Make Room For The Stuttering

Social Acceptance of Stuttering

Posted on: May 19, 2009

I have engaged in a couple of very interesting on-line conversations lately on what degree of stuttering is socially acceptable and the very intriguing concept of stuttering being attractive. The issue of social acceptance is discussed on Tom’s site, The Stuttering Brain.

I really like Tom’s site and Greg’s Stuttering.Me, because these guys break down the complexities of stuttering into a language even I can understand.

I think stuttering is still very misunderstood by most people, and it is up to those of us who stutter to tell the world about it and make it less awful. I do think some people think stuttering is awful.

That’s why they get uncomfortable, look away, make dumb comments, etc. How will we change this mind-set if we don’t do something? Some people who stutter are afraid to be too public with their stuttering. I was like that for a long time.

I worried about rejection. My stutter is mild a lot of the time, and seems OK for people to listen to, especially once they get used to me. But when I go on a rip and REALLY stutter, I notice people get more uncomfortable. That’s usually my cue that I have to say something.

My own family has a hard time with my stuttering. It has to do with my being covert for so long – keeping it well hidden, keeping the taboo, well, taboo. As long as I  kept stuttering and the other family secrets, secret, everything was good.

Now, that I’m am open and talking, and heaven forbid, getting some media coverage, I think some of my family is embarrassed. My sister Kim stopped over Saturday night. She doesn’t have a computer, and wanted to see the video from last week. She watched it twice, and got teary-eyed. She said she was proud of me. I had to choke back my emotion. I asked her what was up with everyone else. She said my mother and two sisters “just aren’t interested” and that I shouldn’t even bother sending them stuff. They aren’t going to respond. The silence is deafening. I hear the silence, and it weighs as heavily as my own silence did for years.

Am I embarrassing them? Is it socially unacceptable for them to have a sibling in the news stuttering openly? It makes me feel they don’t care, or that I do embarass them. I do care. That actually kind of hurts.

I guess I should be lucky my stuttering is not more severe. At least I talk to my mom and sister once in awhile. If  I stuttered any more overtly, maybe I wouldn’t talk to them at all.

Now back to the issue of stuttering being attractive. I talked with friend Bob last week, who tells me that he finds women’s stuttering extremely attractive and almost sexy. I find that so intriguing, as another good friend – Richard – said my stuttering is attractive about two months ago. I was blown away with this, and now Bob says pretty much the same thing.

Bob shared that he can listen to women stutter all day. I wonder, do women feel the same way about men who stutter?  I did find my friend James’ speech pattern very soothing. Almost cute. It fits his personality. He stutters with repetitions and silent blocks, and I found myself really wanting to listen. He made me want to hear more, and his stuttering seems to positively accentuate his choice of words.

Its funny how we can relate to family and non-family so differently. We are more socially accepted by our community than our family, at least in my case.

Thoughts? Comments? Similar experiences?

15 Responses to "Social Acceptance of Stuttering"

I’ll respond as a fluent person. If I were to be embarrassed, it’s not because I find the stutter itself embarrassing or awful or shameful! It’s because the speaker finds his stutter to be embarrassing.

And in response, I look away, the same way I would look away from anything a friend found embarrassing (a sneeze, for example, or if a friend looked totally embarrassed by dripping tomato sauce on her blouse.) It’s the polite social fiction of “That’s a little thing, and I’ll not notice it while you get your bearings back.”

I had that happen once watching a TV interview of a stutterer who was being interviewed for his professional accomplishments. But he got frustrated when he got stuck in a stutter, and he looked away from the camera, and I found myself looking away from the screen! It’s an auto-response: I’m disengaging a bit in order to give the other person his space, the same way I’d look aside and let someone take care of that spilled tomato sauce.

Whereas my boss, if he was giving me instructions and stuttered, kept right on looking me in the eye, and I never looked away. He was comfortable with his speech, with the balance of power, and with the instructions he was giving. His comfort transferred to me.

In other words, if I were to avert my gaze or say something profoundly stupid, it’s not a judgment call against stuttering. It’s more like a social-contract thing, where I’m responding to the speaker’s own response to his or her stutter. I would try not to have that happen, but I can see where it might be reflexive, if I even had that issue with a video recording.

Does that make sense?

Sometimes parents can’t listen out of guilt that they didn’t do enough. My parents love me but I know watching me stutter or talk about it brings back painful memories. I didn’t get it until I became a mom. I don’t show them as much as I would like to. I have come to accept that they love me unconditionally and want me to be happy. I once showed them Joe Biden talking at the NSA convention. They watched it for 5 minutes or so and had enough. He isn’t hard to listen but he spoke from the heart. I think we have to accept it within ourselves and not look for approval from others. Not sure if that makes sense, but I hear you and understand how you feel.

You get to choose your friends, but you don’t get to choose your relatives. It works both ways. I think, though, that you got a better deal than they did, because you learned from it.

Yeah, when you say it like that, it makes sense. But it would still be nice (she says wistfully) to have the love and support of family that we all crave and need.

I appreciate your awesome insight here, but I think the embarassment my family may feel (and I will say may since I can’t read minds, and their silence may be something completely different) is different than the average fluent person who may interact with me from time to time at work, in person or over the phone. I get that most fluent people don’t understand stuttering, so anything one fears or is uncertain of is bound to cause a natural first reaction.

