Passing is a complex component of disabled identity. It comes with a great deal of privilege, which I am careful to remember. My history with stuttering and speech discrimination is my own, and it is greatly influenced by the ease with which I can pass as fluent—the ease with which I can closet my voice. My speech is stigmatized in a similar manner to other stutterers, but often to a much lesser degree. While in a particularly dysfluent period I am reminded of the contrast, how it feels to anticipate ridicule every time I open my mouth.
Being fluent-passing means that my dysfluent identity is less visible to the people around me. Stuttering is a thing that I do, and I don’t feel the need to talk about it all that often. Because of this, my friends and co-workers are frequently surprised or confused when they first hear my opinions about dysfluency. They are surprised to learn that I care greatly about the way my speech is perceived, or that the ways they talk about my voice are a type of speech discrimination.
I receive a lot of praise from others (especially from poets) for the way that I parse my words. They call me articulate, or compliment my diction. This makes me uncomfortable—in the way that fluent people discussing a dysfluent person’s speech is usually uncomfortable—but also because my praise-worthy diction is the result of two decades of pressure to assimilate. I enunciate the way I do because speech discrimination has taught me that it is the safest way to speak.
The variability of my dysfluency increases the pressure I feel to pass in some aspects of my life. I am always disabled, even when others do not hear a stutter. I always have the right to request and receive accommodations related to my speech, but the justification for those accommodations is less apparent. People assume that since I sound fluent one day and dysfluent the next, I am capable of presenting as fluent all of the time. And if I am capable of presenting as fluent, that they have no obligation to respect my dysfluent identity.
Everyone communicates in a unique manner; fluent and dysfluent alike, no two people have identical speech patterns. The category of stutterers encompasses a massive range of voices that can really sound quite different from one another. As such, every stutterer experiences stuttering and speech discrimination differently. These experiences are influenced and augmented by intersections of privilege and marginalization in regards to race, gender, class, and sexuality.
My voice is my own and it reflects my individual history. I do not claim to speak on the specific oppression of anyone else; rather, I am committed to fighting the speech discrimination that prohibits dysfluent people from being heard.