deaf dismissal and the female voice


Some years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, I knew a woman who interpreted for the deaf. She worked in everything from concerts to court dates, funerals to drug rehab. All interpreters—she told me—wear colors that contrast with their skin color and with no patterns, as the goal is to be “invisible” and just be the “voice” of the deaf person speaking. Sometimes she said she feels lost because she’s never her own voice or hands.

One difficulty she’d encounter was to make sure she got the “tone” right. A playful fuck you is way different from a FUCK YOU!; her hands and facial expression would have to accurately display this. Another hurdle was an intriguing gender issue: speaking aloud for a deaf man to hearing men.

When working with prison guys in therapy groups she knew she had to “talk like a man” in order for her male clients to be heard the way they intended. It was no longer just getting the tone right; it was that her voice being a higher pitched woman’s voice meant—and maybe because she was a petite woman—that a deaf man could potentially not be respected as much; he might not come across as manly as he “should” and thereby not be taken as seriously, or as macho, or as threatening…

This makes me wonder about a reverse scenario of, say, a deaf shriveled ancient lady paired with a male interpreter—maybe even a 6’6″ buff one with full sleeves of skulls and snakes—if she would garner extra respect than if her interpreter were a small Asian man or a girlish woman. Just wondering.

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