Half-deaf in a Hearing World
By Alana Rae (she/her)
Kieran Lotz talks about his passion for music and theatre, all in spite of a disability stacking the odds against him.
As I wandered up to Albert Park, I was unaware of who exactly I was meeting. I knew I’d have to take a stab and guess out of who was near the rotunda. Luckily for me, the description of a 20-year-old uni student fitted perfectly to the guy sitting a little way ahead of me: shoulder bag, cargo pants and foot tapping to whatever was coming through his headphones.
“Excuse me, are you Kieran?”
I was welcomed with a beaming smile and we straight away got chatting about the perils of assignments and the post-high-school doom of deciding our life direction.
Kieran Lotz now studies fashion at Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design after a gap year pursuing makeup artistry. Moving up to Auckland from Wellington almost a year ago, his passion for music, theatre and everything creative is clear upon first impression. But other parts of Kieran’s life aren’t quite as obvious.
“At birth, the doctors said I was completely fine. It wasn’t until I was four years old that they found out I was losing my hearing.
“Then, every few years, I would get a test and they would be like, ‘oh... you’ve lost even more’.“With my half-deafness now, it’s not like I can’t hear anything. The way it works is everything is divided into high sounds and low sounds. For me, I can hear low sounds perfectly fine. But high sounds? No clue.
“I can’t hear beeps, I can’t hear whistles, I can’t hear alarms. You know that game you played with whispers when you were younger? Couldn’t do that. I had to sit out, like, every single time.”
Yet still, his hearing loss didn’t stop him from dabbling in the music scene when he hit intermediate school.
"I can’t hear beeps, I can’t hear whistles, I can’t hear alarms. You know that game you played with whispers when you were younger? Couldn’t do that. I had to sit out, like, every single time.”
“When I was 12, I really got into playing the marimba for a few years. It’s like a giant xylophone and you would always play in a big group.”
The thing is, Kieran’s deafness meant he couldn’t rely on others for timing and sometimes couldn’t even hear what his own instrument was playing. He would turn to memorising the timing just to make sure he was hitting on beat.
Sadly, Kieran did leave the marimba world behind him, but currently listens to music every chance he can get. He claims he’s not super up to date with current music or follows the ‘trends’, so early 2010s pop suits his love of happy, upbeat songs that can turn his mood around.
“Honestly... I’m really into classic pop, or something that has a beat to it. I love the flow of pop music, so that’s what I focus on."
“Right now, I’m very into Lady Gaga, some Ariana, some Selena. I just really like iconic women. I feel like they’re on top of the game."
“The only thing I’m not into is rap, but that’s just because they speak so fast. I have no clue what they’re saying. At all.“In fact, even with pop music I occasionally can’t hear the words. That’s when I start making up my own words. I sometimes google the lyrics, but I like trying to work it out because it’s like a puzzle.”
The same approach is taken to watching live theatre, since he finds it difficult to decipher what the actors sing and say where lip-reading isn’t possible.
“You know what I do? I literally make my own story. I’ll be like, ‘okay they look like they’re fighting, it’s probably about this then’. It’s bad, but what else am I going to do? Am I going to stop the show and be like, ’I need to know exactly what you said right now’?”
I noticed that this creative way Kieran gets by with music and theatre is somewhat missing from the hearing world where we just sit there and consume. Kieran does have moments of jealousy though. He envies not only how easily the fully-hearing world breezes through live shows, but also regular conversation.
“If I daydream for even a second, I could get completely lost. But with hearing, you can talk to someone and still hear what else is going on around you. It’s just so much easier... screw you guys!”
I noticed that this creative way Kieran gets by with music and theatre is somewhat missing from the hearing world where we just sit there and consume.
These ideas around those that can fully-hear have come from Kieran’s first-hand experience growing up attending all-hearing schools. However, with two deaf parents, Kieran has been standing on a bridge between two worlds.
“Being hard of hearing is difficult because I’m not hearing enough for the hearing world and I’m not deaf enough for the Deaf community. For the Deaf community, I need to be fluent in sign language but I only know the basics. I always feel awkward because they sign so fast and I can’t keep up. Then in the hearing community, I can talk but I do miss some things and people don’t want to repeat what they say. They don’t care. It’s a lose-lose situation and it sucks.”
Kieran’s friends at uni know that he is half-deaf, but often forget given he has developed such a good speaking ability. I even found myself forgetting that Kieran had to take the time to read my lip movements and link these to the sounds I was making.
“I struggle way more than people think I do. There are so many times when I get things wrong, like when different words sound the same. But my friends and I just laugh and move on.
“Because I’m constantly in this hearing world with uni, I don’t go into the Deaf community that much because I’m scared of how they’ll treat me. I need to get out there and find people similar to me. I guess I’ll just be like 'heyyyy, so... are you half-deaf too?'