In the early days of my relationship with Paula, she accompanied me to an appointment with an audiologist. I needed new ear moulds. Given that I’ve been deaf since the age of 3, I’ve been fitted for a great many ear moulds in my life. I know what to expect.
However, the audiologist bent over me, a bit too close to my face, saying loudly, over-enunciating his words, ‘Now, this will feel a little bit cold.’
With as much poise and dignity as I could muster, I simply nodded. I know. I was itching to grab the equipment out of his hands and squirt the stuff into my ears myself. I’ve done it countless times, back when I had an audiologist who would let me make my own moulds. But since she retired, I haven’t had that luxury. Instead, I waited as he did it for me, and then reached up to manipulate the putty so that the moulds would be just as I like them.
He slapped my hands away. ‘You mustn’t touch until they are cured,’ he scolded me, again over-enunciating every word.
I think we got half way through the appointment when Paula suddenly exploded at him. ‘FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!!’ she screamed. ‘SHE HAS TWO UNIVERSITY DEGREES. STOP TREATING HER LIKE SHE’S TWO YEARS OLD!!’ I don’t know what else she said, but it was said loudly and vehemently and took some time. And she said everything I’ve wanted to say, for years and years, but have politely sucked it up in order to be gracious and poised.
What stunned me though was the transformation in the man afterwards. He didn’t apologise to me. But suddenly he treated me like a normal person. Up until then I’d been telling myself I was imagining it.
Unfortunately, the behaviour of that audiologist is very common. I go to vote, and the person handing me the voting card asks whoever I’m with, ‘Can she sign her name?’ People are astonished that I have a drivers’ licence. I remember as a child, that I had written a handful of limericks, with the correct cadenza, and the visiting teacher for the Deaf was beyond amazed, stunned even, at this feat, even though other kids in my class could write rhyming poems too.
These days, it’s a little easier to break people out of this patronising way. I drop into conversation that I have six books published and am currently working on my seventh. I show them a picture of The Grimstones. I give an author talk. THEN I get respect, and people realise that I’m not as dumb as I apparently look.
But you know what really stood out for me. I went to a new hairdresser, last Christmas, and I had to explain to her exactly what I wanted done with my dreadlocks. This is normally an exercise in frustration as most hairdressers don’t seem to believe I could possibly know what I want done with my hair. This woman treated me with respect. She sat me down, focussed while I explained, then checked as she went that I was happy, accepting my corrections. This was a minor incident, but months later it still stands out in my mind. Why? Because I was treated like an intelligent human being, without having proven myself first.
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If you’d like a copy, or to give one to someone for a gift, I’ve just listed this as a giclee print in my shop.