I. WHAT IS SOCIAL ANXIETY?
1) Many people aren't comfortable with, or at all OK with, with some part, or all of, 'standard social interactions'.
1.1) For instance, some people find meeting new people difficult.
1.2) Others aren't OK with large group meetings, or large group meetings with many unknown people present.
2) In some cases, a Shy person identifies as Socially Anxious, so that, as far as they themself is concerned Socially Anxious and Shy are interchangeable concepts.
2.1) This is sometimes useful because 'Shy' is a much older and better-known word.
2.2) However, neither do all Shy people identify as Socially Anxious nor do all Socially Anxious people identify as Shy.
2.3) Some people consider their Shyness to be Closet-Social Anxiety, and calling them 'Socially Anxious' is then tantamount to Outing them.
2.4) These things said, many of the matters raised in older discussions about Shyness are relevant here.
An activity well thought out as regards Shy people is usually pretty well thought-out as regards many Socially Anxious or yet other people finding it more approachable than many other activities. And vice versa :)
3) A New person may not yet know (almost) anyone, a Shy person may remain New in this sense for quite long, and in some cases may remain New forever. Some people who are Different may also remain new forever.
3.1) This means that concentrating essentially all the IceBreakers into 'Freshers Week' and all the society squashes into the two weeks after this lets down most of the Shy and Different people.
3.2) This can be resolved by having All-Year Icebreakers.
As it happens, these Safer Spaces here have had as one of their most major mottos "for the New, the Shy and The Different" for around two decades now. [ "High Captain Commander General Defender of the New, the Shy and The Different" is the most exalted title an organizer can have at ours :) ]
More generally, many Geeky groups and activities have had such considerations carefully built in for decades. This is reflected by what many of the activities, societies and communities mentioned on this webpage are :)
I.1 THE SOCIAL ANXIETY STAR
Searching around for Social Anxiety did not appear to point to any previously established symbol or flag.
As such, we created the Social Anxiety Star:
A simple approximate way of raising awareness of Social Anxiety is to say that the beloved children's character, Piglet, may be interpreted as showing a number of signs of this.
*** Here's a partial outline for now. ***
* Piglet is rather more comfortable around Pooh, especially when nobody else is around.
* Pooh could be construed of as being an Ally of Piglet's; Piglet explains some of his issues to Pooh.
* Piglet may have unstated or parabled reasons for some of his issues, in the form of 'the Heffalump'. As such, Piglet might both be a Social Anxiety person and a Closeted person.
I.3 ANIMAL HATS
At least since 1980's Japan, some Socially Anxious people have taken to wearing animal hats.
Of course, many other people wear such hats as well, for warmth, fun or aesthetic reasons.
One option wearing such a hat is to reply with corresponding animal noises or gestures rather than words. Which some people can manage in situations where they don't know what to say or daren't say anything.
II. MEETINGS WITH SMALL EFFECTIVE GROUP SIZES GUARANTEED BY FISSION
5) For instance, pubs and boardgame evenings can be split up into multiple small conversations, one per table or game.
5.1) This can be done according to certain rules such as "groups must be of size 4 to 7", spo if an 8th person joins a 7 it must split into two 4's. This is a "Fission Rule", as in "Cellular Fission".
5.2) Because of people leaving as well, there is sometimes also a Fusion Rule (as in "Cellular Fusion"), by which e.g. groups of 3 or less must join larger groups, if needs be inducing Fission.
While these safer spaces have been using Fusion and Fission Rules for almost two decades, we ourselves learned to do this from student prayer groups. Moreover, group size 8 is somewhat critical as regards leadership and ensuring everyone contributes and is satisfied.
III. QUIET ROOMS
Conventions and some very large e.g. multi-society meetings may be able to provide these.
They come with rules; the intention is as a place where nobody talks with anyone else.
They can contain one-person icebreakers such as "colouring, Sudoku, word searches, a weighted soft toy, and other sensory/fidget toy"s.
At Nine Worlds, they include places to lie down and such as bean bags.
Also water and snacks.
The room will have soft furnishings, including bean bags, cushions and a place to lie down.
Water will be available just opposite the entrance to the quiet room, and we have asked the hotel to provide a fruit bowl, so people are able to have a snack, even if they canít face leaving the room and dealing with people.
Ear plugs and eye masks are also a good idea (Conventions are long).
And arrangements for a lack of background noise.
4) One resolution of 1.2) is for some activities to involve small person number interactions rather than (or as well as) group meetings.
