Considerations for the Deaf

Distinguishing abuse to and with these individuals…

What is a healthy relationship with a deaf person?

A deaf person might be defined as anyone with the inability to hear, a person who is deaf in one ear or has a limited range of hearing. They may identify as a Dominant, Mistress, Master, Daddy, Submissive, Switch, Bottom or Slave. Their identity and the ability or lack of ability to hear are not related. Deafness is not limited by race, orientation, gender, identity or sexuality.

Some people within the bdsm community have the misconception that deaf people only desire to play with other deaf people, are difficult to play with because of their disability or think that the deaf person will be unable to care sufficiently for themselves during a scene or that negotiations will be impossible. These are not necessarily true. Any of these same things could be true of any other bdsm relationship where all partners have full hearing. A healthy deaf person usually does none of these things. They are someone who has taken the time to learn good negotiation skills, has a life that works well; has good relationships with their friends, they make appropriate safety and partnering choices for themselves and can operate independently with high levels of self-sufficiency. Many deaf people are very careful about who they choose to become involved with because they value themselves and they want to safeguard themselves against abuse or maltreatment.

Healthy relationships with the deaf are about mutual respect and care. When each party takes the time to learn good communication skills, seeks to stop behaving in old patterns/paradigms that may be left over from their childhood or past hurts, takes responsibility for their mistakes and has learned how to practice healthy conflict/resolution skills then they are likely to have great relationships. Healthy deaf people and their partners need to take time getting to know someone before they trust them, be honest about their concerns and not manipulate to get their needs met. They should seek relationships that are win-win.

What is considered abuse to or with a deaf person?

Since many people who identify as deaf are engaged with others who are not, it might not be easy to see the abuse at first. Random House Webster's Dictionary defines abuse as "to use wrongly or improperly" and "to treat in a harmful, injurious or offensive way." Abuse and domestic violence within bdsm relationships, especially deaf partnered with hearing ones, are frequently overlooked, discounted, tolerated or accepted because the abuse is not readily apparent to outsiders or the deaf person may not want to appear as a "victim." Abuse of the deaf often comes in the form of restricted communication and access to other deaf people for friendships, isolating them, heavy criticisms about their level or skill of language, invalidation or restriction on their contributions or involvement, etc. Abuse can and does occur to the deaf, even by other deaf people, and if the partners are or have been intimates, then it is considered domestic violence. In either case each party should get help quickly.

What does abuse towards a deaf person look like?

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Dr. Gloria Glickstein Brame
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