- Anjuli Simone is Deaf and has always loved music. Her mom said she’s always been a singer.
- She hears through vibrations, and people on TikTok love her pitch-perfect voice.
- This is her story, as told to PollyAnna Brown.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Anjuli Symone, a 29-year-old pinup model and singer from Little Rock, Arkansas, about how she sings as a Deaf person. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When I was born in 1993, I already had 75% hearing loss. However, it took a while for doctors to listen to my mother’s concerns; she’d take me to the doctor because I wasn’t responding to her and would ask them what was wrong. According to her, the doctors said that I was ignoring her because I didn’t like her. Luckily, she didn’t give up.
She kept making appointments for me, and when I was around 3 years old, I was diagnosed with echolalia, which is what happens when you repeat what somebody says. My mom could tell that I was trying to talk, but I would only repeat back what she’d said, and it wouldn’t sound exactly right. It wasn’t until about two years later that I was officially diagnosed with hearing loss.
Since I was supposed to start school soon after, not being able to hear was going to be a problem. My mom worked hard to get funding for me through state programs because hearing aids were expensive and our healthcare didn’t cover them; most medical insurance still doesn’t cover them because the companies consider hearing aids elective and not necessary.
Back then, my mom wasn’t making a lot of money. We were the only Black family in our area, and resources were hard to come by. She finally got the funding when I was about 7 years old, and I got fitted for my first pair of hearing aids.
I tried hearing aids for a while, but they aren’t a perfect fix
People think hearing aids are like glasses; you put them on and you see exactly how seeing people see. However, that’s not exactly the case. It’s like having a megaphone in your ear; everything has an almost metallic ping to it. You can hear, but it doesn’t feel right — at least, it didn’t to me. That’s why I stopped wearing them, and I haven’t worn them for most of my life.
Since then, people have often asked why I don’t just wear hearing aids; the truth is, I don’t think it’s a perfect fix for me. But, perhaps more importantly, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything because I was born this way. I don’t believe there is anything that needs fixing.
I think that because I was born mostly Deaf, my body adapted to not being able to hear. When I put a hearing aid in, my body had to adapt to a new way of hearing through my ears rather than through feeling vibrations, which may sound bizarre, but I don’t necessarily hear sound through my ears, because I wasn’t born to.
I may not hear in the same way most people do, but that’s OK
I hear through vibrations. My brain also has learned to work a bit like how predictive text works, where it makes an automatic prediction of what people might say. I know how sentences are structured, and I learn how individual people speak. So my brain, over time, figures out what might be the next word someone might say, though of course it’s not always right. But that’s my way of working to fill in a lot of the gaps, though vibrations are mostly how I pick up on sounds.
When I tried hearing aids again as an adult, it was actually very difficult for me to talk, to sing, or to do anything music-related because I was so used to hearing one way. With my hearing aids in, I don’t have to listen for the vibrations that I’m typically attuned to. I’m not feeling the sound through my feet or through my skull anymore. With hearing aids in, I find it’s actually more difficult to hear and communicate because it’s so different from what I’m used to.
My mom always says I sang before I spoke
Music has always been a part of my life. My mom used to sing “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack to me. As a family, we were around music all the time, whether we were in church, at school, or at home.
When I joined the chorus in high school, the response wasn’t great. The goal of most choruses is for the voices to blend together, and mine stood out because of the volume and the distinct sound I had.
I was told that I was too loud, that my voice was too big, that my vibrato was too strong — my voice was always “too” something. That meant I didn’t get many opportunities to showcase my voice. But I still loved singing, and I knew that it was something I wanted to do, so I decided to learn and practice on my own.
I sat in my basement bedroom, put on headphones so I could feel the music, and just sang over the tracks. Most of the time, I couldn’t hear myself. Instead, I focused on matching the pitch and vibration of my voice with the vibrations of the music. As long as I could feel that specific ringing, I knew I was doing a good job. I practiced like that for hours on end, sticking with it and refusing to give up.
Don’t feel bad for me — I still experience my music
When I put the first TikTok up of me singing in September 2022, so many people expressed their admiration for my voice and their support for my love of music. However, one comment I saw repeatedly was something like, “How sad that you don’t get to hear how beautiful your voice is,” with people expressing pity.
But no one needs to feel sad for me, because I’m still experiencing my singing. It might not be the way that you hear it, but I can still feel when music is beautiful — and alternatively, I can feel when there’s a terrible sound.
We all process things differently, and if more people understood and accepted that, the world might be a better, kinder place. For example, I can’t imagine that all hearing people hear things the exact same way. Instead of looking at me like I can’t hear, please know that I just hear differently — and that’s what made me love to sing and listen to music in the first place.