Examples of this include Assassins attempts (or similar under the name "Humans versus Zombies)", Cakefaeries Surprise Cake deliveries, and Chain-Writing (in Cambridge either of Sci-Fi genre: CUSFS, or of Childrens'/Silly genre: Sheila and her Dog).
4.1) Of course, 3.2) can be rolled into this by having some such activities be term-long.
4.2) This only makes sense if these activities are also low-intensity.
4.3) Some of these activities are moreover city-wide.
E.g. an "assassination" can occur at most places (modulo Out of Bounds areas to prevent trouble from disruption, eg during classes, in places of worship or during society meetings).
A CakeFaerie wearing the CakeFaerie badge can receive cake in a comparable range of locations, and a CakeFaerie giving a room address may have a CakeFaerie knock there something like between 10:00 am and 9 pm.
CakeFaeries is gentler in these ways, as well as involving just surprise cake (some assassins offer biscuits to people they've just surprised with Nerf pistols). So each has its own demographic, with a certain amount of overlap causing e.g. people going round CakeFaerieing to be Out of Bounds while so doing as regards Assassins.
Another difference is that Assassins often gain surprise by pretending they're not assassins, whereas the CakeFaerie says they're a CakeFaerie when knocking on another CakeFaerie's door.
Chainwriting is usually done by email, though at some points people have been known to write the next lines of chainstories on each others' doorpads.
4) to 4.3) can be rolled together to make the Ractor concept: a small person numbers long-timescale city-wide low-intensity inte-RACTOR.
While Assassin has been played since the 60's and doorpad-chainwriting preceded the existence of email or the internet as well, there are other ways in which Ractors remain in their infancy.
Ideally, evey Soc-Ring would run a Ractor to cater for the New, the Shy and the Different all year round.
[What a Soc-Ring is is best dealt with examples: the Music Socs are one, the Quirky/Geeky Socs are another, the Thesps, the Science Socs... ie groups of 5 to 20 University-type Societies such that quite a lot of a given Society's members are members of some other Societies in that Soc-Ring.]
And yet, with a few exceptions, it is only Quirky/Geeky Soc-Rings which have to date run Ractors.
[Another useful concept is the Lighter-Hearted member of each Soc-Ring, for the meetings of this are more likely to have all year icebreaker features. For instance CULES - the Light Entertainment Society - is the Lighter-Hearted member of the Thesp Soc-Ring.]
[A third useful concept is Soc-Parenting, like College Parenting in Cambridge but soc-based, in which new people get more experienced parents who help them 'settle in'. Now, while CULES haven't to our knowledge ever run a Ractor, they do have CULES parenting. Even Women's Rugby has been known to have Soc-Parenting :)]
We may expand on this here with a link to a list of suggestions for what Ractors might be suitable for each Soc-Ring (noting also that some Conferences and Conventions can also involve Ractors).
If each Soc-Ring had a Ractor, All-Year Icebreakers and Soc-Parenting, Shy people, Different People and the Socially-Anxious would find a wider range of Societies Approachable.
As a final word, some people consider Assassins to be a Ractor for the Science Soc-Ring as well as the Quirky/Geeky one. Assassins, Humans versus Zombies (the main U.S. equivalent) and the CakeFaeries happen to be widely appealing by which they make successful ractors on a timescale of years. So, while anyone could quickly design a Music, Rowing or Thesping Ractor, having this be well-attended and with no shortage of new organizers to keep it going for years is a rather more subtle business. Some ractors only work well above a certain size, and Closeted people largely only use ractors that succeed in attracting 'for fun' participants (the Closeted then credibly pose as 'for fun' participants).
V. MEETINGS WITH COMMUNICATION BADGES
6) A few activities have further means of ensuring people aren't put through unwanted experiences there.
6.1) A long time ago CUSFS (Sci-Fi) dealt with the matter of certain people dominating conversations or interrupting others' contributions by adopting the convention that only the person holding the ceremonial ball of socks should speak.
Other members could put their hand up to appeal to be the next person to be passed said ball of socks.
6.2) You've also seen mention of a CakeFaerie badge, which if worn occasionally has the magical property that another CakeFaerie spots the wearer and offers them Surprise Cake.
Note moreover that a person who does not wish to be approached during a particular outing or on a particular day simply doesn't wear the badge and isn't approached. This is the simplest kind if do/don't approach signalling system. It has one word: the CakeFaerie badge (meaning "meet me with cake") as well as the blank word: not wearing it (meaning "no meeting people with cake at present"!).
