Transcript of 8th Session between Charles Balis, M.D. and Ms. Kelly Wiseling, Wednesday, October 14, 1998 at 2:00 pm.

Dr. Balis: Hello, Kelly.
Ms. Wiseling: Hi. I picked up that book you mentioned.
Dr. Balis: "Seeing Voices" by Oliver Sacks?
Ms. Wiseling: Yeah, I didn't recognize the title. But once I began reading, I realized that I'd read it a few years ago.
Dr. Balis: What did you think of it?
Ms. Wiseling: Tell me, Doctor, why did you think I needed to read this book?
Dr. Balis: I thought it was interesting.
Ms. Wiseling: Do you think I need some old, white, hearing male to tell me that ASL is a real language and that deaf culture is just as valid as any other culture?
Dr. Balis: Kelly, I...
Ms. Wiseling: Because I know that already. Any deaf person could have told you that. We don't need a gray-haired, ivory tower intellectual to adopt us as his pet project, so he can pat us on the head and tell us how quaint our primitive customs are.
Dr. Balis: I...
Ms. Wiseling: Because Sacks a hack, if you ask me. I'll bet you didn't know deaf people could rhyme. We can think for ourselves, too. We don't need validation from hearing people.
Dr. Balis: It wasn't my intention to offend you, Kelly.
Ms. Wiseling: It pisses me off that Sacks made such a big deal out of making the deaf community his latest flavor-of-the month. Next, it'll be blind people, then retards, and after that inbred people from the South. Deafies are always dumped in the same category as the mentally retarded and children raised by wolves.
Dr. Balis: I gather you didn't like the book.
Ms. Wiseling: You're pretty smart for a hearing person, a credit to your much-maligned sociological group.
Dr. Balis: Thank you for that ringing endorsement.
Ms. Wiseling: I can't stand books written by academics that are so pompous and condescending. It offended me that Sacks quoted one of his colleagues, who described deafness as a curable form of mental retardation. He made this statement several times! There is ample evidence to refute the assumption that deaf people are stupid. Educators like Laurent Clerc discovered that deaf people were intelligent and capable of learning over a hundred years ago.
Dr. Balis: I understand why you might take umbrage at such assumptions. Sacks was viewing the deaf community as an outsider. As a cultural anthropologist, he needs to remain objective and to take into account societal prejudices. I don't think that Sacks personally holds the point of view that deafness is some form of mental retardation. The whole book pointed out how ridiculous that notion was. I think he was trying to portray the social obstacles that stand in the way of...
Ms. Wiseling: He's not sounding very objective when he reinforces outdated beliefs that the deaf can't learn.
Dr. Balis: Oliver Sacks wasn't saying that deaf people are inherently mentally deficient. Before deaf education evolved into what it is today, many deaf children were denied any sort of education at all. Their linguistic abilities and mental capacity was not even given an opportunity to develop. People just assumed they couldn't learn. As the result, many deaf children were, in effect, developmentally disabled. The same thing happens to children with normal hearing who suffer severe abuse and neglect.
Ms. Wiseling: I know that, Doctor. That's the fault of ignorant hearing people, not the fault of a deaf child. It's the tone of the book that angered me the most. Hacky-Sacks constantly expressed surprise that deaf people are not stupid. What does he know? He observed the deaf like they were lab rats for a few years, and now he thinks he's an expert. There are people who've devoted their entire lives to studying deaf culture and linguistics and who are much more qualified than he is to write about the deaf community. I saw him on a PBS special a few nights ago. When he conversed with deaf people, he didn't even attempt to sign. I've lived with deafness all my life, along with four to five million Americans. We know more about deafness and deaf culture than any cunning linguist. We can write our own history, thank you very much. I didn't think that book was very well written either. Why does nearly every goddamn page have to have two inches of footnotes? It's distracting when footnotes take up more than half the page. Most of the footnotes could have been incorporated into the text. A lot of that book is redundant and unnecessary. It reads like it was written by someone with attention deficit disorder.
Dr. Balis: Do you agree with Spike Lee's philosophy that only members of a minority can accurately represent their own group in literature or film?
Ms. Wiseling: No, I don't agree, but I understand why he feels that way. How do you think gays and lesbians felt twenty years ago when the American Psychiatric Association officially diagnosed homosexuality as a form of mental illness? How do you think blacks and Hispanics feel when they read a book like "The Bell Curve" which claims that statistical data proves they are intellectually inferior? If your ethnic or sociological group was depicted with condescension and unflattering stereotypes, even by academics, scientists, and other eggheads, you would be defensive, too.
Dr. Balis: I understand your feelings, Kelly.
Ms. Wiseling: You're a white male, what the hell do you know?
Dr. Balis: I'm Jewish, Kelly. I may not have lived in Germany during World War II, but I understand about being a minority.
Ms. Wiseling: And as a California psychiatrist, you're full of empathy, just like the Doctor Sack-of-Shit.
Dr. Balis: It may be hard for you to believe, but I do empathize with you.
Ms. Wiseling: Okay. I'm sorry; I'm in a bitchy mood today.
Dr. Balis: Any particular reason why?
