James Hayden

@james-hayden | contributor
James Hayden was born, raised, and currently lives in the New Orleans area. He is a New Orleans Saints fan, a Survivor superfan, a writer, and a person who stutters. 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 numerous universites and conferences, and was a speaker at TEDxOchsner 2019. He also serves as the chapter leader for the New Orleans chapter for the National Stuttering Association.
James Hayden

What I Want to Say vs. What I Can Say as a Person Who Stutters

“Hi! Welcome to your favorite restaurant. What can I get for you today?” For most people, this experience is nothing to write an article about. They order what they want, pay for their food, and continue on with their day. Yet for people who stutter (PWS), what we want to order might be different than what we can order. Let me explain. I’m a huge fan of unsweet tea with lemon, and I order that as my drink for nearly every meal. Whenever I order unsweet tea, more times than not, I will block on the “un” in unsweet tea. If I’m with my parents or sister, I will wait for them to order an unsweet tea for themselves and then say, “Same,” when the waiter asks for my drink order. If I’m by myself or with friends, I tend to stutter mightily on “unsweet tea” and then repeat it numerous times to make sure the waiter heard me correctly. (I know I’ll have my southern card revoked for this, but few things are worse than ordering an unsweet tea and getting sweet tea.) I could order something easier for me to say, such as water or lemonade, but I’d rather drink tea over the other options. It can also happen when customizing my order. There are times when I’ll get my burger without cheese instead of with cheese because I knew I was going to stutter on “add cheese please” and just didn’t want to deal with stuttering in that moment. But it’s not just ordering in a restaurant. It’s answering a question in class or partaking in a class discussion. It’s approaching that cute person at the bar and asking them for their number. It’s jumping in and joining a group conversation with others. It’s deciding whether or not to say “hi” to someone in the hallway at work. It’s whether you say “James” or “Ben” when the barista asks you for your name. It’s so many things that someone who doesn’t stutter might not even consider. During my college career, there were many times when I didn’t participate in class discussions or answer my professor’s questions. I sat out of discussions not because I had nothing to contribute; rather, I knew I would stutter and didn’t want to deal with stuttering. I didn’t answer questions because I didn’t want all eyes on me while I stuttered on the correct answer. Back then, being a person who was silent was better than being a person who stutters. Although I no longer believe that, there are still times when I lived and live that motto. There have been numerous times when I didn’t approach that cute girl because I was afraid that I might stutter during my introduction and she might say something hurtful in response. In those moments, the fear of how I can say it wins out over what I want to say. Even when I’m talking to friends, family, and co-workers, I might not jump in and make a joke or add my two cents to the topic. I do this because I know that by the time I say what I want to say, the conversation will be on a different topic and my joke or commentary is no longer relevant. These are people who know I stutter and don’t care that I stutter, yet knowing I can’t say what I want to say in a timely manner prevents me from joining the conversation. I can’t even tell you how many times I didn’t say hello to someone in a hallway at work over the past few years. I did this not to be rude, but rather because I could feel I was going to stutter on the word and knew by the time I got it out the person would be long gone. I know this because I tend to stutter the most on words that start with the letter “H.” I used to hate this part of my stutter, but now I find it somewhat ironic. So, how can saying what I want to say and saying what I can say be the same thing? For me, it’s to jump into those conversations more often. It’s to not let the fear of a few seconds of stuttering hold me back from getting a few groans from a joke. At times, it’s living what I talk about in my presentations. It’s to forgive myself for the times when I don’t live what I preach and when I sit out of a conversation because of stuttering. For others, it’s to know what stuttering looks like and sounds like. It’s to know how to properly respond to a stuttering moment. It’s making sure that your PWS knows that stuttering is welcomed into every conversation.  In summary, give us the space and grace to stutter openly. That way we can say or order what we want to say or order as opposed to say what we can say or order. This article was inspired by a conversation with my friend Erik X. Raj, Ph.D., CCC-SLP from Monmouth University.

