In the process of a rehabilitative exercise upon the voice there exists a loop of persuasion: for the patient to embrace fully the cure or solution, they must view a stutter as a less than ideal speech attribute. Such a belief reassures the confidence of the expert: it makes the patient have less certainty of their agency. The emotional labor for the stutterer may involve the necessity to exert great effort in altering the voice. The permanence of the training is also threatening to the stutterer; it forces one to grapple with the notion of a permanent change effected by an untenable hodgepodge of will and guilt and clinical technique. An enormous emotional labor is then part and parcel for the disabled person’s existence. The stutterer may feel alternating levels of fatigue precisely because the conversation is connected to a great deal of exhausting trainings.
The emotional work that speech language pathology introduces upon the stutterer is further worsened when it calls for absolute precision in following its steps. Many members of the dysfluent community are rendered forever voiceless based on the derision they have faced and the extra emotive effort present in conversations.
We can see how the labor of “doing therapy” presents a series of laborious emotional processes of gripping the distance between the body and the set of social expectations. To follow a therapeutic program intones compliance in the form of what sometimes becomes routine.
Another emotional labor spawned out of the clinical treatment of the stutter is the explanation of the stutter to new audiences. In some situations, stutterers are told to tell those they speak with that they stutter. In other situations, the stutterer may become barraged by questions or mockery of their speech. The process of negotiating these chaotic social scenarios has been totally overtaken by a medical vocabulary that would have the stutterer do something called “self-advocacy” and confess, almost in a beg-for-forgiveness manner, the fact of the impairment.
The work of tackling certain hurdles in the social world that is done by a stutterer should not be underestimated. Most social presence is dependent on a level of confidence; to socialize and have to constantly make arrangements around a taboo means to lose some of that gusto.
The notion that to be dysfluent is to be defective has become accepted within the current iteration of speech language pathology as a “helping profession” and within the stutterer self help community. In such assumptions, stuttering is individualized as an trait. In calling for the refusal or awkwarding of the self-advocacy situation around stuttering, I ask the stutterer to seize the means of communicative production and demand that society take on the labor of accounting for dysfluency. When I talk about communicative production, I speak of the process by which various efforts become effectively understood and used to transmit messages. In the current situation, speech language pathology functions as a gatekeeper for what communication can be. Stutterers can call the classroom, the politic, the debate space, the media and the popular discourse to make the commitment to listening to stutterers with extra effort without having to be asked by a stutterer to do so and reshape the idea of what can be heard. I hope to not have to write essays exposing the unfair division of labor to ameliorate communicative inaccessibility; I wish to give up my job.
I have seen fellow stutterers, my father included, be torn down by the speech situation where dysfluency and the elaborate linguistic alterations it enacts (sometimes to contain it) have to be accounted for and the stutterer is largely brought to tears for taking too long and is not heard.
The extra stress in the conversation for the stutterer builds up; this is often not hyper tension from vibrating tongues or lips, but the extra stress of accounting for irregularity that slowly tires the body out.
Stutterers have been forced into a position of daily labor to manage communication norms and be heard. The emotional labor, both of having to rehabilitate the stutter and from having to negotiate conversations with the smooth speaking then can be known as a source of slow death; as a force of silence that is perpetually creeping upon the dysfluent corpus.
Calling for speech accessibility and more listening labor being done by the smooth speaking is a move tantamount to that of many oppressed groups who call for ownership over their bodies and localities. Dysfluent people should take their bodies back!