When I was five I found out that I can’t hear. I didn’t notice anything wrong but my parents, teachers, they noticed. I was acting out.
I got hearing aids and some assistance, but for the most part, I went through all of school without ever knowing what was going on. I got okay marks because I’m somewhat smart, I read a lot of books and I’m good at faking it.
At 17 I got a cochlear implant, which is different from a hearing aid in that it works. After that I could hear better each year. I studied computers in college because programming seemed like a job that a hard of hearing person could do. But I realized that I can handle more than that, and I got bored.
So last summer, I was the canvassing director for Lisa Helps’ re-election campaign. It was really fun, I got to plan where Lisa was going to canvass each night and organize teams of volunteers to go out with her. I did a lot of canvassing myself as well. One night, I approached a house where there was a party happening in the back yard. No one was going to answer the doorbell. I would have to walk into the crowd in the backyard and figure out what person to talk to.
What do you think I did?
I opened the gate, stepped through grandly and announced, “Sorry to interrupt, I am a political canvasser––” and that was as far as I got. A woman stood up and said “Not now” in a very tense voice. Everyone stared at me as I backed through the gate. The last thing I heard was “This is a wake, what’s wrong with you.” I ran back to tell my partner about it and we died of laughing.
That’s who I am. Not shy, obnoxiously confident. I’m not afraid of people. I don’t need to hide behind a computer.
So I moved into project management, and in my career I’m doing well, and I don’t feel like I’m disabled. Most clients never even find out – there’s no need to mention it.
Which is great, because I hate talking about it. Being disabled isn’t a part of my identity. I’m fine. There’s maybe a little defensive edge when I say that. I’m FINE.
There’s actually a problem though and I just recently came to understand it. I’m not fine. Socially I think I make a good first impression. I shake hands firmly, make eye contact, listen carefully to people’s names and make light chitchat for 30 seconds, and then I bolt.
Second impressions don’t go as well. Especially if it happens in a group, someplace noisy. I try to start a conversation with someone I already know, try to make a connection, make a friend, just be a normal part of the group, and it doesn’t work.
This happened at softball the other night. My friend told me her team needs players and invited me.
But the first time I came out to play, I was a few minutes late, and they had already made up the roster. Everyone was friendly, Karri, the team manager was incredibly welcoming and greeted me like an old friend. She gave me a team t-shirt even though I hadn’t played, and said “You’re coming next week, right?” That made me feel nice.
The next week I was a few minutes late again, but I figured I could be on the roster this time because I told Karri I was coming. But when I asked, she said, “We talked about this already – you have to join the Team Snap account and indicate that you’re coming, and then show up on time so we can actually put you on the roster.”
Oh, oops. I guess we did talk about it last time. I don’t know. She said lots of things, I didn’t hear most of them. I just faked it. I really, really wanted to fit in and I didn’t want anyone to think I was weird. That’s a hell of a problem to have on a team that’s made up mostly of lesbians and trans people. They didn’t need me to be normal, they needed me to be real. Karri was a lot less friendly during that game. Not rude or anything, she just didn’t have any time for me.
If I can’t hear what a group is talking about it, or even if it’s just one person, I’ll miss half of what they say, and I fake it. I’ve been doing it so long it’s reflexive now and I don’t even notice that I’m doing it, but it turns people off. There is this moment of disconnection and then they turn away, and there I am, wondering what happened again.
It’s very boring to try to connect with someone who is faking it. Doesn’t really matter what the reason is.
So I’m trying a new strategy. I’m not going to fake it anymore. I’m going to remind people that they have to talk louder, look at me, stop mumbling, move your hand, and connect with me.