James Hayden

It's Time to Stop Using 'Did I Stutter?' as an Insult

“Did I stutter?” Some variation of this phase is typically used when person A clearly said something to person B and person B did not understand what person A said. Person B then asks person A to repeat themselves to which person A says the aforementioned phrase. This is typically meant as an insult to person B as they could not clearly hear person A. This phrase has been around for decades and has been said in every possible venue: film, NFL press conferences, scripted and non-scripted television, commercials, gifs, memes, TikToks, everyday conversations, and tweets from politicians. As a person who stutters (PWS), I’ve been uneasy about this phrase for as long as I can remember. I know other PWS who don’t have any issues with this phrase and that’s OK. Every PWS is on their own journey and views stuttering through their own lens. Whenever I hear this phrase, I cringe. I cringe because the phrase comes across as demeaning and insulting to the stuttering community. I cringe because dare I say it’s slightly offensive. I cringe because it shows how far we still have to go in terms of stuttering education. Although there are many examples to choose from, I’m going to focus on the uses of this phrase in three different contexts. They are: an attempt at humor, making stuttering seem like a bad thing, and perpetuating the negative stereotype that stuttering equals lying. Our most (in)famous example comes from a scene in a 2008 episode of NBC’s “The Office” titled “Did I Stutter?” In the scene Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) asks his co-workers for ideas on how to energize their office. After being asked, and declining, numerous times for ideas, Stanley (Leslie David Baker) says, “Did I stutter?” The room is instantly filled with awkward silence and Scott quickly moves to the next person. This scene produced the episode title, a popular GIF, and left me with a few questions. What was NBC trying to show their audience? That those three words are enough to break an awkward silence and get a laugh? What are they telling their fans who are PWS? That stuttering is worth laughing at? For a show with that type of platform and following, that’s the wrong message to send. Our next example is found in season 30 of my favorite show, “Survivor.” In episode 10 of “Survivor: Worlds Apart” (2015), Will Sims II uses a variation of the phrase after verbally assaulting fellow contestant Shirin Oskooi. Another contestant, Mike Halloway, comes to her defense and asks Sims to repeat what he said, to which Sims responds, “I don’t stutter, bro.” To me, the way Sims says “I don’t stutter, bro,” comes across as defensive and angry mixed with a tinge of shame. As if someone just announced his biggest secret to the world and he’s not comfortable with that announcement. I related to that mindset. For so long, if you brought up my stutter, I told you off. I’m not proud of that, but that’s the way I knew how to handle it. Looking back, I did it from a place of embarrassment, shame, and some anger about being a PWS. I rewatched this season recently and even though I now embrace my stutter those feelings of shame, anger, and embarrassment came back when I heard Sims’ words. For me, the tone in which Sims said the phrase further instills the negative belief that stuttering is something to be embarrassed, ashamed, and angered by. In reality, it’s the opposite. It is OK to stutter. Although progress has been made in removing the stigma associated with stuttering, we still have a long way to go. In a July 2021 tweet, Angela Rayner, a member of the British Parliament, used the phrase “Did I stutter? Tell me where I’m wrong.” The tweet was in response to a news reporter sharing Rayner’s reaction to a quote Boris Johnson made. The way Raynor uses the phrase “did I stutter?” implies that she lied. For so long, stuttering has been equating to lying and this tweet just perpetuates that lie. To make her point, she could’ve said “Did I lie?” or even better “Was I wrong?” Rather, she uses the one phrase that puts an entire population down and further reinforces a false stereotype. Rayner might not have known this was a false stereotype, but this is just another example of the importance of educating others about and advocating for stuttering. With these and many other unnamed examples, what does it say about us, as a society, that this phrase is still prevalent in pop culture? In the past two years, the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) has become more prevalent; however, stuttering is often still not thought of when we think about D&I. So, what can we do to better ourselves? The easiest answer is to remove the phrase from our lexicon. Instead of saying “did I stutter,” one can use “did you not understand me,” “do I need to repeat myself,” or “am I wrong” amongst other phrases. Secondly, we need to educate ourselves about stuttering. It’s more than repeating the first syllable of our name or blocking on our coffee order. It’s self-doubt. It’s not ordering what you want but ordering what you can say without stuttering. It’s avoiding situations because you’d rather stay silent than stutter. It’s doing everything in your power to not stutter. Over time, these feelings might disappear, and you may learn to be OK with this part of yourself. However, these feelings might rear their ugly head every once in a while, and hearing the phrase “did I stutter” could be that catalyst for their return. Lastly, we need to see people who stutter in our media where stuttering is just one part of their story and not their whole story. The more we see and hear stuttering, the sooner we normalize it and remove “did I stutter” from our vocabulary. And for the record, yes, I did stutter.