By this token, the ball of socks is a one-word badge saying "holding this ball of socks means that it's my turn to speak", to the blank word of not having the ball of socks.
Note that the ball of socks example is Society meting based and involves a total of one label. Moreover, in a meeting with Socks and Fusion/Fission, there colud be a box of of balls of socks, so that each conversation contains precisely one.
On the other hand, the CakeFaerie badge can be worn city-wide during the CakeFaerie Hours of 10 am to 9pm, so it is a Ractor variant of a badge. Other examples of Ractor badges include (possibly token) Zombie makeup in Humans versus Zombies, or Assassins when played between teams with a different colour of headband each. This last example has multiple words: "on my team", and "not on my team, plus an identifier of which other team".
While it's useful not shooting your own team or knowing who is a CakeFaerie and currently willing to receive cake, the first big breakthrough with Badges/Headbands/Sashes is as follows.
6.4) The LARP (Live Action Role Playing) finger in the air. While this means "I'm Out of Character so ignore me entirely", this also implies "don't in any way impede me if I'm suddenly leaving the area", by which it can cover sudden anxiety panic attacks or other changes of mood.
6.5) Meet-ups for people with Autism adopted the following three-word dictionary in the form of "conference badges".
Red with a black square for "I don't consent to any conversations that I don't initiate."
Yellow with a black triangle for "I only consent to people I already know talking to me".
Green with a black circle, for "whoever wishes to start a conversation with me is welcome to".
There are shapes as well as colours to accommodate the colour-blind, and the badges are large-print to help with the partially-sighted.
There could also be a rule not to start conversations 'from behind' if one does not know what badges the people in question are wearing.
Another possibility is to wear badges on one's back as well.
It should be noted that these badges are Fluid ie they can change with mood, confidence or 'amount of spoons one has left'. So it helps for them to be adjustable. We'll get on to how to adjust a badge on one's back, and why there's other reasons to project 360 visibility with multiple badges.
6.6) We first instead point to Sci-Fi/Geek Conventions such as Nine Worlds in the UK adopting badge conventions in much larger and more mixed settings, e.g. with only a small proportion of those present wearing the badges.
Nine Worlds goes in for each room in the convention having at least one trained organizer present overseeing that the badges (and the no-harassment policy) are respected.
In this setting it is more plausible for "green with a black circle" to be replaced by the blank (no badge).
However in some settings, having a word rather than a blank for this is a further safeguard. This is because it's not the same word as "have lost my badge" or "my badge isn't in your field of vision, e.g. because you are to my right and my badge is on my left front or there's a person between your eyes and my badge".
We next arrive at a second major breakthrough.
6.7) Practicality, kind-heartedness points to the "Curb-Cutter Effect". Something designed to fit a particular need can sometimes be observed to be helpful to further people. The reference is to wheelchair accessibility ramps also being useful for such as baby push-chairs or small children.
This leads to a conceptual awareness of "Universal Design".
The idea is then that the Communications Badge may be useful to a wider range of people.
And the current section of this document probably vindicates this on a larger scale than previously imagined.
6.8) One of the first applications is to have a fairly large badge, or a pair of badges, exhibiting not only the Red Square but also one's pronouns.
Pronouns are most usually added under a person's name badge at a Conference.
Moreover, in the case of a person newly declaring pronouns (e.g. who has recently Come Out as Trans or Non-Binary, the name on the badge is useful since there may well be people present who already know you but not yet your new name.
6.10) The name and pronouns are written in by the person in question, which permits one to go by a name other than that which one registered by. This can be important if one is not Out elsewhere than at the Meeting or Convention in question. It can also be used by people who aren't Out at the Convention if the Convention has Cosplaying Masks. In the sense that one can attend masked, presenting as the gender one really is but is not Out as, under a pseudonym and with no face showing, which some Closeted people consider to be sufficiently anonymous.
6.11) Now for the first "surprise". Sure, Communications badges can help with other non-neurotypical people, and pronoun badges are well-known besides. But a masked, pseudonym-and-pronouns wearing Closeted attender of a Convention with Communications badges can wear the Red Badge as well, so as to not give away their voice either. They might well attend with an Ally whom they do initiate conversations with, and between the two of them decide on whether anyone else present can be asked for conversation.
One thing to know here is that different Closeted people have different safety standards as regards safety and anonymity.
The more general point is that communicatins badges help accommodate the Closeted!