Ms. Wiseling: All deafies have big chips on their shoulders. It comes naturally from having to adapt to a world of stupid hearing people. Where did the belief that deaf people are stupid come from? We have to learn your language, and ASL, and lip reading to communicate in your world, because most of you won't bother to adapt. Hearing people are the stupid ones, if you ask me. Most of them only know one language, and only a few of them know it well. They have no excuse--it's a lot easier to learn a language when you can hear it.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Wiseling: I got a letter from my mother yesterday. That's the real reason why I'm pissed off.
Dr. Balis: What did the letter say?
Ms. Wiseling: She didn't actually say much--she doesn't have to. She found a newspaper article about a deaf woman who's younger than I am, who won a teaching award. And she sent me a picture of Marlee Matlin with her daughter. Of course, my mom is only doing it to encourage me, she's only trying to help.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Wiseling: I get so angry at her. I really hate her sometimes. Why does she keep telling me what a failure she thinks I am? She's either saying that I should act like a normal hearing person, or she's comparing me to over-achieving deaf people. The only way I can prove my worth is by having a normal hearing child.
Dr. Balis: Have you ever discussed this with your mother?
Ms. Wiseling: I learned a long time ago that there's no use trying to reason with her. She's not happy unless she can control someone else's life. Now that Mark and I are out of the house, she has no one to nag except my father. That's why he spends so much time at the office.
Dr. Balis: I see.
Ms. Wiseling: My mother needs to get a life. She should sell Amway or take jazzercize. She won't work, and she doesn't really need to. Instead, she goes shopping and invents things to complain about. She likes to brag about how she devoted her life to her family, but she's not much of a wife and a mother.
Dr. Balis: Why do you say that?
Ms. Wiseling: She was hardly ever home. She was always out shopping or playing tennis. My brother and I were raised by babysitters and maids--it's the next best thing to having a real mother.
Dr. Balis: How often do you communicate with your mother?
Ms. Wiseling: I send greeting cards on major holidays. I only sign my name and mail it. I don't bother with a personal message anymore, because she finds a way to twist it around. If it weren't for Hallmark, I wouldn't communicate with her at all. She won't have a TTY in the house, and she hates hearing from the relay service. During my junior year at Gallaudet, I had pneumonia. My roommate had the relay service call my parents. My mother insisted that I needed to make friends with hearing people, so someone can call her in case of an emergency.
Dr. Balis: How about your father, do you interact with him at all?
Ms. Wiseling: No, not really. He seems unhappy, but he never says very much. I send him e-mail at work sometimes. I always tell him that I'm doing fine and that my job is going well. I don't feel like either of them really know me.
Dr. Balis: Would you like to be closer to them?
Ms. Wiseling: I used to want that. Up until a few years ago, I thought that if I did well in school and got a good job, they would come to accept me. But I finally realized that I was banging my head against a wall. As far as my mother is concerned, nothing I do will ever be good enough. My father is too wrapped up in his work to care. I still get jealous of the parents of other deaf people. I met a lot of hearing parents that were so warm and accepting. A lot of them learned to sign so that they could talk to their kids. I always wished I could move in with them, be a part of a real family.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Wiseling: I thought I would outgrow this kind of jealousy. It seems immature to resent anyone who comes from a supportive family. I remember I saw a picture in a newspaper of Bill Clinton hugging his daughter. I know a lot of those photos are staged, but they looked so happy. It made me sick to my stomach, but I couldn't stop staring at that picture. That's why I think I shouldn't have kids--I would be angry at them for having all the things that I didn't have. That's terrible, isn't it? What a selfish thing to say. Anyone who is that selfish shouldn't have children.
Dr. Balis: You are allowed to feel jealous and have resentment. It doesn't make you a bad person, Kelly. And we are here to help you work through all these negative emotions and thoughts. Just because you get angry by staring at a picture of a happy family doesn't mean you are not allowed to have a family of your own some day. If you do decide that you don't want to have children, it shouldn't be because you're punishing yourself for being too selfish. And now that we have only a few minutes left, and I would like to talk about life partners. We touched on that subject briefly last week.
Ms. Wiseling: Oh yeah, my homework--I kept putting it off. For some reason, I didn't want to think that much about relationships. I guess I don't want to admit that long-term relationships are a lot of work. That probably means I'm not a good candidate for one.
Dr. Balis: Not necessarily. I'd like you to give that writing assignment a try and bring it in next week. If you have fears or concerns about relationships, you can write about that.
Ms. Wiseling: I'm glad you're not making me stay late and turn in my homework.
Dr. Balis: There's no detention in this office. Besides, I have other patients.
Ms. Wiseling: Lucky me. I'll bring it in next week, Doctor Balis.
Dr. Balis: All right, Kelly. I know we've discussed some emotional issues today. How are you feeling now?
Ms. Wiseling: My mother's love notes always put me in a bad mood for a few days. I'll be okay.
Dr. Balis: If you need to talk about it, you can always call...oh, I guess you can't. Well, you can have the relay service contact me.
Ms. Wiseling: I don't like to use the service for personal stuff like this, but I appreciate the offer.
Dr. Balis: You could e-mail me, if you feel the need to discuss this further or simply vent your feelings. My e-mail address is
Ms. Wiseling: Thanks. I'll add you to my address list and forward any good dirty jokes.
Dr. Balis: If you only send on the funny ones, they're always welcome. You can discuss serious issues as well. I try to respond to my messages by the next day.
Ms. Wiseling: Thanks, Doctor Balis. I'll see you next week.
Dr. Balis: Take care, Kelly.
Ms. Wiseling: Bye.
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