James Hayden

It's Time to Stop Using 'Did I Stutter?' as an Insult

“Did I stutter?” Some variation of this phase is typically used when person A clearly said something to person B and person B did not understand what person A said. Person B then asks person A to repeat themselves to which person A says the aforementioned phrase. This is typically meant as an insult to person B as they could not clearly hear person A. This phrase has been around for decades and has been said in every possible venue: film, NFL press conferences, scripted and non-scripted television, commercials, gifs, memes, TikToks, everyday conversations, and tweets from politicians. As a person who stutters (PWS), I’ve been uneasy about this phrase for as long as I can remember. I know other PWS who don’t have any issues with this phrase and that’s OK. Every PWS is on their own journey and views stuttering through their own lens. Whenever I hear this phrase, I cringe. I cringe because the phrase comes across as demeaning and insulting to the stuttering community. I cringe because dare I say it’s slightly offensive. I cringe because it shows how far we still have to go in terms of stuttering education. Although there are many examples to choose from, I’m going to focus on the uses of this phrase in three different contexts. They are: an attempt at humor, making stuttering seem like a bad thing, and perpetuating the negative stereotype that stuttering equals lying. Our most (in)famous example comes from a scene in a 2008 episode of NBC’s “The Office” titled “Did I Stutter?” In the scene Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) asks his co-workers for ideas on how to energize their office. After being asked, and declining, numerous times for ideas, Stanley (Leslie David Baker) says, “Did I stutter?” The room is instantly filled with awkward silence and Scott quickly moves to the next person. This scene produced the episode title, a popular GIF, and left me with a few questions. What was NBC trying to show their audience? That those three words are enough to break an awkward silence and get a laugh? What are they telling their fans who are PWS? That stuttering is worth laughing at? For a show with that type of platform and following, that’s the wrong message to send. Our next example is found in season 30 of my favorite show, “Survivor.” In episode 10 of “Survivor: Worlds Apart” (2015), Will Sims II uses a variation of the phrase after verbally assaulting fellow contestant Shirin Oskooi. Another contestant, Mike Halloway, comes to her defense and asks Sims to repeat what he said, to which Sims responds, “I don’t stutter, bro.” To me, the way Sims says “I don’t stutter, bro,” comes across as defensive and angry mixed with a tinge of shame. As if someone just announced his biggest secret to the world and he’s not comfortable with that announcement. I related to that mindset. For so long, if you brought up my stutter, I told you off. I’m not proud of that, but that’s the way I knew how to handle it. Looking back, I did it from a place of embarrassment, shame, and some anger about being a PWS. I rewatched this season recently and even though I now embrace my stutter those feelings of shame, anger, and embarrassment came back when I heard Sims’ words. For me, the tone in which Sims said the phrase further instills the negative belief that stuttering is something to be embarrassed, ashamed, and angered by. In reality, it’s the opposite. It is OK to stutter. Although progress has been made in removing the stigma associated with stuttering, we still have a long way to go. In a July 2021 tweet, Angela Rayner, a member of the British Parliament, used the phrase “Did I stutter? Tell me where I’m wrong.” The tweet was in response to a news reporter sharing Rayner’s reaction to a quote Boris Johnson made. The way Raynor uses the phrase “did I stutter?” implies that she lied. For so long, stuttering has been equating to lying and this tweet just perpetuates that lie. To make her point, she could’ve said “Did I lie?” or even better “Was I wrong?” Rather, she uses the one phrase that puts an entire population down and further reinforces a false stereotype. Rayner might not have known this was a false stereotype, but this is just another example of the importance of educating others about and advocating for stuttering. With these and many other unnamed examples, what does it say about us, as a society, that this phrase is still prevalent in pop culture? In the past two years, the importance of diversity and inclusion (D&I) has become more prevalent; however, stuttering is often still not thought of when we think about D&I. So, what can we do to better ourselves? The easiest answer is to remove the phrase from our lexicon. Instead of saying “did I stutter,” one can use “did you not understand me,” “do I need to repeat myself,” or “am I wrong” amongst other phrases. Secondly, we need to educate ourselves about stuttering. It’s more than repeating the first syllable of our name or blocking on our coffee order. It’s self-doubt. It’s not ordering what you want but ordering what you can say without stuttering. It’s avoiding situations because you’d rather stay silent than stutter. It’s doing everything in your power to not stutter. Over time, these feelings might disappear, and you may learn to be OK with this part of yourself. However, these feelings might rear their ugly head every once in a while, and hearing the phrase “did I stutter” could be that catalyst for their return. Lastly, we need to see people who stutter in our media where stuttering is just one part of their story and not their whole story. The more we see and hear stuttering, the sooner we normalize it and remove “did I stutter” from our vocabulary. And for the record, yes, I did stutter.

