Dating while Deaf | Deaf Awareness Month

P: Hello, I’m Phelan and welcome to my YouTube—

R: *walks in* What are you doing?

P: The people have been waiting for a video, so I’m giving them one.

R: Nope, no, go back to TikTok!

P: Oh come on! They love me—

[No Signal screen]

Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome! I made a video years ago for a month of collaborations. The video was about dating while deaf, and I didn’t really have much to discuss. At the time, I had only one relationship in high school and it wasn’t much of one, so I deferred to my collaborator. Today, I have a bit more experience to talk about!

I asked on Twitter and Instagram for questions, so I’ll answer those first then fill in any gaps or other things I want to discuss.

A few people asked about if I would date hearing people, and/or people who don’t sign ASL. Short answer: yes, with conditions. Longer answer: I did date a hearing person for a few months, and they already knew some ASL and kept learning. I’m not someone to shut myself off from possibilities, I don’t want to potentially lose out on one of the best experiences or relationships I could have had. I wouldn’t be opposed to dating someone who doesn’t know sign… Yet. I would expect that person to learn sign and get comfortable with it, because I can not and will not live my life dating someone who can’t communicate directly with me and everyone else in my life. I don’t want to have a romantic relationship that’s solely through texting or writing things out. I don’t use my voice for many reasons and I just don’t want to. Some deaf people do, and that’s great for them, but it won’t work for me. If I happen to date someone who didn’t know sign, and didn’t make any marked improvement after months, that’s not sustainable for me.

Following on that, I will not be the person who teaches them the majority of their sign knowledge. That runs the risk of the relationship becoming a teacher-student dynamic, and I don’t want to take on the burden of teaching a whole language to someone who I want to be loving and in an intimate relationship with. If someone truly wants to be with me and know me in that way, why would they not make an effort to learn my primary language on their own? So yes, I would give non-signers a chance, but they will have to learn to keep up.

Someone asked what are the pros and cons of dating a hearing person? I want to be clear, in the situation I’m about to say, I only ask if it’s important, or only if they offer. A pro of dating someone hearing is the occasional interpreting and sharing of environmental information. I tend to prefer to handle things myself, because if the person I’m interacting with finds out there’s someone who can interpret or speak, all the focus tends to go to them. But sometimes for the sake of expediency, I will ask if they mind interpreting. And if they say no, I have no issue with that, and I will continue as I would’ve normally. If they offer to interpret, I tend to decline if it’s a very simple or non-urgent situation. As for environmental information, what I mean is sometimes there’s an announcement that isn’t accessible to me but something I would need to know. Like in an airport, or a train station, where they don’t have that information on the boards. Or something interesting happening that’s sound based, things like that. Again, I don’t ask people to tell me everything that goes on. If it’s something that catches their interest, I want to know. That’s actually a great way for me to learn more about somebody!

Now, let’s talk about cons… A big one is that they will *never* understand the deaf experience. No matter how many classes, years knowing deaf people, dating them, it is not something they will ever know. The deaf experience is SO diverse, but even then, we tend to have some shared understanding that hearing people won’t ever have. Another con of dating a hearing person is dealing with their hearing privilege. Now, I want to be clear here – this goes both for the person I date and the people around me. The person I date may not fully understand how their actions could impact me. Such as stepping in to interpret or help when I didn’t ask for it, speaking for me, leaving me out of vocal conversation when I’m right there, and so on. On the other side, hearing people around us tend to default to whoever speaks, ignoring the deaf person/people. I’ve had this happen, and even with repeated attempts to get them to interact directly with me, they’ll still turn to the hearing person because it’s “easier.” Which can be frustrating for everyone involved!

That’s dating a hearing person. Now let’s talk about dating a deaf person. The pros are obvious right away – shared experience, language, and cultural knowledge/references. Of course, this won’t be consistent across relationships, because like I said earlier, the deaf experience is very diverse. From growing up oral (speaking only) to full ASL immersion, using any kind of hearing device to none, deep deaf community connections to a small circle of friends, and that’s not even touching on race and how that can add another layer of relationship dynamics. But if the deaf people in the relationship have a similar understanding of and connection to Deaf culture, that can be a strong pillar in the foundation of a relationship.

Shared language will be another key aspect of dating a deaf person. I have to add here, obviously not every deaf person knows sign language, but I am speaking about my own experience. Being able to sign at full speed and not worry about slowing down or adjusting my sign choice for a non-signer/beginner is huge. I can fully express my thoughts how I want, and have that easy flow back and forth. All of the people that I’ve seriously dated are signers, only one was still in the process of learning but they were already at a level that didn’t require a lot of adjustment from me. With language comes cultural references that really make sense only if you know sign, in-community jokes, and sharing of information throughout our community.

I’ll briefly touch on cons, then wrap up this video. This con is true of any marginalized community: the deaf community is a small community, so a lot of people know each other. It’s very often that you’ll run into an ex at an event, or know people who know them too. I often joke with people that in the hearing community, it’s 6 degrees of separation, but in the deaf community, it’s more like 2 degrees. It really isn’t that difficult to find people in common, even if you’ve never met a person before and they live in another country. Due to that, things can become very tangled and complicated very quickly. Deaf couples often will share nearly the same friend circles, so if it’s a messy breakup, it can easily affect the people around them. Related to that, because people have a lot of mutuals, it can be very hard to have a private life. People get up in each other’s business all the time, intentionally or not. News (gossip or drama, let’s be real) spreads FAST in the deaf community. I love this quote from Sara Nović’s book, True Biz, because it’s very accurate. “…if hearing people ever studied the power and speed of the Deaf rumor mill, they might think twice about classifying deafness as a “communication disorder.”” You can figure out the many reasons why that can be a big con in deaf-deaf relationships.

I didn’t answer every question that I got, because some of those feel more appropriate to put in another video. I wanted to focus more on the deaf aspect in dating and relationships. There are some questions I won’t answer, because those are too personal and things I’d rather keep private. I know I certainly didn’t cover everything, so if you still have questions, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer! Thanks for reading!

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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!

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