A problem with the pervasive wellness or self-improvement culture is that it views the body as a set of disconnected properties that need to be constantly improved upon. The self, in such a scenario, is kind of a ghost that inhabits the body (and the psyche) but is separate from it. For the goodness of the self to be elaborated, the various properties of the body must be in a constant state of upgrade.
Thus, within an American and broader Western voice, the “I,” or the self, is beyond material problems and is bigger than the histories attached to those material realities.
To say that I am a stutterer is to revel in the contradiction of individualism combined with self-conscious vulnerability.
We are really something more than our bodies. Our society builds a hyper-narcissistic views of the self and then forces a constant effort to maintain certain standards for appearance.
But people have long pursued alternative sets of standards and have rewritten the present ones for all sorts of reasons.
When we say I am a stutterer, the common response, possibly from those who love us might be: come now, you are so much more than a stutterer, you are a writer, a board gamer, a brother, a son, etc., etc
In that response, “the stutter” is relegated to a practical issue or technical difficulty.
But the stutter’s other capacity as an experience that is shared by many people is lost.
People have long been permitted to identify with facial features of familial legacy, with bodily attributes such as strength as a mark of positive morals and with body art or tattoos as a sign of independent spirit. However, when the peculiar presence of one’s speech or body is made into a zone of professional or hygienic consideration and not as a mark of solidarity, the beauty of human variety is lost.
The popularity of wellness culture has led disabled people to cultivate appearances of ableness, to refuse identification with past negative experiences and to measure things like “fluency” or “passing.” Yet choosing to track these elements is not really about wellness, but is about the appearance of self-ownership.
To identify with an element of the body that cannot be controlled, as one does when we claim membership in our dysfluency is to identify with a naturally occurring force of public refusal. As the stutter bucks the trends of language, takes up too much time and makes strange and incomplete sounds, to identify with the stutter is to stop commending mastery and order over our own flesh.
When we refuse to participate in criticisms about how our own bodies should be, we remove the distractions that cause us to be angry at the pace and limitations of our bodies and learn to stop casting constant negative judgment about our embodiment and can thus merely “be” our bodies.
However, being a body might be better understood as a kind of material authenticity. When we lose the illusion of an individuality that is so special and unique as to transcend bodily boundaries, we become more familiar with the ways in which histories have been built on top of amorphous and unclear elements of the flesh.
I want to end this blog altering a question I hear too often. “How is my fluency?” is brought up to check our power to pass in the stuttering community. But a more important question for those concerned with disability pride to be asking is, “how is my dysfluency?” and instead question the ways in which their flesh has become contorted, by way of habit, into bizarre ugly incomplete attempts to mimic a gentrified body, at the cost of truer self-knowledge and self love. I encourage my friends in the stuttering community to ask me “how is my dysfluency?” to check not my performance of normalcy, but my attempts to hide linguistically my disabled self.