Two Worlds, One Heart: Life as a CODA
My name is Stella. I’m in year 10 and I’m doing work experience for a week at Deaf Services. I chose to work here because I wanted to know more about what goes on behind the scenes at the office. At the start of the week I posted a photo of myself on Facebook asking the community if they had any questions about Deaf Services, the Deaf community or what it’s like to be a CODA. I received some great responses, and they got me thinking about how being a CODA has contributed to my identity and how I live my life in two totally different worlds.
English is my second language. I learnt Auslan as a baby before I could speak and started using both languages when I was about two years old. My parents signed to me all the time as a baby; my first signs were milk and more. Both of my parents live their life as empowered Deaf people, not being afraid of what other people say or think and always taking pride in the richness of the Deaf culture. I remember asking my parents a number of times as a young child, “If you had a choice to be hearing, would you take it?” Every time I asked, both of them agreed that they would rather be Deaf, as it was a massive part of their identity: they wouldn’t be themselves if they could hear.
"Being a CODA means having two hearts: one for each world I live in, the Hearing and the Deaf."
I often find myself reflecting this question personally: if I had the choice, would I rather have hearing parents? The answer is no. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Likewise, the Deaf community and culture mean too much to me. This perspective reflects my own identity, where I often find myself feeling empowered and invigorated not only by Deaf culture and my Deaf identity, but also as a young woman. My parents have had such an impact on my life in so many aspects. I’m so thankful they raised me to take so much pride in my dual identity.
Being a CODA means having two hearts: one for each world I live in, the Hearing and the Deaf. My outlook on life is, I think, unique, always trying to make sure each world understands the other and that there are no miscommunications. In having two worlds, I have a switch-like feature that allows me to easily alternate between languages or use both at one time. There are some signs that don’t have an equivalent meaning in English and can be better articulated in Auslan. For instance, sometimes when I’m really angry even when I’m by myself, I’ll just belt out all of these signs in sheer frustration, signs that couldn’t be interpreted to English.
To be able to talk to another CODA is the best thing ever. There is no need to explain what it’s like: they just get it. We get to relate to each other about the good parts of being a CODA and we are able to talk freely about our families, whereas if I speak with a non-CODA they often give me unwanted sympathy, saying “Aw, are you okay?” or “That’s so sad”. I think a lot of people say this because there is an overhanging and unnecessary negative stigma people have towards Deaf people.
In primary school I used to talk about my parents being Deaf all the time, not worried about what people might think, but as I got older and entered high school, I started feeling increasingly self-conscious. I was never bullied for having Deaf parents, although I know some CODAs who have. I was more worried people would make it into a joke, turning something I care so much about, the culture behind it and my identity into a laugh. I remember a few times as a child when my family would be out in public and I could hear people talking about us, not bothering to lower their voices because they assumed my sister and I were Deaf. They would say degrading things because we were all signing and my sister would look at me in despair. We just kept moving forward in life, always looking up to older CODAs that my mum was friends with. Nowadays when my sister and I are out with our parents and someone says a degrading or nasty thing, thinking we are Deaf, my sister and I look them dead in their eyes.
Although now I take more pride in having Deaf parents I still experience hardships when it comes to friends. A lot of people become nervous and they don’t know what to do, so they just keep their eyes glued to the ground. To be entirely honest, I don’t blame them. I don’t think enough people have been exposed to people with differing needs to begin to accept them, whether it’s someone with a sensory, physical, intellectual or any other type of disability. Because of this, I have become conscious of who I invite over to my house and who I talk to about having Deaf parents. It’s these challenges that make me, in some ways, being conscious is part of my identity.
Despite the negatives, there are more good parts about being a CODA. A lot of CODAs have a heightened set of skills, including leadership, maturity, empathy, approachability and patience. Personally, all of these skills make me a better person and is the reason why I’m so happy with who I am. Having a CODA social group is another reason why being a CODA is so good. The relationships that develop with fellow CODAs will be forever, such is our strong bond. Because I am bilingual, I have two sets of vocabulary and my brain is constantly multitasking two languages. This leads to enhanced cognitive brain function, ability to ignore irrelevant information and a larger vocabulary. Knowing Auslan and English gives a lot of hearing CODAs another dimension of language to use.
Being a CODA is such a massive part of my identity. I love everything about being a CODA, even the bad parts. Working at Deaf Services and getting asked questions have made me think about being a CODA in a deeper way than I usually do. I reflected on the importance and relevance of having Deaf parents who are empowered and proud, the importance of Deaf culture and community and the social and political ideologies that come with being a CODA. I am a proud CODA and I wouldn’t choose any other life.