Heather Whitestone or Marlee Matlin?

Heather's Photo I personally shot
Heather Whitestone (I took this photo during her 1997 Philippine Visit)
Marlee Matlin

I thought the comparison between these two icons of the modern American deaf community is a non-issue until I watched this video and read this blog post. The video owner obviously sided with Marlee Matlin because she signs. The deaf blogger sympathizes with Heather Whitestone because she is also a mom.

I would most likely be biased for Ms. America 1995 Heather Whitestone-McCallum because I already met her personally. I was her official sign language interpreter during her visit to the Philippines in 1997. I even promised to make a personal web page for her which I did. The page still exists since it was online in 1997. I also maintain a Wikipedia article about her. Here is what I wrote about Heather:

As her sign language interpreter during her four-day visit in Manila, I had a chance to be with her on a personal basis. At first, I was very much scared because I haven’t had any experience with American Sign Language before and with MS. AMERICA!!! WOW!!! I learned from Julie that Heather is an oralist. How will I sign to an oralist? I’m a pure Philippine Sign Language interpreter.

When I saw her enter the VIP Lounge, I was the first one who shook hands with her. I was enthralled by her beauty. I even signed “Good Afternoon” at 9:30 pm!! How embarrassing!!! When I start to sign to her during the press conference, I did not mouth the words. I learned later that she needs to read people’s lips in order to understand them. So I changed my method. A big shift for me but it was worth it. I began to make contact with her.

Heather guesting at Dong Puno Live TV Program with me in inset
Heather guesting at Dong Puno Live TV Program with me in the inset

Aside from that, Heather and I are of the same faith. During her stay here, I had a chance to talk with the McCallum couple inside the van while waiting for her call. I learned that they are a very wonderful and faithful Christian couple. They shared with me how the Lord Jesus Christ changed their lives. I also told them about my burdens with the hearing impaired. John comes from a family of Baptist pastors and both of them faithfully attend a Christian church in Georgia. Heather also comes from a Christian family. All of us love Sandi Patti and her inspiring Christian songs.

I was an instant fan of Marlee Matlin when I watched her debut movie “Children of a Lesser God” where she won the Best Actress award. I don’t remember the movie being shown in theaters here in the late eighties. But I bought the original CD copy and we often play it in our Deaf Culture class in school. I also watched her Reasonable Doubts TV series which was shown in the Philippines in its entire run. My whole deaf class had a field day when we watched Hear No Evil when it was shown in theaters here.

Without a doubt, both Heather and Marlee are equally good looking although Heather won in a beauty pageant so she is ahead in beauty points. Both of them lost their hearing ability when they were still eighteen months old. Heather’s winning piece in Ms. America contest was her ballet rendition of “Via Dolorosa”. Well, Marlee also competed in Dancing With the Stars and stayed in ranking for six weeks. Marlee wins hands down in acting ability with major performance awards on her sleeves. I haven’t heard Heather guested in any theater or had any acting stint.

Heather speaks during Philippine Institute for the Deaf Activity with me interpreting
Heather speaks during Philippine Institute for the Deaf Activity with me interpreting

Here lies the big difference. Although Heather knows how to sign, she does not encourage it. She actively promotes the oral method of communication. During her stay here, although I’m her interpreter, however, most of the time, I feel like I’m interpreting for the deaf audience than for her. She can lipread quite well. She only needs my assistance when the speaker is way too far for her to understand his lip movements. A controversy arise when she decided to have a cochlear implant operation to hear to an extent in her right ear, something that she had never been able to experience before. Whitestone said the primary motivation for electing the surgery was an incident when she did not hear her son’s cries for help.

There are times when Marlee also uses her voice. But not often. She signs perfectly well. Her movements are flawless and typical of a deaf person. She greatly encourages the use of sign language. She even campaigns for mothers to teach sign language to their babies. I learned that she was elected as one of Gallaudet University’s Board of Trustees.

If I were a hearing person who knows nothing about deaf and their wonderful culture, I would definitely root for Heather. She is what this group labels, “success against all odds“. However, if I belong to the hearing group who understands the deaf and their quaint intricacies, I would side with Marlee. She embodies the true blue Deaf person.

I may be biased for Ms. Whitestone because of association. But I would, beyond a reasonable doubt, root for Marlee. I love sign language. I encourage deaf people to sign and be proud of their culture. And with Heather’s cochlear implant, I’m not even sure if she is still deaf. 🙂

Now, which deaf are you? A Heather or a Marlee? 🙂

Please read the entire Article of Ms. America’s 1997 Philippine visit here.

PS: I hope Ms. Whitestone will read this post and get in touch with me again. 🙂

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23 thoughts on “Heather Whitestone or Marlee Matlin?