But my family, esp my father, lived with me, heard me stutter all the time (it was much less measured as a child) and he was litterally ashamed of me. He told people that, he told me that, he told me not to talk. It had to have impacted my siblings as well. It became such a taboo for so many years that for them it still is, even though its not for me any more.

I can appreciate when a fluent is trying to “spare me”. But to make me feel uncomfortable in the process – I don’t know about that. Sometimes, if someone is not poking fun or mimicking, I get the disticnt sense that they turn away becasue they feel sorry for me. “oh man, she stutters, isn’t that too bad?”

Its very complex, because just as we all know, the actually stuttered words is only a mere 10% of the issue, the other 90% is all the other stuff that goes on deep inside. I am glad to have an avenue to let some of that out, and share and interact with others who may struggle undoubtedly with same stuff.

OMG, your father said that? That’s awful. I’m so sorry. There are no words. 😦

The turn-away may not always be feeling sorry for you, though. If someone averts her gaze from me, I avert mine too. It’s just reflex.

Your stuttering was an easy target for him, for whatever reasons he needed a target. Did the rest of the family feel targeted (or hope he’d focus on you and forget about them)?

You managed to break out, but it sounds like they’re still under his shadow. If they talk with you, they risk his disapproval. Hopefully, they’ll be brave enough to step through the door you’ve opened.

Only one of my five siblings feels comfortable talking to me about stuttering. Her attitude is screw the rest of them. I can adopt that attitude, but its my family . . . . I keep trying. One sister told me she tells her clients “about” me – that I am a good example of overcoming fear, adversity, etc., but she can’t seem to talk “to” me about that same thing.
Yeah, the rest of the family probably did feel targeted. I think everybody hoped he would focus on anything but each of them/us individually. There was other abuse going on in our home. Always chaotic, unpredictable, tense. My stuttering started at around the same time that a lot of this other stuff started.
It would be nice, but I am not holding out hope, that we all will have a big pow-wow about what we shared as children.

There is no doubt about it, Pam… There is a certain element of stuttering that is lonely. And there’s really no way around it. If we try to gain acceptance into fluent society by trying our best to become “fluent”–we fail, and are therefore rejected. If we reject the societal concept of ‘fluency’, it frees us up tremendously; but if others in society do not share the same principles, it too can result in isolation.

All of which is why, at least in my life, the two more recent (yet fundamental) aspects of living with stuttering are: (1) forgiveness (of those who do not understand); and (2) engaging a supportive network of (self-help) friends and companions. Why try to gain entry into a country club in which we are unwelcome and will never be accepted? I tried; didn’t really succeed. So I stopped trying, and then I stopped caring, and then life become a whole lot easier and more fun. 🙂

Thanks Greg – its good to be able to share with people who can understand the inner stuff. It is lonely. I am learning so much from you and others that share so freely. I like the analogy of feeling unwelcome at a country club, so why would I apply there. I think part of me, deep down in the sacred place, wants to be accepted everywhere, so thats why I try. But forgiveness would certainly be easier, and offer more of the healing, that I have already started and no doubt need to continue to do. I have had a life time to build all this up, its taking some time to break it down.

But I am truly on my way towards rejecting the “acceptable concept” of fluency and focusing on accepting me for who I am. I will never be perfectly fluent. In the end, thats more important and makes more sense for me to share with others. I reject conformity, and some areas of my life aren’t ready for that. They expect that conformity.

And you’re right, Greg, its much more fun and easier to be free. One of my favorite quotes is from Mandella’s speech, “And when we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates those around us.” I see that around me in many ways.
The supportive community I have found is becoming my family.

Pam, have you read John Bradshaw’s book “On The Family”? He discusses the different roles people take on in dysfunctional families. You may have taken on the scapegoat role (or rather, been handed it). It’s a tough read, emotionally, but you might want to check it out.

His other book, “Healing the Shame that Binds You” took me three attempts before I was able to read it. You might find some of it to be helpful. (But again, a tough read emotionally.)

Thanks – I will look for the books, especially the one on Shame. A lot of people who stutter seem to grapple with shame, and then become free once they have find the way out from under the shame.

In one of my earlier posts (February I think), I have a poem I wrote called “Chains of Shame”. Its in poem category.

Dear Pam,

One interesting thing about stuttering is that in my country there is a very famous culture journalist (ok, very famous in cultural journalism, which is a sort of elite area, but still famous) who stutters. She is a very attractive, interesting woman, who has had a weekly TV program for a long while (I think she is on the radio now), and the fact that she stutters ends up being just one characteristic of hers. Like if she had a less usual accent or so. She looks very much OK with her stuttering, and she speaks in a very calm and soothing pattern. I like listening to her. 🙂

Philangelus: I am wondering about those books. May I email you about them?

Hi Pam (and anyone else who comes across this),

I know this is an old post but since you still maintain this blog, I hope you’ll see this. Just wanted to say that I am one of the few (apparently) who find a stutter sexy. I am a gay guy and yes, I could listen/chat with other guys who stutter for hours. It’s hard to explain the feeling. But it’s true. And, even though I’ve been on the receiving end of ridicule from some pws, I still think it might make others feel a bit better about their stutter knowing that some people out there don’t mind it and, even better, love hearing you talking for as long as you like! If people were only a bit more tolerant… on both sides! 🙂

Hi Josh, thanks for reading and commenting. I’m glad to hear your view – it’s just one more way towards acceptance.
Hope you visit this blog regularly.

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