Since I’ve returned from the National Stuttering Association conference I’ve found it much easier to stutter openly. I’ve stuttered openly while ordering food in restaurants and while speaking to strangers about their dogs. I’ve also used the conference as a vehicle to begin talking about stuttering with my friends and colleagues. This is sometimes more difficult than being open with a stranger. I have to say I’ve been completely blown away by the responses I’ve gotten. Every single person with whom I’ve shared, has been overwhelmingly supportive and helpful. I’ve been brought to tears by words from colleagues who I thought found me odd and my heart has exploded when talking to close friends who never felt comfortable broaching this subject.
I don’t really know why this surprises me. The people I choose to surround myself with: artists, musicians, writers, activists, environmentalists– they are all freethinkers. We are a community of nonconformists. So I can’t help but think that one reason these people accept and support me is because stuttering is subversive. It pushes against cultural norms in a fierce way. Stuttering openly and without shame attempts to transform the established social order.
I think back on most of the speech therapy I’ve received. While I may not have hated leaving class to go play games in a closet under the stairs, I definitely received a message that my stutter was bad and something that should be fixed. I felt like a constant failure because I could not seem to apply the techniques I learned to the outside world. I didn’t choose to attend speech therapy, nor was I ever consulted about how it made me feel. My parents had good intentions but they were not informed or given choices. I fear that a lot of young people experience speech therapy this way. There is no way to undo the damage this does to us. Because of my experiences in speech therapy, I felt the need to hide my stutter and live covertly. I realize now that it’s true oppression to expect us to change or hide our stutters for the convenience and comfort of others. It took way too long to realize this was at odds with everything I believed socially and politically.
One thing that became clear to me at the conference is that people who stutter will talk for hours if they are treated respectfully. I know I’m not the only one who actually became hoarse from talking so much. One word I continually heard used to describe the experience was ‘liberating’. It’s so true! It’s incredibly liberating to talk with others who will sit and listen respectfully no matter how long you block or how many repetitions you have. We prove that this is a possible reality.
I want to continue the feelings of liberation and empowerment that I finally felt while at the conference. I want to defiantly finish my sentence even if someone has finished it for me; even if they got it right– or change the words to end it differently just to make a point. I want to allow blocks to go on longer than I have to if I see the person I’m talking to looks annoyed or put out. Or better yet, I want to let blocks or repetitions go on longer because I find them enjoyable. Isn’t true subversion finding power and pleasure in the things society finds defective? Let’s do it.