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  1. OH please, don’t glory in Heather Whitestone. She’s persona non grata around NTID after she caused the fall of NTID’s administrator Doctor William Castle. She didn’t even attempt to apologize or explain her actions or even DEFEND Dr. Castle. What she did to Doctor Castle was her own damn fault. We, the NTID community, have lost our chances to hear in Doctor Castle’s words of how he’s been able to assist and set up NTID for the entire deaf community. When will there be a day when NTID gets around to PRAISE Dr. Castle?
    Heather Whitestone should be ignored and put into the closest. In my opinion, she doesn’t have any respect of all of us. She’s just a limelight hog.

  2. Well, as you know Heather and Marlee are mom. Marlee have no problem take care of her children, and am not sure about Heather, is she a good mom? I don’t know about that, do you have any reason why she get CI? I read the paper explain why she get CI because she cant hear her son fell and cry. Gosh, what a lousy mom she is, she suppose to get close to her own tiny child. Many Deaf people do not have CI and still can take care and watch close with their children. Come on, I know Heather have 15 min fame (Miss American) but now where is she, she have to follow her husband everywhere he go on business. She like a puppy and lost in crowd, cuz she have no idea what all the people talking about, is her husband interpreting for her on converstation? I don’t think so, is she bring her interpreter with her everywhere she go? If so she must be reach, last time I heard she open her perfume business in Birmingham Alabama. Successfull or not? dunno. Marlee signing more and expose to Deaf community more than Heather, I wish Heather the best where ever she is. Idon’t think she not accept that she is Deaf. She denie herself. Poor thing.

  3. Sherlock Steve,

    I’m more into Marlee Matlin’s kind. But, Can you elaborate how Heather is directly responsible for the said downfall of Dr. Castle at RIT / NTID?

    How can you possibly persuade others without concrete facts to back-up?

    d g

  4. I was a former oralist. I have some hearing in left ear and wear a hearing aid. I love my Deaf World! I learned to sign when I was 14 years old. I was so lonely as an oralist. I know few oralists and they are lonely. They don’t belong to a hearing or deaf world.
    I feel sorry for them and Heather, but they made a choice!

  5. I love the dialogue. This is wonderful that we are all sharing our views and expressing our opinions. At the end of the day, if we do not hear as hearing people do what are we? Who are we? We need to be together and support each other not be divided. One view on any subject is just that – one view.
    I admire both of these talented women and hope they inspire many to want to know more about deafness and to begin to understand us and our culture.

  6. @sherlock

    Thank you for your wonderful comment. However, I don’t glorify Heather. I just want to share my experience of working as her interpreter. It was one of the most challenging and high profile thing that I did in my entire deaf community life. I also blogged about her because I knew her. I can safely say that my blog is credible enough because I am my source.

    If you would read carefully my last paragraph, I actually root for Marlee because I love sign language and I encourage deaf people to preserve and protect their culture.

    To all commenters, thank you very much. 🙂

    1. As a mom of a deaf child, who was born with hearing and then deaf by time she was two, I have come to understand, is what helps her the most, to become a successful individual later in life, is to explore every option she has for resources to help her and to know when I’m gone, she can function on her own in every sense of the word. The statistic for most deaf is that a lot will not be able to read and write past 4th grade level. Although support helps, I don’t let that hinder me exploring everything I can possibly try, which is what is needed to help sometimes a child with this difference, it is imperative to allow our child choices to help them succeed with every resource available and teach them they have choices. Although we live in the United States, my opinion is why do these children as well as many others have to struggle with this obstacle, illiteracy anymore. It is something we should have already start to fix. Maybe it could be many different factors. There could be other reasons, such as processing issues which still impairs them to learn to their full potential. I agree with the responses on trying to help each other and support each other no matter what people of deaf people and hard of hearing decide, to help encourage their choices if this helps them to succeed in still a largely populated world where you have to audibly hear in order to function. We have no family history so to somewhat be prepared was a challenge at first. Everyone learns differently even with obstacles. My daughter now is 10 years old and is just now learning to speak in sentences including her articles. This is what helps her to understand. She talks orally and signs which has helped her tremendously. If she is with people who want to sign, she signs, if she is around people who talk, she talks. I am proud of her and would never try to teach her to use one or the other. She says she wants to do both so right now, she is doing both. She needs the combination to help her learn to understand and to read. So we do both. As she gets older, she is talking more and more. Cochlears aren’t a guarantee or a cure, in which she knows and it takes tremendous discipline to listen to something they’ve never heard and learn, which is something a lot of hearing people still don’t do. 🙂 She teaches me so much about perserverance and willingness to learn about anything no matter if it’s naturally or artificially. Thank you Gabrielle for teaching me. I am proud of you. Thank you for the opportunity to allow the post. I encourage us all to help support each other.

  7. Why does one have to be “right” and the other “wrong”? Why does anyone have to choose who to “root for”? Why can’t they both simply be themselves, iving their lives the way they both find most fulfilling?

    To me they are both successful amazing examples of powerful women. It doesn’t matter that they both chose different roads. What matters is that they are happy with their lives and they are respectful of all people.

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