Sitting in the middle… 

It was only a chair. 

It was just the placement of the chair that “told” others I was an – ahem – inbetweener

I was at a children’s party, feeding my daughter while my son danced about when I noticed a deaf guy pointing at me. 

He was asking others who had congregated in a corner, “Who’s that? Is she hearing? She’s not deaf is she?” They all looked. But before they could answer I piped up. 

“I’m deaf, and I’ve seen you around before.” I signed to him. He looked at me quizzically. His wife wandered over to see what the matter was then proceeded to tell him how they knew me. 

“Oh! I remember now!” The guy exclaimed. “You’re one of them people, you can do both – fitzafitza and sign.” 

Fitzafitza – he was referring to my speech. 

“Erm, yes,” I replied, feeling flummoxed. “I suppose I can.” 

“That’s why you’re sitting there then!” He concluded, as though the placement of my chair really mattered. 

I looked around. To the left of me was four hearing mothers and to my right was a group of deaf parents. 

How ironic. If ever there was a visual explanation to describe my place in the world, this was it. Bang in the middle. 

Suddenly I felt awkward and self conscious. Is this really how people see me? Not quite fitting in?

Sure, that day I did chat jovially to my deaf friends and I love their company but it’s true – I do feel a bit different. And whilst I’m happy to get to know other hearing people there’s usually the intial communication stumbles. 

And of course there’s the hearing people who run a mile because they’re scared of deaf people – so I don’t get the chance to know them anyway!  

It’s a bit of a conundrum really. 

I’m not quite this but I’m not quite that. In the deaf community’s eyes perhaps I’m not a true ‘big D’ deaf person. But then maybe to the hearing world there’s no denying I am deaf.

Although I’m obviously, slap-you-in-the-face, clearly deaf, I’ll never be able to hide my “hearing-ness” or Hearing Culture I should say.

 The oral use of English, SSE based signs, love of music and the little quirks that my deaf friends say make me “look hearing” – the polite, reserved nature in social settings. 

And then in opposition to all that, there’s no denying my Deaf Culture either. The visual humour, noticing things others wouldn’t, love of sign language and of course the exaggerated lip patterns or animated facial expressions when in conversation. 

It’s just who I am. 

I didn’t want to be an inbetweener growing up. Oh no.  I wanted to fit in one camp only. I thought maybe if I was more deaf the support at school would be more straightforward and I’d have more deaf friends. I’d be going to the deaf club instead of dance lessons, not missing out on the youth activities at the deaf club like I always did… 

But then in the privacy of my bedroom I’d wish that I was hearing so I could go on Pop Idol (the show before X Factor 😉 ) and follow my dreams to work in the West End. Singing into my hairbrush with the stereo turned high and dreaming of a musical life. 

But those simple, straightforward dreams weren’t meant to be, were they? This is my plan. 

So, to the guy who pointed me out and asked – in a beautifully blunt Deaf Culture way – why I was sitting where I was… Thanks. It may have been purely coincidental but I believe that awkward conversations such as the one with yourself are only catalysts for getting us to accept or move on from something. 

So yes, I am sitting in the middle. And yes, I do go in both worlds – not fully perhaps, but it’s okay with me. I can work with it 😊

And it’s Rebecca, by the way. I do hope you remember me next time. 😉

Any more inbetweeners out there? 

When Dame Evelyn met Sean… 

“Deafness does not mean that you can’t hear, only that there is something wrong with the ears. Even someone who is totally deaf can still hear/feel sounds”. (Glennie, 2010)

We had a visitor one day when I was at Mary Hare school for the deaf. She had wild hair and was moving about while she made – what I perceived to be – a “racket.” 

There was quite an excited hubbub regarding her presence, especially amongst the teachers. But with the lady playing what sounded like classical music, I was far from interested. 

That lady was Dame Evelyn Glennie. World renowned percussionist and perhaps one of the most well known musicians who is deaf. 

I say “who is deaf” rather than “deaf musician” because that’s how she writes about herself; not at all fussed by her deafness and not wishing to be labelled by it in any way. I know this because I studied her briefly as part of my University dissertation and discovered a statement she issued to journalists explaining her hearing loss and indicating that she no longer wanted to be asked about her deafness. 

 ‘If you want to know about deafness, you should interview an audiologist. My speciality is music’. Extract from Hearing Essay by Evelyn Glennie

I saw her recently in video footage by BBC’s See Hear with another acclaimed deaf person, American rapper Sean Forbes. 

Based in Detroit, Sean is a profoundly deaf rapper who got signed up in 2010 by the same record company that launched Eminem. 

In 2013 Sean was crowned outstanding hip-hop artist of the year at the Detroit Music Awards and the millions of hits he’s notched up on his Facebook and YouTube channel show how much of a storm he is causing as an artist. 

The footage by See Hear explained how, inspired by his musical achievements over in the States and curious to explore the genre of rap, Evelyn contacted Sean and enquired about the possibility of a collaboration. 

Sean and his producer Jake Bass – having already heard of Evelynn’s work – were equally eager and flew over to the UK.

Now, I’m a little bit more in awe of Sean’s work (sorry Evelyn!) purely because the musical style is more to my taste. The fact that Sean signs his lyrics and makes funky accessible music videos means I have an easier time enjoying his songs than I do trying to listen to classical percussion. 

My hearing aids don’t make easy sense of the many layers of classical music. While Evelyn says that all notes, no matter how subtle, can be felt physically, it’s not a process that I find easy. 

It does seem odd at first to comprehend how such a formal genre can be fused with one that began in “the streets” – will it have the same impact visually and audibly? Will either style get lost in the other? 

Yet even despite being from alternate countries; Scotland and the USA and having such different backgrounds, Evelyn and Sean seem so at ease in another’s presence it would be easy to assume they’ve worked together for many years. They even appeared to lipread each other’s accents effortlessly! 

So I have an inkling that this might just work… 

Sean’s hearing producer, Jake Bass, has been working alongside Evelyn  to compose music for Sean’s song lyrics and the whole project will culminate in a 2017 tour featuring a 25 piece orchestra. 

So that’s popular rap and classical music fused together, written and performed by musicians who happen to be deaf. 

I have no idea if I’ll like this combination or even if I’ll understand it. But I know for sure that with two musical prodigys like this, I’ll certainly be going to see it. 

“The best part is that being Deaf isn’t even part of the equation, it’s what brought us together.” Sean Forbes 


Sean Forbes, Dame Evelyn Glennie and Jake Bass.