On a gloomy January day, my phone lit up: Will had texted me a video. Something coalesced in my stomach. I knew what the video had captured, but I didn’t quite believe it. In the solitude of my bedroom, I hunched over my phone and pressed play.

In the video, Will stepped back from the camera (his phone). He wore a striped polo shirt. Behind him was a multicolored shower curtain. He signed slowly, carefully: “Hi, how are you? I’m good. Thank you, my friend, Ross.” Nervous relief flooded his face when he finished fingerspelling my name.

I fell into a state of disbelief. Will had texted me days earlier to say that he had been teaching himself sign language. Reading his texts, I had felt a shock of surprise — followed by suspicion.

I am a deaf person. For the past 10 years, since I turned 18, hearing men have flirted with me and taken me out on dates. The only thing they have in common is the promise they all make: “I’ll learn sign language for you.”

Not one of them followed through. Not one signed up for a class or studied the textbooks I recommended.

As a child, I learned to lip-read, to parse words from lip movements and shreds of residual hearing. I attended speech lessons, which technically stopped when I graduated from high school. Today I get coached on word pronunciation from kind hearing friends.

My parents gave no explicit reason for putting me through speech lessons. The implicit reason was for me to do the work of communication that non-signers aren’t interested in doing. Communicating in spoken language means conforming to society, one dependent on

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