I have a lot of new beginnings this year, including starting college for the first time. So far I love it. I will be starting the Sign Language Interpreting program this fall, and was advised to join a group to help in learning ASL (American Sign Language) and to meet people in the deaf community. The group meets once a week at various restaurants. I've met a lot of people and am making new friends. The first time I went I was very nervous. I only had just met a few of the college students that are in the program and didn't know any of the deaf people. It took a lot of courage to enter that room! But I was glad I did and have been going ever since. I am getting better at signing and understanding sign and often find myself at a table with only deaf people.
I am becoming good friends with two of the women that come - "K" is deaf and "L" is hearing. Sometimes we go to another place afterwards to have a more private chat. During one of those times I shared some of my background and admitted my difficulty in trusting men. There are a lot of men in the group, some married, some single. The ages vary too, from early 20's to in their 70's. So far I've handled being around them ok for the most part. It has been good for me to have this chance to interact with men socially in a safe environment. But there are times when I struggle. There are three different encounters that I'm going to focus on in this post. All three involved men with names starting with the letter "J", so I'll use numbers to help identify who I am writing about. All three are deaf and single.
The first encounter was with "J-1". I had seen him in the group a few times, but never had to interact with him. This time he was sitting right next to me. I was a bit uneasy. My deaf friend "K" didn't like him and had some issues with him the week before. I'm not sure why he behaves the way he does. It could just be that he functions at a lower level and is just behaving immaturely. Either that, or he is just strange. It doesn't help that he is a BIG man, taller than me and very large. I could just be reacting to his sheer size as I had a past encounter with a huge guy that literally had me cornered. Thankfully a guy friend of mine saw what was happening and came to my rescue, but it left me a bit shaken. So back to "J-1". It could be that he is just socially awkward, but I think for now I will try to avoid sitting near him again. When I talked with my counselor about it, she encouraged me to listen to my gut feelings.
The second encounter was with "J-2". "K" had introduced him to "L" and I the week before. She had known him from early childhood as they grew up together, going to the same school, etc. until they went to different colleges. "J-2" is around my age. Anyway I wound up sitting at a table with "J-2" and one other young man. I was a bit nervous as I didn't really know either one that well and it was just the three of us at our table. It didn't help that neither guy was ordering any food, they were just there to socialize. I had ordered something, but it felt really awkward to be eating in front of them. "J-2" was really talkative (in sign). Thankfully I understood maybe 80-90% of what he was saying and was able to carry on a conversation with him. He seemed to focus more on me, as the other guy is just learning sign and doesn't know very much yet. Despite being nervous, I enjoyed getting to know "J-2" better. At one point he asked me if I was nervous. I thought he was referring to me starting the Interpreting Program. After going home, I started thinking about the evening and then wondered if "J-2" was asking if I was nervous with him. The truth was yes, but then I'm nervous conversing with any guy that I don't know that well. For the next day or so I couldn't stop thinking about him, wondering what he thought of me, what all his motives were, etc. I was frustrated with myself. Why can't I just enjoy being around guys without constantly questioning everything.
The third encounter was last week. When I arrived at the restaurant, "K" was already there and had her purse in the seat across from her. She was saving it for "L" who was going to be arriving later. There was an empty seat next to that one and I sat there. Once again I was sitting with mainly deaf people. I was pleased at my progress with signing and being able to understand them. We were having a very enjoyable time. There was a guy sitting at the table right behind me. He was "J-3". I'd seen him a few times, but again, didn't really know him. Others refer to him as the "Joker" as he likes to tease and joke around. Well, this night, he was giving "K" a hard time about saving the seat for "L". At one point he acted like he was going to pick up the purse. So I casually draped my arm over the back of the chair and rested my hand on the purse, "guarding" it. At one point "J-3" asked me what time it was and grabbed my arm as I had a watch on. Thankfully I didn't panic, but took it in stride. Later, as I was conversing with someone at my table, I felt my arm being grabbed. It was "J-3" checking the time again. That time startled me a bit, but again I didn't go into panic mode. I should say that I am very sensitive to men touching me in any way and often had panic attacks in the past, though never showed it on the outside. The evening went on and "L" still had not showed up. "J-3" started giving "K" a really hard time about it. The next thing I knew, he was trying to lift my arm off of the chair. Instead of panicking I got a bit competitive and refused to let him. He then started to try to pry my fingers off of the purse. I've had years of experience of nieces and nephew trying to pry my fingers off of things, plus I am a pianist and have a lot of strength in my hands. I was ignoring him, acting like nothing was going on, all while there was this power struggle happening. He caught me off guard when he gave up trying to pry off my fingers and started to tickle me instead. It was just one of those things that snowballed a bit. I didn't panic, but struggled a bit with it afterwards. It was all done in fun and we were right there in a group. The next day or so I was a bit obsessed with thinking about it and wondering if I should have done something different, or my thoughts would go to question his motives, etc. I definitely talked it over with my counselor the next time I saw her. She encouraged me to try to keep it in the context that it happened in.
So I find myself facing different situations as I brave this new world of socializing in a mixed group. A lot of growth is happening and that is a good thing. It's just hard sometimes to know if what I am feeling is truly something I need to be cautious about, or if it is just an overreaction because of my past. In the meantime I plan to continue to make new friends and to learn to enjoy hanging out with these people.