James Hayden

Why Documenting Stuttering in Medical Records Is Important

A couple of months ago I went for my yearly well visit. On my “after visit summary,” I noticed that stuttering was listed under the medical history section. If that had been on my previous after-visit summaries, then I never noticed it. At first, I found it interesting because I had never disclosed to my doctors that I’m a person who stutters (PWS). I’ve had the same medical team for a few years and they know I’m a PWS; however, I’ve never directly disclosed it to them. Yes, I sometimes wear stuttering-related t-shirts to my appointments, but I never said, “Hi, Dr. Smith. You probably know this, but I’m a person who stutters.” In fact, the only time I disclosed to a medical professional that I’m a PWS is to the paramedics that checked me out after I was involved in a hit and run (I was fine, my car wasn’t). There are a couple of reasons (or excuses) for why I never told my doctors that I’m a person who stutters. The first is that it’s obvious. I tend to not hide the fact that I’m a PWS and if you talk to me long enough, you’re going to figure it out. The bigger reason was most likely embarrassment. For the majority of my life, I didn’t want to acknowledge or own this part of myself to myself, so why would I acknowledge it to someone else? Over the past couple of years, I’ve gone from being embarrassed about this part of myself to now embracing this part of myself. With that said, I’ve never felt the need to re-introduce myself as a PWS to those who knew me when being a PWS was the last thing I wanted to disclose. Although younger me would disagree, I’m glad this fun fact about me is documented. In the event something happens to me, my doctors would expect me to stutter and not assume that something far worse is happening. This gives me peace knowing that tests and resources will be spent on those that need it and not me. It also further cements the trust I have in my medical team knowing that they will address what my real issues are and not my perceived issues. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. In a 2014 article by Dr. Lena Wen, we see what happens when a medical team is unfamiliar with stuttering. What was a simple block was treated as a heart attack. Time and resources were spent on someone who didn’t need them all because of a lack of knowledge of stuttering. So, what can we do to prevent the story Dr. Wen told from being told again? The first step is educating medical professionals about stuttering and other communication disorders. But in order to educate them, we need to have proper and factual information about the disorder. The Johns Hopkins definition of stuttering is the exact opposite of education. To say their definition of stuttering would be a problem is an understatement. Talking to others in both the medical community and the stuttering community, stuttering and how to interact with patients who stutter are rarely discussed. I think it’s important to have these discussions so people know what stuttering truly is and not what Johns Hopkins thinks it is. People who stutter and/or Speech Language Pathologists can speak to doctors, nurses, medical assistants, and other medical professionals. These presentations can be part of continuing education training or new employee orientation. If a live presentation doesn’t work, then a video presentation covering the same topics would suffice. Following these presentations, medical professionals will have the basic knowledge to identify a stuttering moment, even if the patient doesn’t want to identify with their stuttering moments. This basic knowledge is the key to differentiating a simple block from a heart attack or stroke. In a field where advancements are made on a regular basis, let’s advance how stuttering is understood and treated within the medical community. Let’s see it as just one part of the person and not a problem with the person.

