Coming Out From Hiding My Hearing Loss

4 min read



I knew when I gave the heroine of my novel, Junie Lagarde, hearing loss, my secret would be out. It was going to be blatantly obvious that I knew exactly what hearing loss is like, because I live it. But I felt compelled to write about it. To dispel the notion that hearing tech is perfect — it’s not. To let the world know there is a reason people hate wearing hearing aids, which are about as comfortable as wearing baggy pantyhose all day. I think we can all agree this is not comfortable at all. And I was tired of the stigma of hearing loss, and feeling pretty in-your-face about letting the whole world know.

Giving my heroine a hearing loss meant a world-class opportunity to vent.

I live in the Distillery District of my southern city, and my favorite place to write is a Ukrainian coffee shop in an old bourbon warehouse. It was there I handed off my hereditary cookie bite hearing loss to Junie. Junie and I can hear acutely at the top and bottom frequencies of sound, and have severe to moderate issues with everything in between. Which is most conversations.

Junie Lagarde handles her hearing loss with matter-of-fact confidence and a lot of edge. If she needs help, she asks for it. And it did not occur to me until I wrote it that that I could do the same.

I had reason to worry. Every single person I know with hearing loss gets told with great irritation they are loud. And when people said that to me it stirred up memories of old cartoons and sit-coms where people with hearing loss were feebleminded (not true) asked you to repeat things (true), wore giant hearing aids (nope, they’re invisible) said “ehhhhhh” (never) and talked really loud (I’ve done that since I was born).

The first time someone told Junie she was too loud, she gave them a menacing look. She asked them if they were the noise police and if so please show her their badge. I laughed out loud while I wrote it. Now I knew what to say.

And so, like most toddlers, I learned to use my words, because nobody can read your mind. I let people know that turning up the volume of my hearing aids was unlikely to solve the problem — it only meant the refrigerator and the washing machine would be amplified for my hearing pleasure. Would they turn off the television or the music if they wanted me to hear what they said?

They did.

Nobody minded. Nobody cared. More than a few told me about their own hearing loss, and I advised them on what to do. I found the younger people were, the kinder they were. My coffee shop is full of college students, immigrants in expat huddles, and me at the wobbly table no one else wants. It is huge with a high ceiling and music playing and I could never hear when they said my order was up. So I told them I had a hearing loss, and here is the terrible thing that happened — the staff started bringing me my coffee because they knew there was no chance I’d hear them, and I would be so wrapped up in the writing I was likely to forget I ordered it anyway.

And I realized that the stigma of hearing loss came from me. And once I got over it, so, it seemed, did the rest of the world.

At the end of the day, Junie and I both savor the sudden quiet that settles when we take our hearing aids out, how the world goes peaceful and soft. June has her hearing dog Leo, and I have my hearing dog Leah, to howl sweetly and alert me to the sound of sirens or alarms, people at the door or walking up behind us, packages delivered, strangers lurking around the house, and to guard us fiercely through the night. And now that Junie has brought me out in the open, I have given my Leah her own service dog vest. She is very proud.

Like Junie, the first thing I hear in the morning is birdsong, so loud it wakes me up before the sun. And like Junie, I fall asleep to the sound of trains barreling along the tracks, and the thrilling forlorn wail of their horns that makes me want to pack a bag and my dog and go with them.

We’ll do that in the sequel.

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