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Deaf Culture (5)
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Topic:  Is Kissing Part of Deaf Goodbyes?

In a message dated 6/7/2006 1:10:16 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Kristin writes:
I have a question about Deaf culture. I know you mention on your website how emphatically Deaf people greet one another with lots of hugging. My sign teacher is deaf and blind (but has some vision) and he is a big fan of long hugs. This is fine with me.  But today we were practicing sign outside of the classroom and at a local park. When it was time to leave, he hugged me but then also gave a quick kiss on my lips. Is this customary? It kind of threw me for a loop. I don't want to be insulting if that is part of the culture, but i am not sure that it is something I am comfortable with doing. He is significantly older than me so I'm fairly certain it wasn't any romantic thing. I just wasn't sure if Deaf people greet and say goodbye to each other like that as well.
No, it is not customary for Deaf people (in America) to kiss upon greetings or departures. That is very unusual behavior for a Deaf person.
The range of culturally appropriate and/or socially acceptable behavior of a Deaf-Blind individual will vary widely--depending on the current age of the individual, age of onset, the extent of the condition, and the relationship to others in the environment.
Even so, it is still "inappropriate" for an instructor to be kissing his student on the lips.  Have you seen him kiss any other students on the lips?  Does he kiss the male students on the lips as well?  Does he do this behavior when his boss is around?
The fact that we Deaf tend to hug other members of our community doesn't excuse an instructor to start kissing his students.  Notice I said "other members of our community."  Just because I hug my Deaf friends more doesn't mean I hug my Hearing friends.  I have a very good Hearing friend from childhood. He is not a member of the Deaf community, (but he speaks up when he is around me, he faces me when he talks to me, and he has learned how to sign a bit).  After many years of friendship he and I were driving across town working on a project and I had to stop by a Deaf event to pick up some papers from an associate.  After thanking my associate I gave him a hug and hopped back in the car.  My good friend looked confused and concerned.  After some coaxing the friend asked me, "Why did you hug him?" 
The question was totally understandable in that my lifelong Hearing friend and I had never hugged nor had he ever seen me hug another guy.  So I explained the difference in culture to him and he said "Oh" and we went on with our journey.
When Hearing people come to our events they experience a bit of culture shock to see us communicating with lots of facial expressions, stomping on the floor, banging on the table, waving our hands, flashing the lights, tapping shoulders, making "pah" and "cha" sounds, lingering goodbyes, and hugs.
Most Deaf however are bicultural.  We "behave" Deaf around other Deaf, then when we are in "mixed" company we switch over and to some extent follow the norms of the larger Hearing society. 
For more information and to better understand the topic of kissing and how it relates to Deaf-Blind people, I suggest you check out the text:
"Introduction to Sexuality Education for Individuals Who Are Deaf-Blind and Significantly Developmentally Delayed" by Kate Robbeie and M. Bolashsa.  (Here is a link to a PDF format file:
If you feel uncomfortable with being hugged or kissed by your instructor--do not feel obliged in any way to participate. I realize this is easier said than done. 
Some tips: 
If he insists on hugging you, don't hug back or if you feel you have to be polite then hug with only one arm and then only to pat him on the back twice as if burping him.  Bend somewhat at the waist so as to prevent full body contact (using a slight "Oriental style bow"). Bend the other arm at the elbow and place your forearm across your chest with a fist on the end to function as a spacer between your bodies. Turn your face away from him during the hug to make it very difficult for him to initiate any kissing. Suppose it was your right arm that you were patting him with--after a couple pats on his back bring the arm around to the front and place it on his shoulder as you gently force him back from you and immediately begin signing something like "THANK-you, SEE YOU TUESDAY CLASS."
Good luck.
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 6/9/2006 9:00:20 AM Pacific Daylight Time, kristin writes:
Dr. Bill-

Thank you for your response. I appreciate the time you took for so thorough an answer. Being a clinical psychology student, I particularly found the article you sent me an interesting read. While I'm currently involved in research involving chronic pain and depression, I have become very excited about the idea of helping to further develop research in the Deaf community. So who knows... maybe one day i can send you an article i've written as well:)

As far as the teacher situation is concerned, the class is held at a church and while we do have people drop in for a class or two, I am the only consistent student. Thus, I cannot really compare my teacher's behavior with me to that he has with other students. Inevitably, due to us spending class time together every week, we are going to be closer. I doubt, however, that he would greet male students the same way. I will take your advice and try a one arm hug with a "hand on the shoulder" pushoff as i tell him i'll see him next week. That should work fine. I just want to be sensitive to other cultures and wanted your input on the situation. On a brighter note, I've been invited by him to go to some deaf concerts, movie showings, plays, silent dinners...etc so I will learn more about the Deaf community and will perhaps gain a better understanding of the culture with first-hand experience. I'm very excited to learn more:)  ...

Have a wonderful weekend!




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