Supernatural's Eileen Leahy and Deaf Gain

Curator's Note

In its eleventh season, the horror TV show Supernatural introduced its first deaf monster hunter in the character of Eileen Leahy, played by Deaf actress Shoshanna Stern. Despite only appearing in seven episodes, Eileen became a fan favorite and even a love interest for one of the leads (Sam Winchester), though she is ultimately killed. But Supernatural is infamous for its resurrections, and Eileen gets hers, both as a ghost and, eventually, a human.

What’s important about Eileen’s resurrection is, unlike others in the show who die and return without their former scars or ailments, Eileen comes back still deaf, and is deaf even when she appears as a ghost. Death, which has otherwise been used as an equalizer, has not restored Eileen’s hearing—though, in theory, it should have: Eileen was born hearing but deafened as an infant. If death was a healing agent for others, but not for Eileen, the implication is that deafness isn’t something that needs to be fixed.

Eileen’s resurrection is short-lived, and she is eventually killed again. Significantly, however, neither instance of her death occurs because of her deafness. Her demise is standard for the show: first, to a bullet, and second, to a vengeful supernatural entity. This is an important moment for a show that also relied on disability (wheelchair use) as a source of suffering for another character (Bobby Singer), who makes a deal with a demon that allows him to walk again. In this narrative that tropes disability as misery, the treatment of Eileen suggests that deafness is not a detriment or flaw.

Eileen is a positive depiction of deafness and disability in a show that has an otherwise problematic relationship to those identities. Eileen is a representative of the concept of Deaf Gain, or, the idea that deafness isn’t defined by what’s lost, but by what it allows to flourish. Eileen’s deafness at times makes her more equipped to handle monster hunts than her hearing companions: in a banshee hunt, its screams affected everyone else, but didn’t hurt Eileen. In the world of Supernatural, Eileen’s deafness isn’t a disadvantage, only a difference.

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