Stutterer and author Katherine Preston asks this intriguing question in her Huffington Post article citing Honest Speech. How do we discuss the concept of authentic voice in respect to the myriad reasons individuals choose to change the way they speak?
It is necessary to first differentiate between alterations related to identity and those related to assimilation, although the two are often intertwined.
When we talk about stutterers in speech therapy, we are primarily talking about assimilation. This type of therapy is founded in speech pathology, which labels disabled speech as inferior, ineffective, and impeded. Individuals who pursue therapy are influenced by the socially constructed standard of fluency, and they seek to reconcile the difference in their speech. Commonly, the decision to enter therapy is made not by the individual but by parents and educators who mark dysfluent speech as different and attempt to realign it.
Individuals who enter therapy for reasons related to identity are commonly not stutterers. Preston gives many examples of identity-affirming therapy, including trans* and non-binary individuals. In this case, aspects of a person’s speech are misaligned with their identity and they make the choice to pursue change. They seek therapy not to sound like everyone else, but to sound more like themselves.
Assimilation and identity can be conflated in many cases. The litigator who entered therapy to deepen her voice did so because a high-pitched voice was viewed as incongruent with her identity as a litigator. However, the perception of femininity as ineffective in the courtroom stems from the social construction of maleness as an unmarked trait. And the choice to align a person’s voice with their gender identity is influenced by the social construction of male and female speech traits.
Did I Stutter is not inherently opposed to speech therapy. Our intention is not to shame or judge individuals who pursue therapy for any reason but instead to illustrate the implicit and explicit forces that drive stutterers into speech therapy. The point is to empower dysfluent voices, and to advocate for stutterers to be treated with respect regardless of their choices about therapy. The point is to allow stuttering youth access to proud dysfluent role models and to affirm consent and bodily autonomy at all ages.