In the middle of the dance floor in a seedy nightclub, I wrote a stupid line asking about the music on a text editor app on my phone and launched it into her face. She took the phone into her hand, we moved off the dance floor and quickly became engrossed in a conversation about cats, especially Maru, an internet famous cat, and it was all done by passing my phone back and forth. Six years later I still have a record of all of the conversations we had early in our relationship.
On our first date, I noticed Emma struggling to eat her lunch because of how quickly I wrote on my phone. I told her that I could teach her the basics of Auslan, including the alphabet, so we began fingerspelling and using some basic signs. We walked over to the botanical gardens and Emma quickly discovered how difficult it was to finger spell and sign while walking. I took the opportunity to teach her one of the most important duties as a person who signs – that is to ensure and help each other not to walk into an obstacle while listening and signing on the move.
In the weeks and months that followed, we met constantly and spent a lot of time talking about a wide range of subjects. I gradually introduced new signs, and sure enough the pace of our communication became much faster. I was, and still am to this day, impressed with how quickly she picked up Auslan.
There are always challenges and faux pas when teaching or learning a new language. Even more so with the nuances and subtleties that are exclusive to the language. In Auslan and many other sign languages, body language and expression plays a major part in conveying the message and your emotions. It is something that is deeply entrenched in me, having grown up in a Deaf family and community.
In the early days of our relationship, Emma struggled with the bluntness and directness of the language, and would often think my reactions were far stronger or more aggressive than I intended. It takes a good ounce of self-awareness and effort to soften the way I express myself. Conversely, Emma had to learn to use and read body language and facial expression in a completely new way. Her family and friends have noted that she is far more expressive now, particularly when she is signing.
Emma’s parents, brother and extended family began learning Auslan not long after we met. It was so humbling to see a family come together and jump on board, just so they could communicate with me directly. To this day I believe it has had a huge impact on our relationship. It has also meant that both our families are able to communicate when we all get together. I cannot stress how rare it is to have a partner’s extended family sign up to an Auslan course!
Emma has learned a great deal about Deaf culture as well as lifestyle considerations. She has learned about working with interpreters, accessibility issues and awareness about deafness in general. To share my language, my community and my culture is always special, and even more so when it is with the partner I love. Seeing our families and our old and new friends come together and learn how to communicate with each other has had a really beautiful and significant impact on us.
I was diagnosed at birth and officially tested by an audiologist when I was few months old. I am proud of my Deafness even though I may not show it and I am grateful for what it has brought to into my life in terms of unique experiences. And I am fortunate that I work in Art & Design where most people are open-minded and highly adaptable.
I use Auslan but I cannot recall when I started, as it was the natural way of communicating in a household with two Deaf parents. One of the biggest challenges is the ignorance and perpetration of myths about Deafness within the general public. I always find it helpful to be on the ready to help educate people more about Deafness and our language (Auslan) and the many other sign languages.
This goes a very long way in terms of quelling the ignorance which has so much influence in professional settings (more so in some industries than others). And I am genuinely passionate about sharing and teaching everything I have knowledge on: Deafness and Sign Language being chief amongst them. When one learns it is almost guaranteed that one will share his or her learnings.