Gatekeeping in the ASL Community | ASL Ponderings/Vlogmas Day 5

This is a post that may make some people hate me.

Hello and welcome to Vlogmas day five. I wanted to do an unscripted, and maybe minimal editing for this video, because this is something that’s been bothering me for a while, and I just want to get it out. I think you could maybe call this an ASL Ponderings, sort of, I guess? This is a video that may make some people hate me. I don’t care.

The broad topic I want to talk about is gatekeeping. This is a problem in every community you can think of, really. And in the deaf community, oh yes. It happens. A lot. Unfortunately. There are a lot of different gatekeeping issues in the deaf community but I want to focus mainly on when it comes to ASL.

Yeah, true, a lot of people in the deaf community aren’t fluent in ASL. That’s true. But do you know why? Most of us grew up without deaf role models. Many of us grew up without sign to begin with. Many of us grew up with no language. So of course, we’re not going to sign fluent ASL because most of our role models are hearing, maybe not skilled signers. That’s what happens.

This is exactly the reason why I get annoyed when I see certain people say things. I will get into that little more later. But right now, I want to say that this is the reason why I don’t really look at ASL That! much anymore. I used to look at it frequently, because it had interesting discussions, people asking what the sign is for this word, and I’d respond. Or I myself would post, and want to discuss what the sign is for this word, do you have one? And so on. But lately… The only time that I look in that group is when someone tags me. Yeah. That’s almost the only time I look right now. The main reason why is because of a few specific people that I don’t want to see in my face. They do affect the rest of the ASL That! community.

The point… Going back to what I was saying, I get annoyed at these specific people. Any time someone posts a video, asks the sign for this word, or… Maybe putting in an idea for a sign. Or even in the comments, maybe the video is a fluent, native signer, whatever. They ask a question, and someone puts a response in the comments, or… Then these specific people will respond to their comments, or the post, and the first thing out of their hands, they will say: are you deaf? Did you grow up signing? Now, I do understand why you want to maybe know. Maybe it’s oh okay, yes it’s your language, you “have the right” to talk about it. But the second question, did you grow up signing? Whoa. From some people, that might be more of curiosity of what their level of signing is, fluent, native, or they learned sign just one year ago. Or… They grew up with SEE, then later changed to ASL. (Like me.) Or whatever reason.

But this person, one specific person, and a few others, always, almost always add onto the two questions with: (an arrogant attitude)I’m deaf. I’m from a deaf family. I grew up signing ASL. I know all. Silence.” That kind of attitude. At least, that’s what I get from their comments, sometimes their response in sign. They will say I have a deaf family, I grew up deaf, I signed growing up.

Whoa. Just because you’re deaf, and you’re from a generational deaf family, doesn’t mean you get honors upon honors. You don’t.

THAT is gatekeeping. What if a person just started learning sign two years ago? And you’re already rejecting them, just because they didn’t sign growing up. That’s not their fault! I grew up signing SEE until later in elementary school. I started picking up more ASL from deaf people around me. I wasn’t really fluent in ASL until I went to college. And even now, I know I’m more English-influenced but that’s just how I grew up thinking. I have a whole series on my channel talking about ASL and random thoughts! I don’t see a problem with that because ASL is my language too. These people act like people who didn’t grow up signing are trying to take over their language, take over their culture. That’s not what they’re doing.

These people are the ones who are pushing people out because well, the word for this would be elitist. There’s a lot of people like this in ASL That! “Ah, you just started learning, ah okay. (pushes away)” “You didn’t grow up signing? Poor you. But no, you can’t participate in this discussion.” Pardon my language, but that’s bullshit. You don’t know what their background is. You don’t know what their knowledge is. Maybe they’re a freaking genius in linguistics, just not knowledgeable with ASL itself. Sometimes I’ve seen people throw in a suggestion for a sign, and I like that idea. Maybe they’re not a native signer, who cares? If it’s a good idea for a sign, and it fits in ASL, sure!

But when you shut down–no, shoot down–people, just because they didn’t grow up signing, because they’re not skilled signers…

That’s not okay.

I just get upset at these people because these specific people are… exactly the reason why so many hearing parents of a deaf child, “I don’t want my deaf kid to be part of that. I want my deaf kid to be part of my family. So… No thanks.” That is a lost opportunity. These elitist people cause a lot of deaf children to be “lost” to the deaf community. Because of their attitudes. Because of their looking down on people who don’t sign. Often, people who don’t sign… It’s not their fault. It’s society’s fault. The doctor’s fault. Blame them. Not the parents. Not the deaf child, or even the deaf adult.

I could probably just go on and on about this, because it just makes me so mad. But… This is getting long, so I’m just going to stop, and… Yeah. I may add more in the comments, more of my thoughts, but go ahead and comment what you think about this. Do you agree with me? Or disagree with me? Whatever, I don’t care, it’s fine. It’s okay if you disagree with me, I just want a discussion in the comments, but please keep it civil. Don’t shoot down other people. Don’t be mean. Just honestly, don’t be mean, period.

If you want to support my controversial content financially, I would really appreciate it if you joined my Patreon or made an one-time donation to my ko-fi tip jar. Subscribe to my channel. Follow me on my socials – FacebookTwitterInstagram. Thanks for reading, see you tomorrow!

Published by Rogan Shannon

Hello there! I'm Rogan, a queer deaf guy who has a passion for leadership and advocacy. I create YouTube videos about a lot of different topics - being deaf, queer, reading, language, and whatever else interests me!

2 thoughts on “Gatekeeping in the ASL Community | ASL Ponderings/Vlogmas Day 5

  1. I am fortunate enough to have acquired many linguistic skills in my life. I know that languages are dynamic, always changing in response to the current situation, conditions around us In this sense, languages are tools to communicate, express and exchange ideas and information about situations and conditions. It is the wise communicator who realizes that borrowing tools (whether we consider them basic, naive, or unpolished/non-standard) can be not only efficient, but beneficial in moving the exchanges forward. Humans use what works in the moment.

    It is understanding we look to create, no matter the form of the sign or word. Languages borrow and mix for efficiency and specificity. Using older, foreign, invented or adapted signs or words is fine with me, always with the point of clarity at the fore. How, when or where the speaker’s tools were/are acquired is irrelevant. The attempt to communicate, the courage to put your ideas out there is to be lauded. It is my contention that no community is complete without the voices of all its constituents.

    Gatekeeping is a form of backhanded censorship, in my opinion. Censorship is a form of repression, no? I’m not afraid of a different idea or comment, even if it takes a few extra moments to clarify. That differing idea can lead to other ideas and progress forward. Truly it is the ideas and expressions of the person that define their character; that is the critical information I seek.

    Here’s the big secret: Dialects, language-borrowing, mixing, (some say defilement) is very common, and in our human condition, we use what works efficiently and effectively in the moment. Standardized, formal, perfect or accepted, signs or words are only a few tools in the tool box. To denigrate another person’s form of expression is to limit your own world.

    Thank you for this great vid and all the others you create/post.

  2. I just happened across this blog today, and I wanted to thank you for posting it. It meant more to me than you know.

Leave a Reply