James Hayden

Why I Brought My Stuttering T-Shirt When Evacuating Hurricane Ida

Imagine you only have a few hours, if you’re lucky, to pack up the essentials and irreplaceables, throw them into your vehicle, and leave for higher ground. What are you bringing? Unfortunately, myself and many southeast Louisiana residents know our answers due to Hurricane Ida’s recent visit. Most residents would give you some variation of the following list: the important papers, some family pictures, water, three days of clothes, the special things that can’t be replaced, snacks for the long car ride, and booze. For me, my answer was: my important papers, many snacks, some real food, many bottles of water and Powerade, pictures from my childhood, my TEDx speaker trophy, and about four days worth of clothes. When I pack clothes for evacuations, I make sure to bring t-shirts that mean something to me. That if I were to lose everything, I’d still have something tangible to represent what’s important to me. With that said, the first t-shirt I packed was my black #westutter t-shirt from the National Stuttering Association (NSA). I find it interesting because several years ago I would’ve left it at home and thought nothing of it. For me my #westutter shirt is so much more than a comfy t-shirt. It’s a tangible sign of how far I’ve come in my journey with stuttering. Years ago, the only time I would’ve worn that shirt is if I knew I’d be wearing a sweatshirt over it. Now, I wear it proudly for all to see. My #westutter shirt reminds me that I’m not 1 of 7 billion people who stutter, but rather 1 of the 7 million incredible people who stutter. It reminds me that I’m a part of a group that’s so much bigger than me. Lastly, it reminds me and other people who stutter that we are not alone. Yes, it’s easily replaceable, however; what it means to me is too essential and irreplaceable to be without for even a day. My family and I are safe and OK. Our houses had very little damage. However, many people in southeast Louisiana are not as fortunate and could use some good. If you can be the good for someone, then please be the good.  The biggest area that needs some good is the bayou region. These cities are part of the bayou region: Cocodrie, Chauvin, Montegut, Bourg, Dulac, Dularge, Houma, Schriever, Gray, Thibodaux, Raceland, Lockport, Larose, Lafitte, Galliano, Golden Meadow, Grand Isle, and Port Fourchon. If you can help these areas, then please do.

