A professional cuddler’s shift from “I would never…” to “I might if…”

Over the past year, I have discussed hundreds of topics with other cuddlers, especially on CuddleComfort.com. What I have seen, especially among professional cuddlers, is that those who have never done a certain thing with a cuddle buddy have a tendency to say “I would never do that,” yet those who have done that exact thing say, “I have done it and it has worked.”

I believe that those who speak from experience and have tried certain approaches and succeeded know that those choices can be ethical and effective, and those who say “I would never…” are suffering from a lack of imagination. I have learned through studying demand-control schema for the past 16 years, and participating in and leading case supervision with other ASL/English interpreters for the past 8 years, that whether a certain action is “good” and “works” depends on mitigating and militating circumstances. When practitioners come together and discuss their work with an open mind, we discover that things we thought we would never do can, in reality, make perfect sense to do when conditions are favorable. For example, as a man in a committed, monogamous relationship, I might say “I would never share a bed overnight with a cuddle client,” but if a person whose life partner recently died can’t sleep at night I might do an overnight session with that client, and I think my partner would understand that I was helping someone in need. This has not happened yet, but my training in self-reflection and ethical decision making allows me to use my imagination to say “I might do that if…” instead of “I would never.”

Robyn Dean & Bob Pollard, who created the demand-control schema (2001) from Robert Karasek’s job demand control model (1979), teach that in all situations there is a spectrum of controls, or choices or actions, from conservative (tending toward inaction) to liberal (tending toward action). At the far ends of the spectrum are controls that are so egregious that they are ineffective and unethical, but in the middle there is a whole range of controls that are effective and ethical. To apply this to cuddling, there are actions (or inactions) outside the ethical and effective range that are too conservative, such as having a session and refusing to touch a perfectly respectful client, and that are too liberal, such as doing sexual favors. Yet there are so many choices that can work and be good in ways you might not imagine unless you are in that particular situation. It is up to each person to obey rules and laws yet keep an open mind to the myriad ways they can operate within those rules and laws that can work and be good.


Let there be no pumpkin at Starbucks until after Labor Day!

Starbucks Pumpkin and Cream cheese muffin

I went into a Starbucks this morning and they already had the pumpkin spice latte (PSL), pumpkin cream cold brew, and pumpkin cream cheese muffin. The muffin is pretty good, but I think there should be a rule like no wearing white pants or white shoes after Labor Day – no pumpkin at Starbucks until after Labor Day. Wouldn’t you agree?


Live-tweeting the democratic presidential debate

Paul & Tina’s Signalong: Haters gonna hate

I am not as offended or concerned about Paul & Tina’s Signalong as some people are. I think exposure to ASL can be a good thing, regardless of who’s signing. Personal experience: the first time I was truly impressed with the beauty of ASL was at a monologue competition in 1985, when a hearing girl spoke and signed a monologue from Children of a Lesser God. I have no idea, in retrospect, how good she was at signing; all I remember is I thought it was beautiful. The fact that she spoke and signed at the same time made it accessible to me. I don’t think I would have gotten the same impression at the time if I had seen a Deaf woman delivering the same monologue, even if it were interpreted. I might have been more intimidated than entertained. I might have seen more differences than similarities. I might not have been ready for the culture shock.

If you read the comments on Paul & Tina’s Signalong Facebook page post about taking down their donation site, you’ll see a variety of views, both supportive and critical, both from hearing and Deaf people. I think this dialogue is a good thing. The comments from d/Deaf people were more supportive than those from interpreters, though, and I think that’s telling. If Deaf signers want to be offended by Paul & Tina, and educate them about their language and culture, that is their job. It’s not ASL/English interpreters’ job to be offended for Deaf people.

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish

Where you start isn’t necessarily where you end up. It’s not Paul & Tina’s job to be Deaf, and they’re not trying to be. They’re just being themselves and having fun with it. They’re not the be all, end all; they’re just doing their thing. Where people take it from there is their business. Time will tell whether future interpreters might have first thought ASL was fun by watching their videos. Eventually, we learn from Deaf people if we get that far. And if we don’t get that far, what’s the harm?

Encountering bigotry on interpreting jobs

I have encountered bigotry in the workplace as an ASL-English interpreter, but I must stress that it has come from both Hearing and Deaf clients, and has not always transpired between the clients I was interpreting for at the moment.

I usually gloss over the well-meaning paternalism of some Hearing people, especially if the interaction is brief and I sense that what is being communicated is more important than how it is being communicated. Many of the Deaf people I interpret for are familiar with this paternalism that sometimes borders on oppression, and they can handle it themselves. If they don’t handle it, it is usually because they don’t want to waste their time. One of the common errors I see among people who use interpreters is saying, “Ask/tell him/her.” This is a fairly innocent mistake. I will usually interpret it the first time, and see if the Deaf client corrects their hearing interlocutor or not. If they don’t, I usually just change the third person address to second person address in my interpretation.

However, I have experienced situations of bigotry that created a hostile work environment for me. Here are two that stand out:

  1. A boy in a high school class bullying another boy by calling him a “faggot” and carrying on in that vein deliberately and relentlessly during study time. The Deaf client was not paying attention.
  2. A Deaf client who used old, deprecated signs for Chinese and American Indian (pantomimes of mockery, pulling the eyelids to the sides with the forefingers while bowing up and down for Chinese, and raising one hand and patting the mouth with the other for Indian) and carried on about hating “faggots” in the waiting room at a doctor’s office

In both cases, my longterm solution was to no longer interpret for those people. My short term solutions to cases like these vary. The first situation I listed was the last straw after hearing occasional homophobia from this student over the previous few months. I chastised the bully, told the Deaf student what happened, and went to the vice-principal’s office. When neither the vice-principal nor the classroom teacher supported neither the bullied student nor me, I walked off the job with an hour to go because I was too upset to carry on. In the second situation I listed, I didn’t bother to say anything. In both cases, I let the interpreting agency who sent me know that I would no longer interpret for these people because I could not tolerate their bigotry.

In 24 years of interpreting, my encounters with insufferable bigotry have been extremely rare. More often, what I see is paternalism among hearing people toward deaf people, and I usually let it roll off my back. I just interpret and let the clients work it out themselves.

Yes, the people I interpret for display bigotry toward each other occasionally, but the worst bigotry I have encountered has had nothing to do with the cultures and languages I was mediating, and instead has been a kind of “environmental” bigotry I just could not stand.

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When the interpreter faces a bigot.