to be me, just close your eyes and imagine you’re deaf. Got it? Good. Let’s say you are a mainstreamed deaf individual. That means a slight accent or lisp because you can’t say your “s” sound very well, or a slight nasal overtone to your speech. It also may mean you say “what?” occasionally. And in noisy places, people of both sexes may think you are thinking about kissing them when, really, you’re just trying to read their lips. Primarily, it means that despite all these traits or quirks, your deafness exists on that gray boundary between detectable and undetectable to your average human.

Now imagine that you are meeting someone for the first time. You shake their hand, you introduce yourself, you chat with them. The conversation goes pretty well. You hear about 97% of the conversation, but thank goodness, in today’s zoned out, sleep deprived age, saying “what” at some point in the conversation doesn’t result in your new acquaintance realizing that you are, in fact, deaf. Let’s say you guys exchange phone numbers and promises to meet up later.

This moment can either blossom into a friendship, or not. But if it does, and you guys start getting closer and hanging out more often, you might start wondering: does (s)he know that I am deaf? Should I say something? Does it matter? You play out two scenarios: you suppose that you could have introduced yourself and said “hi, I’m (insert name). Sorry if I seem like I can’t hear you very well, I am deaf.” That isn’t really a bad option, but it is kind of straightforward, and it can lead to the new acquaintance being confused or a bit taken aback. Or not. It depends on the person. But it is a toss up.

Conversely, you could become friends with said person, texting and hanging out regularly. And maybe, just maybe, five years down the line, you can slip in the fact that you have been deaf the whole time.

Okay fine, maybe five years is dramatic, but you get the point. Whether it is a week later, or whenever an appropriate time arises, you somehow feel that your timing is a bit too late. Once you have established a friendship with someone, the common reaction to revelations of this degree is incredulity. Sometimes, and I have experienced this, the friend gets offended that you didn’t share with them sooner. Sometimes it is completely fine. Another toss-up.

I, myself, have not yet mastered the fine art of when to say when. I always do my best to find the right moment. If that is a couple seconds after introduction, then so be it. If that is two weeks later, during a 2 a.m. chat, that’s cool, too. If it is five years later — well, fine, that never really happens. I have come to realize that there are situations where it is important to be upfront, like in classrooms (always let your teacher know you are deaf. Always), or at meetings, or in loud places, like football games. There are other situations where it might not be so important.

When it comes to making friends, I am absolutely watching to see how people react to the news. What I have found is that most people are not fazed. They shrug and say they are happy to help me with anything I need, and sorry, they still want to be friends. Nope, being deaf doesn’t change anything at all. I’ve come to realize that the timing is a matter of personal preference for me. Just like a random person wouldn’t come up to me and start spilling their guts, I don’t need to go around trumpeting my deafness. No one says, “hey, red flag, you may not want to be friends because I can get really anxious about things” so I don’t need to say “hey, I’m deaf so I’m sorry if that complicates things.” When you meet someone, you embark on a path of getting to know them. For those who met, are meeting, and will meet me, part of this journey will involve me telling you, if you didn’t already know already, that I am deaf. I am sure that my journey meeting other people will include me learning things about them, too. Same difference.

The irony of my general over-thinking of this whole dilemma is that I am not a closed person, nor am I ashamed of my deafness. Ask anyone who is close to me — when I share this trait with you (and if you’re still interested in hearing more), I will share with you my story. I will explain the biology and science of deafness. I will show you youtube clips of people getting their hearing aids or cochlear implants for the first time. I will answer all of your questions. For me, the only trouble is that one tiny little bump in the road — WHEN.