James Hayden

COVID-19 Helped Me Be Comfortable Watching and Hearing Myself Stutter

I’m a strong believer in having goals, no matter how big or small they are. I think goals help us grow to become the best version of ourselves. For a while, one of my goals was to do a Facebook Live video. I know that sounds weird out of context, but allow me to explain. Up until almost two years ago, I hated watching and listening to myself stutter. Whenever I saw or heard myself on video, I would cringe and go into another room out of embarrassment. If I was embarrassed by this, then my surely my audience was internally cringing and embarrassed for me as well, right? Or so I thought. I remember the first time I watched my TEDx talk back, I almost exited the video numerous times because of how hard it was for me to watch. When I shared it with my family members, I left the room because I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I was more than comfortable stuttering my butt off on the TEDx stage to a room of strangers, but couldn’t bear to watch it with those who love and care about me, and me for them. It was at that moment getting comfortable with watching and hearing myself stutter became my new goal. I didn’t know how I would achieve this goal, but I knew baby steps would be the best way to accomplish this goal. The initial baby step occurred a few months later in October of 2019. I had the opportunity to appear on “My Stuttering Life” podcast. This wasn’t the first time I was a guest on a podcast, but it was the first time I listened to my episode. I didn’t listen to the previous ones because of the aforementioned hatred of hearing myself stutter. I knew if I was going to grow and accomplish this goal, then I’d have to get comfortable hearing the uncomfortable. And I’m not going to lie, it was uncomfortable. Hearing back every intimate and nuance detail of my stutter was an experience. Knowing that every intimate detail of my biggest vulnerability, my stutter, were now recorded for posterity was a different experience. I wanted to exit the episode every five seconds of the 45-minute interview, but I was determined to get through it. After the episode was done, I thought, “That wasn’t too bad.” Listening to my episode helped me further accept and embrace my biggest vulnerability. I was now comfortable with my hearing my recorded voice. The podcast audience couldn’t see the intimate mechanics of my stutter, but they could at least hear them and I was OK with that. I knew this was a good step, but I had more steps on my journey to accomplish this goal. I figured it would take me a couple of years to accomplish this goal, but life had other plans. 2020 happened. Social distancing entered our vernacular, “Tiger King” took the internet by storm and Zoom no longer referred to a show that aired on PBS back in the day. Like the rest of the world, every organization I’m a part of shifted to virtual meetings. As a result, I had to use Zoom way more than I ever planned on using it. During my numerous Zoom meetings, I watched myself stutter. Hearing myself stutter is one thing, but to see it is a different beast. There were many times I was so uncomfortable with watching my vulnerability in action, I wanted to turn my camera off and participate as little as possible. Yet, in those moments, I had to remind myself my audience cared about my message and not its delivery. Although I used Zoom numerous times, I still wasn’t comfortable watching myself stutter. That changed over the summer due to a fateful Twitter direct message. The person who sent me the message asked if I wanted to play in an online game based on the CBS show “Survivor.” I agreed because, why not? Since myself and fellow contestants were playing this virtually, and not on a Fijian island, the game took place over Skype calls. This meant I had to watch myself stutter daily. I also recorded and uploaded confessionals to YouTube. These were done to let the host and fellow players, postgame, know my thoughts on the game. Putting my confessionals on YouTube was not that big of a deal because only a select few, who all knew I stutter, have access to it. After a few Skype calls and confessionals, I started to become somewhat comfortable with watching and hearing myself stutter. It got to the point where I didn’t think about it that much and was comfortable with it. The only thing that was uncomfortable was how overconfident I was in my game. Although I didn’t come to close to winning the game, I became comfortable watching and hearing myself stutter. For me, that was winning and inspired me to take my next step on this journey. Shortly after the game ended, I saw a Facebook post advertising the Australian Speak Easy Association’s (ASAE) virtual conference. I clicked on the link and saw they were taking applications for presenters. I applied because, why not? My proposal was accepted and with it being virtual, I had to record and upload my presentation to YouTube. I wasn’t uncomfortable watching myself stutter while I recorded my 20-minute presentation. The fact it was on YouTube didn’t bother me because only a select few had access to it and the attendees have a vested interest in stuttering, so that was a non-issue. Had this been late 2019 and not late 2020, I can honestly say I would not have applied to present at the ASAE conference. My insecurities over hearing myself stutter, watching myself stutter and being on YouTube would’ve easily defeated my desire to present at the conference. Because of all I experienced in the past year, none of that mattered. In fact, I shared a screenshot of my presentation on social media profiles. Having these experiences, I felt ready to tackle my ultimate goal: a Facebook Live video. My original plan was to do one for National Stuttering Awareness Week in May. But, as what usually happens, life had other plans. In late January I received a Facebook message from Uri Schneider of Schneider Speech and the host of the “Transcending Stuttering” podcast. I instantly accepted and then realized what I got myself into: I was going to do a Facebook Live video. Not the short five-minute video I planned on, but an hourlong video. You see, unlike most podcasts, “Transcending Stuttering” is livestreamed on Facebook first and then released as a podcast and posted publicly to YouTube. I was excited and a bit nervous about this. My excitement was caused by a podcast that was on my podcast bucket list reached out to me, and not me to them. Nerves were due to this being livestreamed. There was no microphone or unlisted YouTube link to hide behind. Everyone with internet access could see and hear my most authentic self in real time or watch the recording. And I was and am OK with that. That’s something James in the beginning of 2020 would not be able to say. The past 13 months have been rough, to put it nicely. Yet, I was able to accomplish a goal I thought would take me years to complete. Now, I’m comfortable with watching and hearing myself stutter. If anything, that one nugget is one of the good things to come out of all of this. I think it’s important to focus on and find the good in all things. Also, being comfortable with hearing myself stutter once again allows me to be the person who I needed when I was younger. At 26, I was not comfortable with this aspect of stuttering and held back from participating in online events and meetings because of it. At 28, it’s no big deal to me and doesn’t hold me back from participating in online events and meetings.

