I am donating 75% of the proceeds from the new Comedians with Disabilities Act and Friends album (when purchased through CD Baby) and my children’s book, Once Upon an Accommodation, to the National Stuttering Association during National Stuttering Awareness week (starts May 11) This is to thank the Stuttering community for what I have received from them.
In honor of National Stuttering Awareness week I wanted to share my personal experience about how the Stuttering community has impacted me. I discovered the National Stuttering Association (NSA), then the National Stuttering Project (NSP), thanks to a PSA one night when I was watching late night TV while I was still in high school. I called NSP (there was no internet back then), and soon became a volunteer. I would fold their newsletter, Letting Go, and even volunteered at a conference in San Francisco. Before finding NSP I thought that a stutterer had to strive for fluency. At the time my dream was to teach grammar school and I thought that to be a teacher you would have to achieve complete and utter fluency. While volunteering I met John Ahlbach who was a high school teacher who stuttered. Meeting him completely demolished the stereotypes I had developed about myself and about the need to be fluent.
More importantly, finding the NSP had an impact on my self-perception as well. Stuttering and having a learning disability, I didn’t always feel comfortable in school. I would do things that I thought increased fluency or camouflaged my stuttering and learning disability. I thought t was better to be seen by others as weird instead of disabled. This was pretty easy for me because I was naturally kind of weird, but this was a more inauthentic weird. I felt that if I acted obnoxious at school that this would hide my stuttering. Once I found the NSP I calmed down. I was able to step into a more authentic version of myself.
When I was in high school, we would get board in class and look through each other’s wallets. I use to carry my NSP membership card (like I would ever need to prove I was a member or a person who stutters!). Once a peer going through my wallet asked what it was and I told him, “that’s my license to stutter.” I never realized this until right now, but it was totally true. It was completely my license to stutter because I felt like I could be more open and that I could accept my divergent speech and not feel like there was anything wrong with me. I believe that was the same English class where the guy who sat in front of me made fun of my stuttering and my best friend’s boyfriend and the football team paid him a visit and scared him into apologizing. Luckily there was a fellow stutterer on the team so they were sympathetic and always liked the opportunity to intimidate off the field.
After high school I went to college. I didn’t become a third grade teacher, in part because my Learning Disability got in the way. The same things that gave me difficulty when I first started to read, continued to give me difficulties when I was an adult. Blending words, spelling, discriminating sounds, it all still remains a problem. I chose a different career path which included being a disability advocate and educator. Before starting my comedy career five years ago, I taught, presented and trained. I thought my stuttering issues were resolved and I stopped going to stuttering events. I thought I had reached the pinnacle of self-acceptance because I would stutter openly when I spoke publicly. I didn’t know I was harboring internalized attitudes and stigmas that impacted my interpersonal and romantic relationships.
I attended an NSA conference in 2007 or 2008. I forget the year but it was the one in Arizona. For the first time in my life I was around young women who had stuttered. When I had volunteered at the conference when I was a teenager, there were not many women (we stutter significantly less than men), plus being one of the few females at the time I felt super out of place being surrounded by so many men. Luckily, in the years I had missed, there had been more outreach to women and girls who stutter. I felt more at home. Interacting with them I started to realize how I had internalized the stigma that society puts on people who stutter, especially women who stutter. These young women were a reflection of of my own life experiences and communication style. I realized that I had compromised myself in different ways and that I would never want that for these amazing women who were now friends. Like many who attend a NSA conference for the first time, my core being was shook. Finding a community that you didn’t know you had is a powerful experience. I realized how much space I gave up to others, both in conversation but also how I internalized that and played it out in relationships. In conversations I would let others speak and I would listen. I put their communication needs above my own because I didn’t want them to have awkward moments where I stuttered or burden them with my speech. As a woman this was easy to do because we are socialized this way, but as a person who stuttered it was exacerbated by the biases I had internalized. This transmuted itself into my relationship with the world. I had relinquished my own feelings and desires over to others. Upon coming home from the conference, I started to make changes. This included severing ties with people who didn’t allow me to be my authentic self and all the consequences that came with it.
After ending these relationships I started to rebuild my life. Within 7 months I started doing stand up comedy. Since I was 11 years old I had dreamt of doing comedy. Unlike most teeny boppers, I always preferred stand up comedy over music. Where as my high school friends had crushes on Donnie in New Kids on the Block, I was crushing on local stand up comedians, many of whom I would one day open for. Just like I had done with teaching so many years before, I had believed that I would have to be fluent in order to be a stand up comedian. I had never seen a comedian stutter, especially a woman, so I somehow thought fluency was a prerequisite for the job. Again I thought of the people I had met at the NSA conference and thought, would I tell them that they had to be fluent to do anything they wanted, especially something as silly as comedy? That was when I started taking stand up comedy classes and going to open mics. I started performing at laundry mats, sporting good stores, street corners, dive bars and occasionally venues like the Laugh Factory in LA or San Francisco’s Punchline. I started posting youtube clips that have over half a million views, published a children’s book on advocating for one’s disability, and recently produced the first ever comedy compilation album of only Disabled comedians. All of this is because I found the Stuttering community who helped to reframe how I thought about stuttering, myself and offered an opportunity to reflect and hold my fears, insecurities, successes and everything else that comes with have divergent speech in a world where fluency is the norm. I have a stamily, a community of people who stutter who are family. I have stuttering brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and Godfathers. And if you mess with one of them, I am coming after you.
Thanks to comedy I have had the pleasure of interacting with stamily from all over the world. I appreciate the support you have all given me and feel so fortunate to be part of this community.
May 11-17 is Stuttering Awareness week. To give back a little bit of what I have gained from the stuttering community, I am donating 75% of all sales of the Disabled Comedy Only (VERY ADULT CONENT! EXPLICIT!) album when bought on CD Baby (will not include other distribution outlets) and my book, Once Upon an Accommodation (sold on Amazon and Create Space and great for everyone) to the National Stuttering Association for the sales between May 11 and 17. Please check out the links below for ordering information.