I have had an astonishingly difficult time
trying to cram my ideas for this book into a suitably compact
nutshell without warping them. I'm not certain how well I've succeeded.
But here at least is an attempt:
I foresee a point, sometime in the next
century, when genetic engineering will have advanced to a level
that cuts the number of deaf births by perhaps an order of magnitude,
and when biotechnology will have advanced to a level that can
provide artificial hearing the descendants of today's cochlear
implants for the remainder, and for those people deafened
as children or adults.
I also suspect that the vast majority of
Americans would read the above sentence and cheer it wholeheartedly.
What I want to do with this novel is divide those hearts.
Blind people, by and large, would love
to be able to see. Paraplegics would love to walk again. People
with physical disabilities would, on the whole, prefer not to
have those physical disabilities. This is not true of the majority
of deaf people, who do not wish to become hearing. Given the choice,
they would remain Deaf.
A generation of children will be the battleground
between hearing people who believe that to deliberately allow
a deaf child to be born or live with uncorrected hearing when
other options are available is morally outrageous and unjustifiable,
and the Deaf adults who view this position as cultural genocide.
If they had the opportunity, I believe
many Deaf people would separate and form their own community.
There are a variety of things in Deaf history and 'oral' culture
that support this idea. For example, one popular story involves
a hearing astronaut who is stranded on a planet populated entirely
by Deaf people.
In this book, I want to give them this
opportunity. There are too many obstacles in the modern world,
I think, for such a separationist attempt to succeed on Earth.
But a community in space, if they could just get there, might
have a shot.
The first part of the novel will be devoted
to showing what it's like to be Deaf, as thoroughly as possible.
There will also be a catalyst technological or legal or
both that threatens the Deaf community very explicitly
and sets the separatist attempt in motion.
Once the external problems of where the
Deaf separatists will go and how they will get there are more
or less solved, an internal conflict arises. The most militant
Deaf people believe that this should be a Deaf-only refuge, no
hearing people allowed at all. A more moderate Deaf faction hopes
for a mixed and equal community.
There are precedents for both. In the nineteenth
century the community of people on the relatively isolated island
of Martha's Vineyard (near Massachusetts) had a very high incidence
of genetic deafness. Approximately one in thirty people were born
deaf. (By comparison, the number of prevocational deaf people
in America today is estimated at one in five hundred.) And under
those circumstances a very interesting phenomenon occurred
no one on the island, hearing or deaf, considered deaf people
to be handicapped. Whether or not a person was deaf was not even
worth mentioning. Residents were more likely, in describing a
person, to indicate whether he was a Democrat or a Republican
than whether he was hearing or deaf. Deaf people were full participants
in the community, and did not form clubs of their own or keep
to themselves at all, as mainlanders did (and do).
And everyone on the island spoke sign language.
All of the hearing people grew up bilingual. No one thought this
was in any way remarkable.
On the mainland, most Deaf people marry
other Deaf people, and always have. A small percentage, however,
will marry (or, in the case of gays and lesbians, form partner
relationships with) hearing people. By contrast, most deaf children
are born to two hearing parents. Only about 4.5% of deaf children
are born to two Deaf parents. So it's obvious that in order to
have a sustainable Deaf community of any sort, some serious technology
would have to come into play, or else they would die out in a
generation. And you can imagine the uproar that would ensue among
hearing people upon finding out that deaf people intended to deliberately
engineer deaf children.
And with a Deaf-only community, every Deaf
adult with a hearing spouse or lover or parent or child would
have to choose whether to lose their community and culture forever
to remain on Earth and watch their language slowly die
for lack of people to speak it while suffering not just passive
discrimination but new distrust and even active hatred from many
hearing people or to turn away from their loved ones and
never see them again.
There are a hundred other stories and issues
and subplots here that I see arising out of these events. There
will be hearing people who think the Deaf people are selfish and
morally repugnant, and ones (often hearing children of deaf adults)
who are sympathetic and want to help. There will be Deaf people
who in their pride refuse the help of hearing people, to their
own detriment. There will be logistical problems in acquiring
a habitat, and getting there, and planning for an independently
And I want to present an entire spectrum
of characters from the most militant separatist Deaf leader
to their most fervent hearing opposition sympathetically,
and tell their stories and their beliefs and their loves so clearly
that no matter how far you leaned toward one viewpoint or another
when you began the book, by the end your heart is divided.