A more common example is, moreover, that a person is Socially Anxious because they are Closeted, or because they're recently Out, or because they've only recently started to try to Pass and don't yet know how effectively they do.
6.12) Surprise 2. Multi-Gender and/or GenderFluid people may also be much more Socially Anxious in some of their gender states than others. And so might e.g. wear the red badge while feeling mostly male but the green badge when feeling mostly female.
And sometimes the issue is that the person is presenting as female, say, but suddenly begins to feel female, and can't cope with conversing until they've adjusted their presentation to match their current mindset...
And so, some Non-Binary and GenderFluid people also wish to thank those whose thoughts went into the Communications badges and their wider "Curb Cutter" applications :)
6.13) Surprise 3) Most Survivors are Avoidant (85% according to recent surveys). Some of these Survivors aren't willing to go (almost) anywhere at all out of safety concerns. These tend to revolve arounf "secondary abuse", ie unwelcome boundary probing by potential abusers rather than the known abuser.
Now some of these Survivors, and Allies of theirs, are willing to put in a great amount of effort to have the privacy and safety that the Survivor requires.
And they can be satisfied with what others might consider to be a rather minimal interaction.
This might be their first time in a place with persons unknown since after they became a Survivor, after years of healing and even more minimalistic participation. In such a case, they might well be willing to choose a place like Nine Worlds for its Communications Badge system (Red Square!), and attend in a cosplaying mask with one or more bodyguard allies.
In such a case, Red Square is a major defense against boundary probing.
And very likely to be worn in a 360 degree visibility configuration.
The presence of trained organizers in each partition, and of the harassment policy that these credibly implement throughout the venue, are additional major defenses in this case!
6.14) A mostly Closeted person can be Socially Anxious whilst Closeted, and not so when Out. For instance, a Closet-Trans person may cease to be Anxious when in private with just people they trust with their true identity.
6.15) On other occasions, their true identity may be more Anxious, e.g. because their Closeted self is more experienced at social interactions/'fitting in'. A such might for instance have gendered catch-phrases that their true self would not use and doesn't yet know any true-gender substitutes for. Or the true-gender person wants to do without such catch-phrases as they were just part of play-acting someone who they weren't.
6.16 A GenderFluid person may have more anxiety when closer to one of their genders than the other and/or different kinds of anxiety around each different 'gender pole'. Some might also have anxieties while 'rather in the middle' between two poles, at which point they 'fit neither gender stereotype' and as such don't necessarily know what to say or do, or how to express how they feel.
[Some GenderFluid persons' names and pronouns can change on a timescale of hours or minutes, say.]
[Other Fluid people? Well, for instance a Switch might be presenting Dominantly but suddenly feel submissive and hence at odds with how they are presenting. Many other characteristics come in a Fluid version as well. Indeed, some people are purely SAx-Fluid - Social Anxiety Fluid - rather than SAx-Fluid due to some other Fluidity such as GenderFluid. SAxFluidity includes such as bimodality, in which a person is Anxious at some times or in some settings, but is more neutral or outgoing at other times or in other contexts. Spoons issues that are time-dependent inlude starting off wearing no badge, but putting on the 'Don't talk to me at all' badge upon running out of spoons, or upon ceasing to have any spoons to spare.]
7) These observations made, here is how the communications badge dictionary can be expanded in further ways useful to Survivors, Closeted people, GenderFluid people and other Fluid people.
A) No Contact badge. This person isn't to be poked, brushed or bumped into in any way.
B) Wide berth personal space badge: stay at least one metre clear of this person.
C) No cornering: this person must always be given space to back away. You can't approach this person if they are in a corner, nor 'trap them en groupe' against a wall.
D) No impeding exit. This person has the right to leave immediately without explaining why. This can be done without a badge if all present must read the rules, for then e.g. their lift a finger above their head can stand for this. This covers panic attacks, Survivors suddenly not feeling safe, and people needing to change how they're presenting before they're comfortable enough to converse or even just be in view again.
As regards A), this goes well with a rule not to initiate interaction unless one's seen their badge for sure. It would not do to tap someone on the shoulder only to find out when they turn that they are wearing a no-contact badge...
All of A), B), C) and D) are of particular use to Survivors.
For completeness, one may add
E) Don't follow me badge.
F) Don't surprise me badge.
G) Only approach me via the Ractor or Meet Icebreaker interaction (offer cake, throw fluffy toys, pass me the chainstory notepad).
8) Points of order.
8.1) Badge dictionaries can be defined to have a lot of highly distinguishable designs.
