Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On being a black lefty feminist with a "posh voice"

I remember when I first moved from Canberra to Melbourne; when I was nearly 14 years old; I kept on saying stuff wrong. For starters, I kept on talking about "Carstlemaine" and mentioned that I was in the "8th grade" ("Year 8", I was sternly corrected). But it was more than that. Apart from being an identifying Aboriginal girl going into an outer suburban public school, I was also told that I had a "posh" accent. It was apparently so refined that I remember once that I was asked whether I was from England.

Possibly the funniest guess I have ever had at my heritage, I have to say.

Anyway, the point is that my alleged accent has been considered a bit of an anomaly over the years, when paired up with the blackness, the working-classness, the incessant left-wing politics and, well, the everything. Whilst now I find those who consider it an anomaly to be quite hilarious, it, like so many other things that make up me, has been part of a bigger journey that today I feel triggered enough to jot down.

See today, I am sitting here, pretty much hanging by a thread. Not only do I seem to be on the longest insomnia curve of my life (we're into the third week now), but I have extraordinary Tinnitus. At this point in time I have another perforated left eardrum; something that has happened to me so many times in my life that I have lost count and now consider it a normal occurrence (twice a year, say). I also have a damaged middle ear that was quite badly infected, or so I was told when I last saw my ENT Specialist two weeks ago. When my ears are ringing like this, the only thing that seems to give relief is sitting with headphones on and blaring music to drown out the noise. Conversing on the phone, or in any other circumstance, is difficult because I get distracted and can go so far as to temporarily forget basics like people's names. I am not entirely sure why I am struggling so much today, and tomorrow will more than likely be better, but I never quite know. 

Ear problems have been an issue I have had for as long as I remember. Whilst it's something that generally children grow out of, mine are going to be an issue for the rest of my life. My Eustachian tubes, thanks to years of infections and a couple of operations along the way, are quite badly scarred which makes them infinitely more susceptible to everything. It's hereditary, and whilst people with Aboriginal heritage are much more likely to have issues with their ears, I also get it from my Mum's side with two close relations having lifelong ear problems as well. Generally, I end up having 1-2 hearing tests per year, and this increases if I get a cold because colds can knock out 50% of my hearing for up to three weeks. When I clear again, it's rare that my hearing will go back to the exact same level it was prior to the cold; usually there will be a minute loss. I have had two operations (grommets at 7 and a dual eardrum repair procedure at 14) and am in line for a third one should current conditions continue to deteriorate. At this stage, both my eardrums are retracted (bowing backwards) due to being severely weakened over the years, and my left middle ear is more damaged. DESPITE ALL THIS THOUGH, my hearing, should I have no other issues at the time, is not much below what a normal person's would be! It will get a lot worse over time, but for now, I don't need the TV up too much louder.

So what on earth does this have to do with my posh accent then? Well basically, that comes down to two things: the first being that my mother flatly refused to ever speak "baby talk" to any of us kids and was quite hardcore on correct pronunciation, and the second being that my ear problems didn't actually get diagnosed until I was 7 when a teacher at school picked them up. For years, I had had difficulty and because I'd hear a lot of "fluffy noise", I actually mumbled a lot because that's what it all sounded like to me. I also developed as a reader and writer earlier because I found listening and talking far more difficult, and for as long as I can remember I have preferred communicating in written forms. I am still a complete introvert, but back then it meant that I developed socially slower than children who had better hearing and so I would isolate myself or hang around one or two friends that I trusted. I am actually incredibly glad that I had an aptitude for reading and writing because I hate to know how far I would have slipped behind without those things. 

Once I had had my first operation, I also attended speech therapy to help me better form my words. We worked together for a while, if I recall correctly, and since then (along with the influence of mum!) I have always spoken in a way that may be a little, well, "posh". It was absolutely drilled into me that well-formed sounds and clarity were the key. I think I also became aware that others around me may also have ear issues and so it was incredibly important to be clear for them. I don't really know any different. It means that I can pick up languages quite well because I hone in on the correct sounds, but it also means that perhaps there's a bit of a mismatch between the ranting black lefty feminist business and the way I articulate it verbally. Does one sound ranty when they're clearly articulating their swear words, for example ;)

Whilst speaking better is something I learnt from childhood, dealing with my ear problems is something I don't always do particularly well. It's frustrating to lose hearing when you have a cold and feel like you're in a bubble for a couple of weeks. It's completely annoying when two people are speaking to you at the same time and their voices mash in together. It's embarrassing when someone is trying to whisper something to you in a more intimate setting and you end up yelling "sorry?" because you can't hear a bloody thing they've said. It's irritating when your headphones start to go on the blink and one of them is louder than the other when you're already off balance. It's tiresome when excessively loud music becomes a method of health-and-sanity management rather than a good excuse to mosh. I still struggle a fair bit, and like today, sometimes it will just get to me. 

So if I want anything to come out of this it would be that many more young people, and particularly young Aboriginal people, end up with posh voices with which to do their future ranting because they have had their ears checked and they're on their way to a better, and clearer, future. My stupid voice is actually a source of pride to me; that despite an early setback, I was still able to learn and eventually get to where I am today. I also like that it has that "friggin' what?" factor where people, knowing other stuff about me, may be wrong-footed when they hear me go all "refined accent". When you're frequently underestimated due to your gender or racial background, it's always fun to mess with their heads a bit. Plus, I always sound good on recordings, no matter how deaf I may be that day ;)

Onward and upward all! 


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