Not every Deaf person or people with disabilities accept who they are. Not only it is because society lacks sufficient accommodation and accessibility that can impact their travel experiences but their belief about themselves as well. Although I did sometimes wonder what was it like to be Hearing (referring to a person who is not Deaf, Hard of Hearing, etc.) when I was young, I did not reject who I really was. I personally cannot exactly relate this. One of the people that can relate to this experience is Jason Hoang. Jason personally wrote this guest post for Through Their Eyes series. He shared his journey of fighting against who he is and how traveling changed his life at the age of 26.
Jason Hoang is a Deaf Vietnamese/Chinese-American male. Jason, who was born and raised in New York City, he didn’t learn American Sign Language (ASL) until he was the age of 26. He has traveled solo, with friends, and with his girlfriend (that’s me, haha). He has a passion for traveling, stories, fitness, and nutrition. He’s also a personal trainer. He does not own a travel blog but has two Instagram accounts: travel and fitness & nutrition.
Where has he traveled?
New York, Washington D.C., Nevada, Arizona, California, Maryland, Virginia and Oregon.
Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Nepal, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.
Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico (soon).
France, Italy, England, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic and Hungary.
Why did I fight so hard not to be Deaf?
In my entire life, I’ve always felt people were constantly judging me at school, on the streets or even at home. Basically, everywhere. “Who’s that guy with hearing aids?” or “Aw, I’m sorry he can’t hear” as if I can’t succeed in life. Mute, deaf and dumb, hearing impaired or problem in the ears are all commonly used to label me. What the hell is wrong with me? I wondered. I was the happiest kid in elementary school with a big smile and communicated with my deaf and hard of hearing peers in sign language, but that all changed in middle school.
I was bullied by other peers and rejected in activities that I wanted to participate in with them. I found myself trying to fit in but to no avail. I was devastated. I couldn’t believe that I was even rejected by my own community. Fast forward to high school, I acted as if I am a Hearing person, because I was embarrassed to see how immature they seemed with all the shouts and ill-mannered behaviors. With my experiences and my perspective of them, I believed that deaf people are really dumb and immature.
I didn’t want to be like them. There’s no way I am like them. Yet, as a lonely kid, all I ever wanted is to fit in…somewhere. The majority of high school peers that I’ve befriended with are Hearing. They seemed to be happier, smarter and normal. Just like that, I wanted to be normal like them. I tried to act like I am hearing by not acknowledging my deafness and mainly speak with my voice. “What?” is they usually reply whenever I tried to speak. Deep down, I was mad at them for not understanding me. So, I kept repeating myself and acted like they should know what I was saying. Whenever I’m in a social group, I’d nodded along or “laugh” along with them as if I understood that they were saying or what was going on. Just so I can fit in. Just so I can feel like I am included. But that wasn’t really the truth. This went on every fricking single day of my life trying to fit in with hearing people.
After twenty years, I felt hopeless. I didn’t know why I was so unhappy or why I hated myself. It is what it is, I thought. I was born this way as a deaf person and there was nothing left for me but to riot. One day, I got this text message from this Deaf person whom I met in college. He was treated me as I existed. He was there for me. Why me? I thought. The way he seemed content with who he is and of his life, I realized that I have to do something about my own, something that doesn’t make me feel stuck again. I started going to the gym and read several self-help books. I was making progress but
I still felt something was missing.
On Facebook, I could see my “friends” were having life. Some are married, traveling, and have a successful job. If I am making progress, why do I still feel sad? I don’t really know what’s missing. One day, I just thought of traveling. I was frightened but I was ready for a change. Fuck this shit. So, I impulsively bought a flight to Japan at the age of 25.
You’d think probably think that I had the most amazing time of my life in Japan. Actually, I did not. Not exactly. Japan was very beautiful, but I still felt like the loneliest person in the world. No mother, no friends. Nothing. It’s just me and the world. I saw a few Deaf people on the streets, I couldn’t find myself to say that I am also deaf. It wasn’t the time for me since I haven’t accepted who I am. I learned that it’s okay to be alone and started loving myself, although I felt there was a hole in my life. Through my travel experiences, I noticed that it helped me to become a better person. For that reason, my heart aches to travel more and I did.
I bought another solo trip to Thailand, expecting to be lonely again but still have some kind of hope. On my very first day in Bangkok where I landed at, I checked into a hostel and attempted to befriend some Hearing people there. They invited me to go out somewhere with them, and I did it out of obligation to just keep on trying. While I was walking with these Hearing peers, I found myself trying so hard to fit into Hearing world again. I used my voice, fake some laughs and nodded along. Suddenly, on the same day, I randomly saw a group of three girls signing in sign language. For the first time in my life, I took it upon myself to approach and signed, “Hi, are you deaf? I am……deaf too!” Two Deaf women are from Europe and one is from Thailand, and they were all using gestures to communicate since we all have different sign languages. Although it was just a couple of minutes of getting to know them, they invited me to spend the day with them.
Just like that, I bid goodbye to the Hearing people from the hostel and joined along with the Deaf group. We spent exploring together the next two days which was the best days of my life. Although our sign languages are vastly different (German, Austrian, Thai and American sign languages), we connected based on gestures. The way that they really tried to communicate with me despite my limited signing skills in sign language, they’ve seen me. They didn’t reject me. They didn’t belittle me. I felt…..accepted. I loved how I didn’t have to struggle to hear what they were saying, instead I can SEE what they were saying. I felt pieces of my shell breaking. I was starting to feel free. And we’ve all connected, and there is no better feeling like I actually do matter. I’ve seen how they get by their life as a Deaf person and how they seem to accept and love who they are.
Although my moments with them were brief, I learned so much. What I have realized that I’ve been fighting so hard against myself. Living in a shell, I’ve suppressed of who I really am. I’ve yearned for connection with people. I came to learn that fighting against who I am caused me to feel lonely and depressed. Not accepting who I am is exactly what has been missing in my life. I began learning American Sign Language (ASL), become more involved in the Deaf community, and could proudly say that I am Deaf.
After embracing who I am, the hole in my life is no longer there.
If you are reading this and you also are or had been struggling with your identity, let me tell you something: embrace whatever you’re feeling right now even though it sucks hardcore. It’s what gonna makes you strong as long as you don’t give up. I want you to know that you are not alone. You are never alone. There’s someone out there who deeply cares about you. Accepting who you are can feel very liberating, even if the process is difficult. Give yourself a chance and you may surprise yourself more than you ever know.