10 Questions

10 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Deaf Person

"My mum claims I was really upset the first time I heard a sound. Apparently I just cried for ages."

by Katrine Krøjby; photos by Amanda Hjernø
25 January 2018, 1:28pm

Caroline Gudme signing "bullshit". All photos by Amanda Hjernø

This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark

A while ago, I underwent an experiment where I voluntarily locked myself in a completely soundproof room. I got through 48 minutes in this anechoic chamber before I started having auditory hallucinations and begged to be released from that soundless void. The most interesting effect the experience had on me was that for a while after, I had a newfound appreciation for sounds I had always hated – that of dogs barking or babies crying, for example. It only lasted a couple of days, but it made me realise how much I take my sense of hearing for granted.

Caroline Gudme, 39, is one of approximately 4,000 deaf people in Denmark – a small fraction of the 360 million people worldwide who deal with some form of hearing loss. Caroline is also a gold and silver medallist in handball at the Deaflympics, and represented Denmark in both football and futsal in European and World Championships for deaf people.

I spoke with Caroline via email to find out what it was like for her to be deaf her whole life, what her favourite band is and whether she would swap any other senses for the ability to hear.

VICE: Can you describe what being deaf feels like?
Caroline:
It's complete silence. It's like when you turn the lights off and everything goes dark. I can hear a little bit when I wear my hearing aid, but sometimes I prefer not wearing it because I like the silence.

So, when you wear that hearing aid, what can you hear?
I can hear from a level of about 85 decibels, which means I notice people shouting, or loud, nearby traffic. When I wear it inside the house, I can hear the doorbell or the phone ringing. But if a lot of people are speaking at the same time, I can't understand a word of what's being said – it's like I'm in a chicken coop, or something. And I can’t tell conversations apart from any sounds in the background, so it's all just white noise to me.

I got my first hearing aid when I was ten. It was the size of a pack of cigarettes and I had to carry it in the front pocket of my shirt. My mum claims I was very upset the first time I heard a sound. Apparently I just cried for ages. I never liked wearing them all that much – I used to get injured playing football because other kids or the ball would hit my ear and the earbud would pierce my eardrum. My hearing aid can also be really annoying for the people around me, because it can play up and make this annoying high-pitched sound. I once got on a train to see my family and when they came to meet me at the station, they told me that my hearing aid was whistling. I felt so bad – the other passengers on the train must have had to sit through that the entire journey.

"VICE" in Danish sign language

When you were still single, how did you used to pick up guys?
Making eye contact is the most importing thing, and then it's all about your body language and the vibe you’re giving off. But it can be pretty tricky. My husband isn't deaf, and our greatest challenge as a couple is merging our two cultures – combining verbal communication with sign language, especially when it comes to raising our two children.

What is your favourite band?
I love Safri Duo because their bass and drum beats are so powerful, I can feel the rhythm in my body. When I was younger, I loved Whitney Houston – "I Will Always Love You" is one of my favourite songs.

Can you read lips?
It's harder if I don’t know the person whose lips I’m trying to read. I often just kind of guess what someone is saying. But my whole family knows sign language, so it's easy communicating with them.


Watch: 10 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Teletubby


What’s the one thing you can’t do because you’re deaf, that you wish you could?
I’ve been deaf my whole life, so I don’t really know what it would be like to be able to hear. When I was younger I wanted to be a police officer, but that was never a realistic option. In general, I wish more things were translated into something deaf people can understand – especially on the internet. On TV you can usually turn on subtitles, but while some online platforms do provide subtitles on video content, many don't.

Would you swap one of your other senses for the ability to hear?
I would hate to lose my sight, so maybe my sense of smell.

What's your favourite type of visual entertainment?
I really like going to the theatre, but I’m also a big fan of Desperate Housewives.

Do you have any idea what you sound like during sex?
I don’t normally speak in my everyday life, but when I’m having sex, I let go and make sounds. It’s a way of experiencing pleasure and releasing all the tension in my body. I feel the same way when I laugh.

What sound would you most like to hear?
I would love to hear the sound of nature.