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Marlee Matlin Brings us a Glimpse of Deafhood, like Womanhood

April 7, 2010

Photo/ California Literary Review

The amazing Marlee Matlin has produced a new reality show called, “My Deaf Family,” and is posting it herself on Youtube.

Incidentally, Youtube recently made closed captioning available for all its videos (though not without the occasional funny mis-translation), making them more accessible to the hearing-impaired.  Matlin has been hard-of-hearing since she was a baby, and is an incredible role model of strong woman, successful actress, advocate for the deaf and hearing-impaired, and feminist.

Matlin said she took her idea for a show about deaf or hearing-impaired folks to several TV execs who “loved” the idea, but still wouldn’t pony up.  So, like a true feminist, Matlin took matters into her own hands and will be posting episodes of the new show on Youtube.  You can watch the pilot below.

Aside from being pioneering as one of the first reality shows about the hearing-impaired world (“My Deaf Family” follows a family that is entirely deaf aside from two sons, the older of whom narrates the show), it offers an additional and alternate channel of voice to the deaf world, or rather glimpse into it for those of us who live outside it.

One of the most striking parts of the pilot is a quote from the father (deaf) who talks about his deafness as a state of being…like Blackhood or womanhood.  Not a new concept, but an interesting one and certainly a bit deeper than one would expect on a 10-minute Youtube clip.  I like it.

Elizabeth here at GAB has written eloquently before about what it means to be disabled and/or a feminist and where the two identities overlap.  This is an interesting additional commentary on that.  By following the fairly mundane life of a hearing-impaired family, we get glimpses of just how extra-ordinary it is to live in a world largely without sound. 

I have never considered my hearing ability to color my reality the way my identity as a woman may, or race/ethnicity/religion, etc. may for others… but perhaps it is something we take sorely for granted.

Like appreciating an image in negative space, I think this show will reveal powerful new realities and ways of “being” to those of us who can hear, as it also uncovers the realities of those who cannot.

Needless to say, Marlee Matlin is awesome in many, many ways…and it doesn’t surprise me that she would have the vision and perseverance to bring these subtle revelations into the public sphere.  You may remember Matlin most recently from (yes, “Dancing With the Stars,” but also) “The L Word,” where she played Jodi Lerner, an explosive and erotic hearing-impaired sculptor and love interest of Jennifer Beals’ Bette Porter.  She was riveting, although the show eventually became intolerable.

Never the one to shy away from pushing boundaries and crossing borders, Marlee Matlin is absolutely what a feminist looks like.  The fact that she exists as well in an additional reality, being a hard-of-hearing person, I think, makes her feminist lens all the more acute.

  1. April 7, 2010 10:04 am

    There are a few things that are bothering me about this post, and I’m not sure how best to bring them up.

    I think the easiest to point out may be that Marlee Matlin isn’t “non-hearing”, she’s Deaf. I’ve never seen her describe herself as non-hearing. One of the things that Deaf people have advocated for is to not be defined by what they are not. It also presents being Deaf as somehow being the opposite of hearing.

    I think the project Matlin is doing is *outstanding*, because so many people do have huge misconceptions about Deafness and being Deaf. My favourite part is when the parents lay it right out on the line that they don’t think their Deaf children are a tragedy anymore than their hearing children are – unlike the doctors and nurses in their lives.

  2. Jessica Mack permalink*
    April 7, 2010 11:38 am

    Anna, thanks for your insights. I realize the terminology is a very tricky and sensitive issue and I really wanted to be aware of that. I used non-hearing, deaf, and hearing-impaired variously so as to be more inclusive of individuals with a range of hearing impairment. But I take your point about non-hearing and I think you’re right. My hope was to highlight Matlin’s show and project as an important step in educating us all, me included.


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