8.2) There's a limit based on participants not remembering more than a certain number of 'Purple Pentagons' However, badges (unlike sashes) have enough 'square area' to say what they are on them. Badges can more easily get round colourblindness by having space for shapes. Badges can be partly familiar, eg standard pride/awareness symbols or pictures or associated animals such as the NonBinary Bunny or the GenderFluid Deer.
8.3) People then might wear multiple badges at once, so an effective system is needed e.g. to change outfits or to access badges a Fluid person wishes to change, including the possibility of combining this and 360 visibility badging.
This can be dealt with by wearing the badges on something like a scarf, shawl or a bandolier, which is detachable so as to "reconfigure" rear-vision badges.
Indeed, it's possible to make "door in/out sign" loops that stay rigidly in position but can be twisted from "Green he/him" to "Red She/Her No Contact" in a second or less per loop needing twisting. We'll attach a basic plan of some such devices, and then photos of our 'build the most reliable such devices' activity here :)
One can assemble always-declared badges on one side of one's shawl and the others elsewhere.
One's pre-assembled scarf is then plain on one side and a long line of switch loops on the other side.
One can have 'badge blockers' for when badges don't apply. E.g. putting blank labels over them is currently being tested to see how hardly badges are to repeated use of this.
8.4) Each partitition of a Meeting or Convention might then contain posters of the enlarged Communication Badge dictionary in use there.
8.5) Along with very strong very highly tested rules for defaults about no contact or conversation with people of unknown or uncertainly-determined badge status.
[Our Allies can play 'try to find new ways this goes wrong' in the absense of our Survivors etc. Really avoiding mess-ups involves trying to generate as many as possible in harmless analogue situations off-site, as well as having a firm policy to avoid mess-ups arising due to deliberate actions of bullies at the actual events.]
Note: the dictionary presented so far (Red, Yellow, Green, A to G, Cake badge, Assassin team Headband, Ball of Socks!) is already capable of forming far more complex phrases than its individual words.
E.g. "You may only approach me with icebreakers that aren't surprises" (F G) or "you may only cake me if I'm not in a corner, and I still won't initiate conversation" (CakeFaerie Red C).
H) A further suggestion then is to wear a number that your conversation circle size can't exceed.
This corresponds to having a personalized Fission rule, which acts quite quickly if not instantaneously. The conversation would split if someone notices it contains a person whose conversation size number is exceeded by the number of people in the conversation.
I) Another suggestion are "don't split us" badges, by which e.g. a couple can't get separated by the movement of people or fissions.
Of course, these are also useful to ensure that a person and their Ally aren't split up.
Having these in the system also permits a person who has to leave immediately to take their Ally with them.
The finger system for this could be leaving with two fingers in the air, accompanied by the second Blue Rose Badge person. The organizer would then know not to block the latter from exiting. An alternative system is that the finger in the air person points specifically at who's to leave with them. (This version doesn't give away who the Ally is in the event of there not having to be any exits).
VI. Social Anxiety as a cover for other matters
While one shouln't make any assumptions in any particular case, some people state Social Anxiety for 'further unstated reasons' such as being Closet-Trans, Closet-Nonbinary, Closet-PTSD, Closet-Hypervigilant, a Survivor, or Currently Bullied elsewhere.
Systems aware of and useful for Social Anxiety can be set up somewhat more generally so as to be useful to Closeted people (and partially Closeted people, who would e.g. state they are Nonbinary under some circumstances but find it easier to state Social Anxiety).
VII. PRINCIPLES OF BADGE COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS
i) Visibility. Large enough badges, worn high up enough, possibly 360 visible by multiple copies.
Wearing them in one's hat maximizes how high up they are. High up, less people and props are between the badges and other people.
ii) Distinguishability. Each badge must be very different from the others. This is to include partially-sighted, colourblind, and, if applicable to the venue, poor lighting. E.g. a venue with unlit audiences might have glow-in the the dark badges or be very peppered indeed with glowstick supplies.
iii) Memorability. Badges must either be few or say what they are.
iv) Lightning-Fast Rearrangeability. For Fluid people, SAx-Fluid or otherwise.
v) Unflappability. That the badges don't rearrange themselves.
vi) No bullies or pranksters on the premises. I.e. no tampering with people's badges or taking badges away from someone.
vii) Presence of trained organizers. They know the badges, handle problems caused by anyone who doesn't, and impede the venue from being taken over by bullies or marred by pranksters.