People call me Tianah because my government name, Christianah, is too long to hear when someone is calling my name. The “Chris” is silent in my ears so I only ever hear the “Tianah”. In 1996, two years after I was born in London Borough of Islington, I was diagnosed with high frequency severe sensorineural hearing loss at the Royal National Throat and Ear Hospital. My older sister is also deaf and we actually (almost) complete the level of being “hearing” as she’s the opposite of me – her loss is in the low frequency. It’s just her and me, in what feels like the whole world, who are deaf in the family.
I used to wear red, yellow or blue hearing aids with glittery ear moulds and throw them in the bin, lose them or deliberately hide them so I didn’t have to wear them… I know. Now I wear brown hearing aids and clear ear moulds everyday. I didn’t even start talking properly until I was 6/7 years old and British Sign Language was my first language, learnt at school. I currently have a speech impediment and quite often get told I have a twang in my voice or an ‘accent’ and all I can do is laugh. The worst I got was when someone asked me directly if I was deaf because of how I sounded, or if I was eating while talking. (I promise you I had nothing in my mouth.)
I grew up in Caledonian Road, Kings Cross – not far from where I am now – and spent most of my childhood going on family trips in the UK, going to church and attending neighbourhood parties. I looked up to my sister to a huge extent and really wanted to be like her; everything I had an interest in was hers. Even the wild hairstyles, the attitude and the appalling fashion sense which included a red velvet tracksuit with matching hairbands. Fortunately I became independent quite quickly after that phase and literally developed my own “moodboard”.
Being deaf meant that I had to try harder than my peers in education and in work. I’d miss 40% of what was being said in school and knew that my peers were ahead of me because of that alone. As I could lipread, I’d annoyingly still miss a huge amount of what was going on. Like the point of a joke; I’d get the story but not the joke.
When someone says something to me, I usually have to hear or lipread what they’ve said, understand the structure of what they’ve said, work out what I’m going to say back, structure it to make it make sense, then say it clearly in response. 7/10 times it’s smooth but then on the phone I’m like a 9/10, and if I don’t know you, it goes down to a 5/10.
I didn’t have a solid plan for my future and always feared that dating would be a problem because I couldn’t/can’t hear. It became a big issue with my ability to socialise because it’d take a single bad experience for me to shut down completely on all other social activities. This changed a little after I came back from Nigeria where I had to constantly defend myself for not being Nigerian enough. Being back in the UK and still feeling out of place, I knew I didn’t deserve to be mistreated simply for not being accepted.
My faith made me feel beautiful, my mother always used to tell me that she’d have a dream of me doing great and that was enough.
Spending so much time alone at school, I learnt not to react or entertain a bad joke and this made me become a very honest person. Music was how I expressed myself. There was always a song for every way I felt and Genius.com to provide the lyrics. Turning my hearing aids off whenever I wanted felt like being able to delete what I was experiencing. Whenever I had a job and felt disrespected – and believe me, I have been – I didn’t waste time. I’d hand in my notice and leave. It was whilst working full-time as an analyst that I decided to design my own collection, inspired by my youth. My office was demotivating, the HR was inexperienced and my grad team were too afraid to speak to me because I had a weird bluetooth looking thing in my ear – bye x
The thought of running a business never scared me. It started as a passionate collection for myself that others seemed to appreciate. It’s only when it comes to networking and events that I feel like I really have to step up. Someone could say to me “nice to meet you” and I’d reply “well, yes, I had a nice weekend”. I have lost a friend there already. I am deaf first, antisocial second, and your local Beyoncé third. If you got to the third, I honestly applaud you, I’m (not) sorry.
I started incredibly small and made my debut at Afropunk London 2017 with help from friends. My collection was a total hit. This spurred me on to work on it more and next thing Kaia Gerber loved it, then it grew, reaching Bella Hadid and Beyoncé, who became fans. Before we knew it, we were stocked in Open Ceremony and more and more were starting to notice my work.
However the more I attended events, the less I felt like I fitted in. It’s hard to talk to people when they’re giving you that look trying to work out why you speak a certain way. It’s challenging maintaining your energy for more than two hours, listening and engaging, when inside I feel uncomfortable, disheartened and exhausted. Once I spent so long in this scenario that when I got home I fell ill from exhaustion. My mouth dries up if Italk for more than 10 minutes, I mumble when I’m tired and I get an ear infection if I spend too much time on the phone.
I don’t want to be negative though. I am amazing and I love who I am but if more people could be educated, I wouldn’t feel so shitty sometimes. Is that selfish? Of course I educate when I can.
I would never change being deaf and it’s something that’s never going to change and will always exist. Just over 5% of the world’s population is registered with a deafness / hearing loss which is hella. In the UK, 11m of us are deaf or hard of hearing and compared to the 25% of hearing people more likely to have poor mental health, 50% of us are more likely to have poor mental health. We need to address it. People talk about inclusivity and diversity but when it comes to practice, there’s a struggle. Once I got on the bus with my freedom pass (a pass for the disabled) and the driver refused me because he said and I quote “you are not disabled so I’m not accepting this card”. I’m sorry but who are you to tell me, a whole me, that I’m not who I am. I remember crying on the way home but not from sadness, just pure frustration. New me would walk onto the bus anyway. Being deaf in 2019 is never going to hold me back again.
I want my children to grow up with deaf people on TV, in fashion, winning awards and doing the most. I want accessible bars, cinemas, schools, workplaces and would love a community of deaf people in fashion. Deaf awareness is so important and it’s time our voice and ability is seen and heard. I’d love to collaborate with Phonak or ReSound who make hearing aids on a fab range for Gen Ys like me. Also brands who specialise in making life much better for deaf people in a hearing world. I think we have a lot of work to do.