more on cyborgs

In a previous post, I wrote about how, when I was 19, Donna Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto changed my life.

By that time, my ability to hear had been declining steadily for over a decade. Then, in the spring of my sophomore year of college, the hearing in my left ear took a final plunge. My right ear was little better.

With the exception of a sign language class and a couple of hard of hearing friends, I operated entirely in the hearing world. I survived with lip reading and, more often than I would like to admit, bullshitting. Both of these skills had improved in proportion to my physical decline. I was excellent at both.

But with one ear completely shot, even my most finely honed survival skills felt inadequate. I decided to get a cochlear implant.

This device consists of surgically implanted electrodes that send sound directly to the auditory nerve, bypassing the non-functioning cochlea hairs. The external component resembles a conventional hearing aid and communicates with the internal part via a magnet, which is implanted between the scalp and the skull.

I had hearing aids since age ten, but a cochlear implant was something new entirely. For one, it required surgery. The surgery involved the implantation of machines – magnets, electrodes and the like – in my head.

Until that point my body, as inadequate as it was, was, I thought, natural. Now I was going to have a prosthesis attached to my head. I would be metal and wires.

Haraway’s work is informed a lot by the theoreticians and activists who are sometimes known as US third world feminists.  One of this movement’s largest contributions is explaining the world through the perspectives of intersecting oppressions and identities – that is, through the perspectives of people who operate in two or more worlds at once. Gloria Andalzua, whose poetry I quoted in a previous post, is one example.

Haraway explains that just as gender is historically and culturally specific, so too are our understandings of the human body and human species.

Her path out of these neat categories – some examples of neat categories are man/woman, black/white, citizen/non citizen, human/machine — is through the cyborg: a creature that is part human and part machine, part fiction and part real. Seeing that I was about to become part machine, I embraced this wholeheartedly.

Now, a decade and a half later, I’ve want to see what this set of politics has to teach us about fertility medicine.

Much of the time I’m conscious of how reproductive endocrinology has functioned as a boutique specialty accessible to those that have cash or decent insurance. For obvious reasons, it’s important for all of this to question this. One way is by supporting campaigns for better health insurance policies and domestic partner benefits.

And for similar reasons, I think it’s important for infertility patients – especially those of us who consider ourselves feminists – to be extra critical of discourses that draw thick lines between natural and assisted reproduction, and between “test tube” babies and natural babies.

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4 Responses to “more on cyborgs”

  1. What a fascinating post. That is definitely a different view point to consider things form. Thanks for sharing your experience and outlook.

    ICLW #10

  2. what a fascinating post. As someone who is completely enthralled with Deaf culture and studying sign language, I find your post a compelling read.

    ICLW 🙂

  3. I love this post. I know that cochlear implants are (used to be?) controversial among the deaf community — is that still true? And do you think there’s a parallel there with the line people draw between “natural” and “test tube” babies? Or am I totally off base?

  4. Deaf people are mostly opposed to cochlear implants when they are implanted in newborns.

    It’s often the case that deaf babies are born to hearing parents who know nothing about Deaf culture. The parents are then convinced by doctors (who also know nothing about Deaf culture) that their kid’s chance at a happy life lies with a Cochlear Implant.

    So, instead of being sent to a Deaf school, meeting other Deaf kids and learning ASL (American Sign Language) — which is what happened for much of the 20th century — the kid becomes hard-of-hearing and is subjected to the mainstream world, in isolation from other deaf/Deaf people.

    My case is sorta different because I was born hearing, operate in the hearing world and am not fluent in ASL. In other words, I’m deaf, not Deaf.

    I am really sympathetic to the argument against Cochlear Implants, though. If I had a deaf baby, I’d probably not opt for an Implant.

    Being hard of hearing is like being an alien, but being Deaf in a community of other Deaf people is like having your own country.

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