Breaking the B-B-Binaries

Gender expression and fluency aren’t usually two things people pair together, however stammering is forced to exist on a binary in a similar way to gender. Children are always taught fluency is the inherent good while stammering is the undesirable bad, that it’s supposedly impossible to feel any other way about it. As any person with a stammer likely knows, it’s more complicated than that.

Stammering isn’t something that can be turned on and off, it never manifests the same way twice. Those who stammer even have our fluent moments. In fact, I’ve heard multiple stories of people who stammer being criticised due to apparently not stammering “enough”. This is pretty ironic considering fluent people are quick to say “oh I stammer too sometimes”, never being as fast to accept that our voices are equally as malleable.

While that’s a whole can of worms on its own, I don’t want to open it today. I want to focus more on the process of dismantling those binaries. It seems silly to force two things so centred around identity into tightly knit boxes, through accepting that I found out more about myself than I could have ever imagined. The way we talk and the way we feel about gender are just two small pieces of what help shape who we are and our perception of society. As soon as you begin to realise there’s something very unfair about the box you’ve been crushed into, everything starts leaking out into the space between.

My stammer is no longer a negative to me, my only worry with it now is the way it shapes how society sees me. I am also a non binary, transgender man and likewise my sole issue with that is society. Society keeps wanting me to be crushed into the box I was born into, but I want to break free.

I always knew my box was different to everyone else’s. On the outside it was pretty obvious to others why. I was disabled, of course I wasn’t gonna be like them. Once I described what I’ve now realised is the binary as being trapped behind a line, a line that divided the dysfluent world from the fluent one. I believed that maybe my voice was the reason I never crossed it, yet the older I get the more I‘ve realised that wasn’t true. Sure, the line existed. There was always something keeping me from everyone else, yet it was way more complicated than the mere sound of my voice or the way my brain worked.

Queerness was never really celebrated by those around me when I was younger. Unlike my stutter, it was never in the forefront of my world. I was 9 when Section 28 was repealed but even schools still avoided talking about it. While we were making progress, particularly in terms of sexuality, I didn’t know transgender people existed until I was a teenager. I didn’t understand what it meant to be transgender until I was much, much older. It’s falsely said that most trans people know from an early age, but for me that wasn’t the case.

Looking back on my childhood I know why I repressed it. I fixated on my speech because it was something I knew I couldn’t hide, but my gender? The secret, yearning desire to be a man? That I could lock away and throw away the key. As I became more comfortable with my voice, using it to create art I knew fluent people might never understand, I also became comfortable with other parts of myself. I had to realise that the line wasn’t my stammer blocking me from the real world, it was simply another facet of my personality I had to wear with pride to help me grow closer to my real self. This real self just so happened to want to break the gender binary equally as much as he did the stammering one.

The reason I’m so confident about who I want to be in terms of my gender is because it coincides directly with who I want to be in terms of my stammer. I’ve always been looked down upon because of it and told to repress it, yet doing the opposite has made me the happiest I’ve ever been. I feel the same way when I embrace my gender identity. Of course I’m the guy who wants to wear a dress, since when have I ever been what society wants me to be? I’m the antithesis of hetero cisnormative masculinity.

Those who stammer freely and confidently challenge fluent norms in a very similar way. My voice is dysfluent and shaky but it’s also confident and outspoken, something that they’re terrified of. To them voices are controlled and direct, whereas mine is free and flowing exactly the way nature intended it to. My voice is exciting and unpredictable. Theirs is boring and monotonous.

Nevertheless, to be outside the binary is to be misunderstood. My voice makes it more difficult to navigate the world as a trans person, both due to the constant assessments a trans person must face to get gender affirming care and also the lack of a community. I wouldn’t have to struggle through explaining myself if being trans was just accepted as normal. I wouldn’t be so anxious about being my true gender if I didn’t have a voice that people already judged me for. The only difference is people are allowed to be overtly transphobic, whereas with stammering it’s mostly covert.

People still try to deny me my voice like my gender, just in less visible ways. While it’s uncommon to get people berating my voice to my face (and the last time someone made a joke they quickly apologised upon realising I was disabled, which is a problem for another day), their discrimination usually manifests in finishing my sentences, suggesting cures, or looking slightly agitated. The worst part is they think they’re helping. My voice is ugly to them much like my transness is, it’s just a lot less acceptable to criticise me for it.

If you’re a person who either only stammers or is only trans, it’s easy to ignore how interconnected our struggles are, but once you’re faced with both it becomes all too real. I know there’s more of us out there who know that feeling, and I want to break the binaries with every single one of you.

Joe Murphy

Coursing Constellations: (Please note sight of blood and injuries, sexual language and mature themes)