There's so much I value about desensitization, but lately I've been thinking about the inevitable risks we face in self-help and speech therapy, even when the goal is self-acceptance. For me, the notion that people who stutter can be good communicators was incredibly exciting. I continue to feel empowered when I list all the options I have while speaking: even if I'm not fluent, I can make "good" eye contact, listen well, express excitement about whatever I'm talking about, and communicate openness about my stutter. But the idea of a "good communicator" seems risky, and it's become important for me to remind myself not to overvalue "good communication." I worry that this phrase promotes a normalized idea of speech: one that makes room for stuttering, but only if it's surrounded by other qualities of good communication, some of which may be out of reach for many speakers.
So how can we push back that inevitable narrative of speech therapy--and disability-- that values overcoming? How can people who stutter keep from aspiring toward some model of speaking, without looking at the forces that shape the idea of "good communication?" I love many things about the idea that good communication doesn't mean fluency, but it's easy for this notion to go from being empowering to being another way that we tell ourselves that our speech is inadequate. Instead of failing at being fluent, I was failing at communicating well, failing at adequately owning my stutter, or failing at maintaining eye contact.
That's why it's so important for all people who stutter to become educated about disability theory: to consider the forces that normalize speech, and that require us to appropriately handle our stutter-- whether that means concealing it, regulating it with fluency-shaping techniques, or treating it with the proper amount of levity and openness. Without this dimension added to speech therapy or to self-help, the techniques we learn for "good communication" are just another form of easy onset. Both work toward standard speech without considering the forces that reject and stigmatize "bad communication"-- or disabled communication.
I'm still in speech therapy, and I still want to do all the things I wrote about above: stutter more easily, maintain eye contact, communicate openness. A lot of speech therapy, for me, is about fighting back against the techniques-- and shame-- I learned during fluency-shaping speech therapy. But, at the same time, I want to love my speech at all times: when I'm stuttering, when I'm blocking, when I'm using filler words, when I'm avoiding certain sounds. These habits may have come from a history of anti-stuttering therapy, but they're still a part of my voice, and a part of me. I went from hating myself when I stuttered to hating myself when I wasn't being a "good communicator": different scenarios, but the feelings that come afterward are eerily similar.
In both cases, I was failing the expectations of my listener: being awkward, vulnerable, visibly embarrassed, and, above all, unable to make them comfortable-- whether by achieving fluency, maintaining eye contact, or "communicating well." Is there a way to let go of the idea that people who stutter have an obligation to make their listener comfortable? To make these techniques an option, without making them an obligation? Along with openness, and easy stuttering, and eye contact, I want to look closer at "bad communication" and how it works-- because, even though it's "messy" (as Zach puts it in his blog post from September), it still communicates.