I came down with a cold and what I presumed to be double ear infections while in DC for the Signmark show. I've had trouble with my ears my whole life and have had countless painful ear infections, burst ear drums, the whole nine. I've flown with ear infections in the past and have learned tricks for dealing with the excruciating pain of altitude changes. Due to restrictions on time and tickets I had no choice but to prepare myself for the pain and board the plane home to Nashville. While in the air I had every anticipated pain, and after landing I noticed a significant hearing loss in my right ear. After living with this loss for a few days I decided to go to the doctor to have it checked out. During my appointment the doctor discovered a large hematoma in my right ear canal that was preventing sound waves from making their way to my ear drum, no wonder I couldn't hear!
After first learning that humans rarely get hematomas in their ears I began to think more seriously about my dissertation. This was not the first time I've had trouble hearing due to an ear problem, but this is probably the most amount of hearing loss that I've ever experienced. I started joking about doing an autoethnography now that I too had a hearing loss. But as my hearing is slowly returning I'm faced with the methodological and theoretical difficulty of being an outsider in social research. I can never know what its like to be deaf. Even as I become further integrated into Deaf culture, ASL, and the customs of the community, I will always be an outsider because of my audiological status. In my work I spend a lot of time arguing that hearing impairment is real, but that speaking only in terms of hearing loss misses the point! Deafness has social and cultural implications too. As my dissertation is shaping up to be about the intimate connections between bodies and their socio-cultural environment and the dangers of attempting to separate the the body from the social I wonder, is it even possible that an outsider can really understand, let alone reproduce in writing/analysis, what the Deaf community faces? What's my role as a hearing researcher in this community? Should I even be doing this project? What does all of this mean for my work?
The answers to these questions are unknown today. But, after my cold and infections clear up I'm going for a full audiological screening to see just how much hearing I have lost over the years of infections, burst ear drums, and now a bruised ear canal. Maybe I will have that diagnosis to move me from a true outsider to an insider after all... Otherwise, it seems like I'll have some major questions to tackle.