In our series on disability, sex and relationships, expert and resident agony aunt Tuppy – who runs Outsiders, a private club for disabled people looking for a relationship – answers your questions. This week she talks about communicating and finding someone when you’re deaf…
Dear Aunty Tuppy,
I am a middle-aged woman who has virtually lost all my hearing. I live on my own with my two cats and, quite frankly, I don’t feel as if I belong in this world. I wear a badge to tell people I am deaf, but people I meet, such as shopkeepers, are ignorant about hearing loss. They have no idea how to communicate with me. When I misunderstand, they make me feel as if I am stupid.
All this has made me lose my confidence. I feel horribly isolated and wonder whether you can advise me on how to find companionship and to help haul myself out of the pit I seem to be falling into.
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Firstly, you’re not alone in feeling this way – many deaf people I know are in the same situation. In my view, the first thing that needs to be done to help you and others is education. We need to explain to the public that there are three separate categories of deafness, and what that means for communication.
1) People who are born deaf and use sign language
There are many kinds of sign language, depending on where you live in the world – which can make travelling abroad particularly tricky. But people can also find problems on their doorstep if those around them don’t know sign language.
2) People who lose their hearing but can speak because they’ve learnt to in their childhood
They usually use lip reading to understand what people are saying. To make that possible, the speaker needs to place themselves in the light, with their face square-on to the listeners. They need to ensure they’re not covering their mouth and are speaking normally.
Some deaf people also like to use elements of the deaf-blind hand alphabet to emphasise the first letter of they words they use.
If it’s hard to understand someone, they need to write it down. This is really important for doctors, nurses and other professionals – most of whom have no idea!
3) People with poor hearing who use hearing aids, many of whom may be becoming deafer as time goes on
They often gradually use lip reading, in addition to their heating aid, to help them understand what people are saying. Hearing aids do not differentiate between speech and background noises so take a bit of getting used to.
Some people also feel there is a stigma to using hearing aids. Of course, the hearing aid can be covered with hair, but when it comes to going to bed with a new lover, it can’t be hidden.
I guess you belong to the second category. These people tend to have the most difficult time socially as many assume that because you can speak, you can also hear.
Making a difference to how you feel
We have a lot of deaf people in the Outsiders Club and we have just started the Hearing Loss Group Chat. Through this, you can swap notes and get support from each other. Of course, they are all very different characters, which means they look at things from different angles and have different solutions. There are also a lot of chat rooms and forums online for deaf people.
Aside from talking to people and sharing experiences with others, I would suggest getting active and joining local clubs. If you sign up for something you can do regularly, you’ll have a chance to explain your situation to people you will see regularly. They will hopefully become more understanding and learn to communicate better with you. You could also consider taking a friend out and about with you for help with communication.
Just make sure you don’t swamp yourself with things that will wear you out or get you down. One deaf member has transformed how she feels about herself by becoming very busy. But the side effect is that she now has no time for romance!
I am wondering whether you also need some support to gain confidence in yourself – so you can be more assertive when people mistreat you. If you came to our Jamboree on the 12th June (details at the end) you can learn from Jo King, body and sexual confidence teacher, who will be talking about how to make it easier to find a partner. There will also be a group discussion, where you can sit at the front so you can lip read other people’s comments, and make your own if you wish.
Or else you could seek out a body confidence coach online, but they may not be well equipped with how to communicate with deaf people. Jo certainly is, as her own hearing is deteriorating.
Jo is a dear friend and she has taught many disabled women how to do striptease – even the famous actress, Liz Carr, who said Jo changed her life!
The 2017 Outsiders Jamboree is on Monday 12th June at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Gren, just south of the tube. It starts at 1pm and finishes at 5pm and there is a bar and food served (to be paid for). The event is free but donations welcome. There will be a tactile fashion show and snail racing before Jo’s talk and the discussion.
By Tuppy Owens