Intersectionality: What intersectionality means and why it’s important for stuttering

People who stutter all share common experiences. At some point, all of us who stutter have felt the knot in our stomachs when someone says introduce yourself to the group, or we feel our hearts race at the thought of using the telephone. When we were in school and had to read out loud, we know the feeling of having kids laugh whenever we read and perhaps stuttered on almost every word. It is these feelings and experiences that bind us together in solidarity as people who stutter.

Though we all share common experiences around stuttering, none of our experiences are exactly the same.  Our experiences are influenced by other parts of who we are; we have many different social identities that come together in unique ways.

When you think about the many parts of who you are, you can probably name several: you might identify as a husband, teacher, writer, Christian, advocate for animal rights, gay, straight, pansexual, Black American, business owner – the list can go on. Some of these social identities may be more or less important to you in general, and some will be more pronounced depending on the context of the situation. In addition, on a societal level, we may be privileged by some of our identities, and disadvantaged by others. Intersectionality is the lens through which we account for all of these selves, and the ways in which they impact us in the world.

We experience intersectionality all the time, though we might not be aware of it. For example, there are many times when we may seek validation for certain social identities that we have.  We might choose a doctor of the same gender because we think they will understand our bodies better; we might choose a therapist of the same race, gender, or sexual orientation because we think they will relate to our issues better; we might choose friends of a similar age because they might share our tastes in movies or music; there may be times when we may not offer up certain experiences because we think the other person won’t be able to relate.

The concept of intersectionality has been around for a long time, but the term was first coined by legal scholar Kimberle’ Williams Crenshaw in 1989 when discussing the experiences of black women. Intersectionality has often been used as a framework to discuss overlapping discriminations that people may experience, but the term has since been applied to the idea that all of us have overlapping social identities that do not exist independent of each other. For example, in order to fully understand a black woman’s experience in the world, one cannot separate her experience of being a woman from her experience being Black. Both work together to create the kind of experience she will have in the world. Moreover, when consideration is given to factors such as sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability, and so on, the picture deepens. Intersectionality means taking into account all of the different ways that a person might be either advantaged or disadvantaged by their social identities.

So what does this mean for stuttering? People who stutter come from all walks of life. We come from a variety of backgrounds, and, just like everyone, we have other social identities that interplay with our identities as people who stutter. We need as many spaces as possible to be able to explore other parts of ourselves as they interact with stuttering. Think about this in relation to a large conference of people who stutter. There are general sessions and gatherings that everyone attends. But there are also other spaces where people might gravitate for conversations that focus more specifically on issues not shared by the larger majority. These spaces might include Passing Twice (for people who stutter in the LGBTQ+ community), Women who Stutter, creative writers who stutter, speech-language pathologists who stutter, teens who stutter, and so on. For some, these additional spaces may validate them in ways that are different than the larger collective. Our experiences as people who stutter may differ across race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, ability, age, and so on.  The degree to which these other social identities affect our well-being will determine the types of additional supports we might need. As we strive to continue moving towards an inclusive society, let’s recognize and embrace the full range of identities that each of us brings to the table.

Derek E. Daniels, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Wayne State University


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