Hello, everyone! I’m Jacob Cheek, and I’m from Belton, Texas.
When I was an undergrad student at TAMU, I felt isolated from everyone and everything, as both a deaf and gay man. There was no vibrant deaf community nor an accepting and inclusive gay community. So, I made a decision to transfer schools. I was stuck between two choices – Gallaudet and the University of Texas Gallaudet represents the deaf community, and UT Austin is located in a city with a vibrant gay community. At the time, I didn’t believe I can be a part of both, so I went with UT Austin because I stuck into my comfort and went along with the gay community instead of the deaf community.
"At the time, I didn’t believe I could be both deaf and gay."
At the time, I didn’t believe I could be both deaf and gay. Ever since I transferred to UT Austin, I felt even more like a fraud in both the deaf and gay community. Through my experiences, I was too Deaf to be a part of the hearing world, but too hearing to be fully established in the Deaf community. When I first arrived at UT, I attended orientations and joined organizations, but I was excluded from everything. Hearing people tend to “baby” deaf people, especially me, and I feel like I was just there to fill a quota. When I met new deaf friends through a Deaf/hard-of-hearing event sponsored by the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) department, I briefly started to feel less like a fraud – until they recognized my hearing qualities, such as using my voice to speak. I began to get fewer texts and fewer invites to deaf gatherings. I was temporarily excommunicated from the community.
In the gay community, I was often fetishized by other men because I am deaf. I would go on dates hoping to search for a long-term relationship or something romantic, but in the end, they wanted to take me home and have sex with me because they were curious about how deaf people sound during sexual activity. After a few years, I made myself believe that I didn’t belong anywhere. I didn’t belong in the hearing world. I didn’t belong in the deaf community. I didn’t belong in the gay community. I made myself believe I was a fraud and that I’d be alone in my own little world for a very long time.
One day a few months ago, I went to a Gay Kickball event on 4th street, which is the gay area of Austin. I was with a few of my good friends, and we walked past Rain, a famous gay bar. One of my friends encouraged us to go in for a quick dance before we left. I was hesitant at the time, but I got outside my comfort zone and decided to join.
Right when we walked in, I saw a group of deaf gay men engaging in a conversation in ASL. I was so shocked and so excited at the same time, but I was also overwhelmed and nervous because that was the first time I’ve ever seen a group of deaf gay men chatting in public. I pulled my friends aside, and I was pacing back and forth, back and forth, debating on whether or not I should introduce myself.
My friend walked with me to the bar by the dance floor. As my friend and I were chatting, one of the deaf men approached me and introduced himself after the group noticed I was deaf too. I introduced myself to him and his group, got to know everyone, and interacted with them for a while. A few topics in, I realized I still had my hearing aids in. They encouraged me to take them out – and so I did. I took my hearing aids out, and instead of hearing the music, I felt the bass pounding in my body. There I was – having fun, closed off to the hearing world, in the middle of a gay bar, communicating with my new gay deaf friends.
And then, it hit me: I am deaf, I am gay, and I do belong! I was in this beautiful bubble with no communication barrier, and I felt very comfortable because I was around people that are a part of not two separate communities but one community intertwined around our Deaf identity and sexual orientation. Over time since then, I built stronger relationships with them, and I’ve been more confident and lighter as if a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I was getting more invites, met even more deaf gay people, and my old feeling of being a fraud quickly ceased to exist.
From that experience, I want to tell everyone, especially other deaf LGBTQ people, that getting out of your comfort zone will give you a new experience. It doesn’t matter where or why. It can be at a bowling alley, a restaurant, a hike, a house party, or even a circuit party. It might not happen your first time, but getting out of your comfort zone while being your authentic self will reap the rewards. It certainly did for me.