I Am Who I Am Because of My Stutter

Embracing the way I talk marks a new era of my life

Chris Zaldua
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readJun 18, 2019

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“Sugar: Plantation Amputation” by Andrei Georgescu. Used with permission.

“O“Oh, I had no idea,” people often say to me when I let slip that I am a person who stutters. “If you hadn’t told me, I never would have known.”

This admission, spoken in good faith, is meant to reassure me: “It sure doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong with you.” My response is always pert and polite, just a smile and a nod. Instead, what I’d prefer to tell them is that whatever fluency I’ve achieved presently is the result of a lifelong struggle with my own self, a total war of communication in which a new battlefront is waged whenever I open my mouth to speak.

That, however, does not quite make for pleasant conversation.

As I write this, I am approaching 35 years of age. I stutter today and I have stuttered for as long as I remember speaking. I will stutter for as long as I live. I don’t know why I stutter, nor do any of the numerous speech therapists and pathologists I have seen throughout my life. What little I do know about stuttering is that every stutter is different, every stutter impairs its speaker differently, and every stutterer’s path to fluency — for those lucky enough to find it — is unique.

Stuttering is a communication disorder in which “the flow of speech is broken by repetitions (li-li-like this), prolongations (lllllike this), or abnormal stoppages (no sound) of sounds and syllables,” according to the Stuttering Foundation. In popular media, stuttering often serves as synecdochical shorthand for foolishness, dimwittedness, or limited mental capacity. After all, an inability to speak fluently must be an outward manifestation of inner diminishment, a position endorsed by none other than the President of the United States of America.

Despite their inherent cruelty, these depictions belie a certain naive optimism: If stuttering and stupidity go hand in hand, perhaps fluency just involves trying a little harder or picking oneself up by the bootstraps. Perhaps speech impediments are just a personal problem.

But the stutterer’s impediment is existential. To stutter is to experience a fundamental breakdown in language, the primary faculty separating human being from fellow animal. Speech is the first-order…

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