The Sounds of Silence

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on October 2, 2012 in Personal |

The phrase ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ is pretty well known, I guess, and it has a definite meaning which most people should be able to understand. It refers to the pressure in society to take second place, to be the second in the team, the lesser person and the fight, which has been going on for countless centuries, to find an equal place in society. But not just the pressure to remain as the woman behind the man, also the fact the women are almost always placed in the second position, automatically, as if it is their natural place in the world.

Today I am not going to write about equal rights or anything similar, so you can relax again. I do have my opinions – well, who doesn’t? – but it is up to each individual to find their own place, to fight their own fight and to prove their own worth. Regardless of whether they are female or male.

This little Tweet spoke to me though. It spoke to me simply because it sums up much of my life in a few characters. The silent treatment has been a part of my life since birth, and it is something many people, sadly, cannot understand.

To recap, for those who haven’t caught up with the facts yet, I am a mute. I do not talk. I do not make any sounds at all. I daresay, if I really could be bothered or was so angry that it just happened, I could make guttural, unintelligible noises, but I don’t see the point in that. I effectively give people the silent treatment every single day. The question is more, do they understand it?

Some people interpret my silence in one way, as an affront or whatever, others in another when they do not know me. I don’t know how many people have shouted at me for an answer through the years, from teachers right down to people on the street, in shops or wherever and then, suddenly, become silent – shocked perhaps? – when I have pulled out my notebook and answered in writing or held up one of my little cards.

My cards, for those who don’t know, are simply standard phrases I need regularly. Little things like asking for a price in a shop, or telling someone that I am a mute (but not deaf!). I have about thirty of them in all, well worn and often used, and they are a boon if ever there was one. There are very, very few people who speak my language.

Photo Source: sxc

Oh, I can talk. I can hold a conversation with the right people without any problems at all. Where you use your mouth I use my hands. My main means of communicating, aside from writing, is through gesture, through using silent words and phrases, or spelling words out with my fingers, with gestures and simple movements, with body language.

It is a very peaceful means of communicating, and yet it can portray everything I wish to say, for those who can understand.

Photo Source: Tumblr

And for those who cannot speak with their hands, who do not know sign language?

There are many, many other means of communication which do not need words. It might be just an expression, a wave of the hand, a movement towards or away from a person. It may be the way someone is kissed, a touch, a wink of the eye. We all use them every single day of our lives, these silent communications. Mine is just a little bit more complicated.

I wonder, though, how many people would be able to get through a day, a single hour with other people without speaking out loud. I’ve heard of people who have worn a blindfold and then gone out into town to experience life as a blind person, and it has been a revelation for them. I’ve also heard of at least one restaurant where the customers eat in pitch black darkness, so that they can experience life as a blind person. But a day, a few hours, a single hour without talking? Trying to communicate without sound? Try it one time, see what happens.

You’ll be surprised. Not just at the reaction from other people, but also the frustration you feel that you cannot get what you want to say across to others. Or the frustration when people simply turn their back to you because they can’t be bothered to communicate, to take the time to understand you. Or when they address everything to the person you’re with as if you’re not there. Talk about you, but not with you. Treat you like a retard.

Marcel Proust makes fun, in a special way, of Madam Verdurin in his masterpiece. The woman who – she can talk, of course – has a series of actions which portray emotions such as laughing. She hides her face behind her hands – he describes it perfectly – or buries her face in her husband’s shoulder, to show her amusement, but makes no noise. Not retarded, just her way.

And me? Studying in college, mistress of a complete life, competent in four (two verbal) languages? I am disabled, they say, but not retarded. The brain, our who being, uses words to communicate, it cannot communicate directly, it needs these tools. I am just the same, I need other tools to communicate, but my brain is just as bright, just as active, as anyone else’s.

Love & Kisses, Viki.

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  • michael says:

    crikey, I’ve been following your blog for a while (two years? but haven’t read all the text, obviously!) and I didn’t know that. So your two “nonverbal” languages are ASL and the German equivalent, which is completely different from ASL and BSL, I seem to remember, is that correct? while French sign language is similar to ASL? I’ve always found sign languages fascinating but never got round to actually learning any of them. Well, ok, I can do maybe 20 signs in Makaton, which is a simplified version of BSL for ppl with learning difficulties, which my son uses who has autism and doesn’t speak either. Also find it a bit silly that sign language has been reinvented so many times, where it would be easy to have one esperanto version for all.

  • Diana Stevan says:

    Hello Viktoria. Thank you again for visiting my website and leaving your comments. If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t have found you. The photos here are beautiful and so profound. Have you been mute from birth? I can’t imagine what that is like. I appreciate your story and your courage and your intelligence. As for your wish list, there is nothing like books, huh? I’m also impressed with your list of published articles. You are one busy woman! All the best.

  • Chris Pleines says:

    I just wish to say that as a “normal” speaking, hearing, and seeing person. I know that at times i miss a lot hearing and seeing and even with words I am misunderstood more than I want. So this is to say I love the way you are able to achieve your goals and surpasse many “normal” people. The reason “normal” is in quotes is it depends on the people you are around as to what “normal” is. If a person is happy others should be happy for them not degrade or humilate for a difference.

  • Rick says:

    Hello there. I’ve only just discovered your blog which I find refreshing for a number of reasons. One reason is that, although I’m neither deaf nor mute, I’m fluent in ASL and get by with BSL. ASL is my native language and have grown up seeing my friends and family face the same sort of issues you do. I sometimes wonder if knowing and using a signed language wires my brain to appreciate and view things differently than most. We seem to view a few things similarly and I look forward to exploring your blog for those similarities.

    By the way, for your previous writer, ASL and other signed languages (like Irish Sign Language) evolved from the French. BSL was fairly isolated linguistically and was then exported around the British Empire. (A little bit of useless trivia for your followers.)

    Hope all is well on your end.



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