After last week’s post on authenticity, some really compelling conversation took place on Facebook where an interesting question arose: is being covert about one’s stutter (or even passing as fluent) still being authentic? I honestly can’t decide where I fall on this. I can only draw on my own experiences, but I know at least some of the time I was covert, I had convinced myself that I was doing what I needed to do to get by. I felt that in order to gain college and graduate degrees, friends, a boyfriend/husband and a job I had to have fluent privilege. While I know this to be much more nuanced now, I think I was reacting to messages that had been subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly given to me during my development. When I stuttered as I child, I was treated as inferior in the classroom and teased by my peers. As a teen I found sanctuary in introversion and avoidance. However, when I look back on my covert past, I see it as not being completely ethical or honest. This creates a huge internal conflict: do I even deserve the things/accomplishments I have if they were gained through dishonesty?
In the years leading up to coming out of the covert closet, I had the misguided notions that 1. most stutterers were able to use their techniques successfully and/or 2. all people who stuttered openly were totally self-accepting and at peace. I knew I fell in neither category and felt like both a failure and a fraud. I had no knowledge of the term ‘covert’ in regards to stuttering until about 2 years ago. What a huge relief to finally learn that concept, and that I wasn’t the only one living like that.
With all this reflection, I wonder if perhaps I was being my authentic self during my covert years. But I also think maybe I’ve been putting too much emphasis/value on the word authenticity. Sure I wasn’t really owning up to the identity of being a person who stutters, but I was doing what I thought I needed to do. That said, I don’t want to downplay all the work that’s involved with coming out and becoming open about stuttering. Because that was (and sometimes still is) seriously, really hard! I think for me (and probably others), authenticity seeking replaced fluency seeking and has becomes my new obsession. I fear this is equally ineffective and perhaps dangerous.
What came up next in the discussion was allowing ourselves to be imperfect. We shouldn’t feel bad for sometimes falling into old covert behaviors. They can be self-protection. We can simultaneously fully accept and love our stutters but be frustrated with how fatiguing talking can sometimes be. I think we get very comfortable complaining about how others react to or treat us, but we feel like hypocrites if we complain about not being able to get a particular word out. Even in the most accommodating situation it can suck to have a clever quip that doesn’t get delivered just how we wanted. It doesn’t mean you’ve given up the struggle or you stopped believing that there’s nothing wrong with your voice.
We also need to allow ourselves to enjoy our stutters. It’s easy to say I love my stutter because I’ve found joy in the friendships I’ve made or in the opportunities it’s given me. But why not allow ourselves to enjoy the physical act of stuttering. To say, I kind of like this sensation when my mouth or lips do this thing, or I like the way it sounds when I stutter that way. I want to be able to tell my friends that I love the way they stutter.
I think in short, we should be kinder to ourselves. Chasing an ideal such as authenticity is not much different than chasing fluency. We still need to keep moving through our own journeys and our collective journey, but we need to realize we’re only humans and allow ourselves to be just that.