Super Hearing

Vico Whitmore
6 min readFeb 15, 2024

Spare a thought for the curse that is super hearing. It’s framed as a power like x-ray vision or telepathy, but that one in particular, as far as I can tell, would be crippling in practical application. Sure, there’s a chance that it could be selective, something that could be turned on or off at will. I’ve never seen much reference to that possibility, though, at least not in particular. Always it’s simply that the brave hero can hear what no one else can, even when they’re at home, resting and preparing for the next battle.

All I can think about when I see some hero with super hearing whisk by a camera with full knowledge of a whispered conversation is how loud their life must feel. Imagine how quiet a TV would have to be to not sound like it was blaring, and then imagine how loud the neighbor’s TV would be in comparison. Imagine trying to blow dry your hair, and how loud the whine of that little appliance would be right next to your ear, how you’d likely be able to feel the vibrations of that sound so close to your head. Consider all the little noises that likely fly under the radar in day-to-day life: the fan of a computer, the buzzing of lights, a breeze, a child crying three houses down, the wheels of a trash can being taken to the curb. Imagine how obnoxious a fly would be. Every slam of a door in a two-block radius might be audible, every half-concealed argument rising to a yell, every turn of a page, every creak of a chair. It would be a cacophony of every day noises at the best of times. Now, imagine what a siren might sound like if you had super hearing. Imagine a barking dog or an especially heavy bass turned up so high it thumps behind your eyes. Imagine a concert or a jet flying low overhead.

How long do you think it would take for our afflicted hero to clap their hands over their ears and try to cry as silently as possible, not wanting the noise of their own voice trapped inside their head? How long do you think it would be before they constantly wore noise cancelling headphones everywhere they went? How long do you think it would take them to do everything they could to turn that particular super power off as best they could, only uncovering their ears when they had a need for stealth? We see that scene often when it comes to powers like telepathy, and it’s a completely understandable response. Hearing every intrusive thought of every stranger would be agony. The hero would know so much that should be entirely private. It would take a matter of minutes in a crowded space for disdain and distrust to creep in. After all, who among us doesn’t have thoughts we aren’t proud of? To my mind, the same is true for hearing every sound, though that’s not a moment I’ve ever seen on screen. Somehow, super hearing is always played as convenient to the cause and only a little annoying if someone has a surprise for the hero. For me, it’s often debilitating.

Spare a thought for the curse that is super hearing, and those of us afflicted with it. I mostly call it autism ears, though I can’t say for sure if it’s a byproduct of needing to know where everyone in my childhood home was at all times or if it’s a genuine side effect of neurodivergence. Either way, auditory processing disorder has made perfectly ordinary sounds entirely untenable for as long as I can remember.

I can’t profess to hearing a child three doors down or a slammed door blocks away, but overhead fans are so loud in my ears they sound like helicopters circling. I feel sirens rattling in my eardrums long before I hear them. I often turn off overhead lights because I find the buzz obnoxious, and I’d rather listen to anything else. Normal conversations of apartment neighbors sound as close as a TV in the same room, regardless of how soundproofed the walls claim to be. The barking of dogs is often physically painful, as are children, no matter if they’re playing or crying. As I type this, I can hear the fan on both my work and personal laptop whirring at slightly different frequencies.

I live my life in earplugs and headphones, adding white noise machines and fans to the mix on a regular basis. I seek out sounds that are soothing, or at least familiar, and drown out everything else as best I can. Even when I’m wearing earplugs with headphones on top and both a white noise machine and two fans drowning out the world around me, I can still hear my neighbors take their trash to the curb.

Working a call center job was torture by overstimulation. My ears simply refused to prioritize the call I was on over the sound of my co-workers talking. I eventually had to put earplugs in under my headphones and crank the call volume to its max in order to be of any use to the people calling. Getting permission to work from home wasn’t much of an improvement. I still had to listen to dozens of people talking at all times every single day. The switch from a normal or quiet speaking voice to someone much louder caused me physical pain. I left every day burnt out, exhausted, and wanting nothing but hours of complete silence.

When I switched to a different department requiring far fewer calls, I was surprised to find I was just as overstimulated during my in-office training period. The conversations happening all around me stole every ounce of focus I had, and wearing earplugs didn’t help because my co-workers frequently had questions or information I needed.

I have had the meltdown I so desperately want to see in super hero media on more than one occasion. The most severe was several years ago over the holidays, when after a day of several TVs blaring so my elderly grandmother could hear them, tablet games beeping, and people talking, every relative in the house turned a TV on in their room to go to sleep to. I laid on the couch that night crying, covering my ears despite the fact that I already had thick wax earplugs in them, trying desperately to sleep.

Even on the best of days, when I go to bed, I do so wearing the highest decibel earplugs I have, with a white noise machine on and two fans going. It’s the only thing that’s consistently drowned out enough noise for long enough that I can fall asleep. You’d think all those forces combined would mean I miss my alarms, but I can still hear it loud and clear on the other side of the room.

I find loud places exhausting, even if I’m excited to be there. I’ve long since learned that I can’t realistically attend things like concerts or movies without earplugs, and I’ve seriously considered doing the same for shopping excursions. Often, I have to spend time being away from as much sound as possible in advance of an event that I really want to be at. Otherwise, the overstimulation coupled with an already exhausted noise toleration tank makes the experience miserable.

My day-to-day life is ruled by the possibility of noise, my sensitivity to it, and ways to avoid it. While I have gotten quite good at preparing for that inevitability, I still pretty frequently hear something that causes me physical pain, regardless of how careful I am. It’s unavoidable, and on some level, I’ve had to accept that my life will simply look different than most people’s as a result.

Spare a thought for the curse that is super hearing, and maybe, just this once, use your fucking headphones.



Vico Whitmore

Trans CSA survivor leaving a trail as I stumble my way toward healing. Support me on ko-fi!