About the Author:
James Hayden is an HLA technologist, writer, and a person who stutters from the New Orleans area. James is the author of Dear World, I Stutter: A Series of Open Letters from a Person Who Stutters. His work has been published by The Mighty, The Stuttering Foundation, Stamma, Yahoo, and MSN. James has also appeared on several podcasts, presented at the National Stuttering Association conference, the Australian Speak Easy Association Virtual Conference, and was a speaker at TEDxOchsner 2019. He also serves as the chapter leader for the New Orleans chapter for the National Stuttering Association.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m sure that’s a question most of us were asked at some point during our childhood. Like most kids, I had unrealistic expectations about what the future would hold for me. Five-year-old me wanted to be a Power Ranger, specifically the green one. They were my heroes for how they saved Earth from evil such as: Lord Zedd, Rita Repulsa, Divatox, Astronema, and many others. Once I realized that was unattainable, my answer went from meteorologist to pharmacist to forensic scientist. Now that I’m 28, and considered a grown up, my response to that question is, “The person I needed when I was younger.” You might be wondering, “Who is that person?” “How do you do that, James?” “Why do you do put your biggest vulnerability out there?” Well, allow me to explain.
Growing up, I did not know another person who stutters (PWS). As a result, there was a time when I thought I was the only PWS on earth. Over time, I learned that wasn’t the case; however, I did not meet another PWS until I was 22 years old. The only “role model” I had in my life was Porky Pig and let’s be real Porky’s not a role model for a PWS, especially young PWS. Due to the lack of PWS in my life and poor representation in the media, I didn’t have anyone to share my insecurities with about stuttering. I had no one to tell me that it will be ok and that I am not alone in this journey, but rather one of seventy million people in this world who stutter. I didn’t know that a person who stuttered could be successful, however you define success. I didn’t have any one that truly “got it”. In short, I didn’t have any one or any representation who showed me or told me, “It’s ok to stutter.” Ultimately, that’s the person I’m trying to be. Someone who uses their voice and platform to tell others, especially young PWS, “It’s ok to stutter.”
Now that we know who I’m trying to be, let’s talk about how I try to be that person. Up until a few years ago, I did everything in my power to not be the person I needed. Stuttering was that embarrassing friend that neither myself nor anyone else acknowledged. If I did talk about it, then I did it with a voice full of shame and embarrassment. If someone else acknowledged it, then I told them off. Over the past few years, I’ve become comfortable with my voice and now I use it at all the time. I use my social media platforms to promote stuttering awareness. I use the written word to share my experiences as a PWS in order to give others an honest account of what stuttering is. I will talk about stuttering anywhere and anytime with anyone in hopes that it removes any stigmas and taboos associated with stuttering. I go on podcasts to talk about my journey to show others they are not alone. My voice is now full of pride and confidence when I talk about stuttering. That’s a sentence I couldn’t write a few years ago.
Ultimately, my why is simple: I want my voice to be part of the dialogue that changes how we view stuttering. Putting my biggest vulnerability out there is difficult and at times uncomfortable; yet, it’s well worth it. I put my vulnerability out there to show 10-year-old James and other young PWS that it’s ok to stutter. I do it to show them that stuttering should not and will not hold them back from doing incredible things in their lives. I do this to show everyone how powerful it is when we embrace our vulnerabilities. Simply, I do everything I do so I can be the person I needed when I was younger. I also do it to be the person another PWS might need. If my voice lets even one young PWS know they’re not alone, then every negative thing I’ve experienced and will experience because of stuttering is well worth it. Ultimately, I want my words to speak the change I wish to see for future generations.
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