James Hayden

How I Became Comfortable Telling People About My Stuttering

“What’s a piece of advice you would give to your younger self?” It’s a popular question I get whenever I talk to speech language pathology (SLP) students. I think it’s also a good question to ask if you truly want to know someone. One piece of advice I would tell my 18-year-old self is to disclose the fact you are a person who stutters (PWS) as soon as possible. Eighteen-year-old me would’ve looked at 27-year-old me and said, “Yeah … no. Why would I do that?” However, it would’ve saved me a lot of embarrassment, shame and having to think of a fun fact when I have one built in. Yet, learning the beauty in disclosure is a lesson I don’t think 18 or even 22-year-old me would have been able to appreciate. For the first 20 or so years of my life, I never disclosed. My reasoning was, “If you talk to me long enough, then you’ll figure it out.” While true, the main reason was me not being OK with nor wanting anything to do with this part of myself. If I didn’t want anything to do with this, why would I share it with others? The first time I remember disclosing I am a PWS was during the spring of 2013. I was a sophomore in college and had to take a public speaking class. A couple of days before my first speech, I met with my professor to tell him, with a voice full of shame, I’m a PWS. To me, this was a massive deal and something I was nervous and embarrassed to do. To him, it was just another meeting with a student. The day arrived and I was nervous and apprehensive, which only makes my stutter more severe. He called my name and I stood in front of the class about to give my speech. Before I began, he told the class of roughly 25, “This is James and he stutters.” If you’re ever wondering what not to do to a PWS, then look no further than this example. I wanted to run out of the room and never step foot in there again because I was that humiliated. Instead, I swallowed that lump in my throat and stuttered my way through my introduction speech. A few months after that class and before I went back to speech therapy, I worked at an all-boys sleepaway camp. At the recommendation of the child psychologist who trained us, I was put in charge of the 7- and 8-year-olds. Each week, we got a new set of campers and each week, I had to disclose to them during orientation. My usual spiel was, “ I’m James and I stutter. Some people are tall and some people are short. We all have differences, but we all respect each other and treat one another with kindness.” This was the first time I disclosed and owned my stutter to a room full of strangers, 7- and 8-year olds no less. Saying the words, “I stutter” may not seem like a lot, but when you want to say anything but those two words, it’s a massive deal. To some kids, this was no big deal and they were more concerned about when we’d go swimming. For others, this was a concept they couldn’t grasp. I had to explain to them numerous times I was OK in the middle of my stuttering moment and I didn’t need to see the nurse. Yet, some gave me issues with it and through that, I learned the skill of giving grace to those who don’t yet understand. What helped me slowly turn the corner toward becoming comfortable with disclosing was getting involved with a stuttering support group in October 2015. I had first heard about this group during my first semester back in speech therapy in the fall of 2013. At the time, I didn’t want to get involved with my local chapter for a variety of reasons. Those reasons were actually excuses disguised as justification, but I didn’t know that then. When I moved to a new city, for my first job after college, I got involved with the local chapter. My motivations were two-fold: To meet people and to better accept my stutter. At the time, I was starting to internally become OK with the notion stuttering wasn’t the worst thing on the planet. Externally, I wasn’t quite ready to say or show that idea.  Yet, when I stepped through those library meeting room doors on that Thursday night in October, something changed. I willingly talked to a room full of strangers, who weren’t SLP students, about the one topic I never wanted to discuss or acknowledge. In hindsight, I think that meeting planted the seeds of me becoming comfortable with disclosing. However, it took a couple of years for the seeds to bloom into what they are today. When I interviewed for my first job out of college, I didn’t disclose. This was summer of 2015 and I was just getting comfortable with accepting this part of myself with myself and wasn’t yet ready to disclose it to others. Yet, once I got involved with the support group, things slowly changed. I didn’t tell any of my co-workers because they figured it out by that point. Rather, I was willing to talk about stuttering with those who weren’t my speech therapists or in the support group. When I started a new job in early 2018, I still didn’t openly disclose in my interview. I justified this to myself that my book was on my resume, so that sufficed as disclosing. A couple weeks in, I decided to disclose to my assigned mentor. When I did so, with a tinge of embarrassment in my voice, her response was, “I know,” and we continued my training. My nerves and anxiety about disclosing were all for not. Now, whenever a new person starts, I disclose at the first opportunity. I typically tell them, “You may have noticed I stutter. All I ask is you don’t finish my sentences and keep eye contact with me when I stutter. If you have any questions about stuttering, don’t hesitate to ask me.” As I became more comfortable disclosing to people I worked with and knew from social organizations, my next step was disclosing online. Prior to 2016, I would rarely post any stuttering related topics on social media. I wasn’t comfortable with owning this part of myself in real life, so why would I want to own it on social media?  There’s also the fact some people who I was connected with on social media, but only knew through the grapevine, may not have known I’m a PWS. And if I’m being honest, I wondered what those who didn’t know would think of me once they found out. The rare times I did post a stuttering article, I wouldn’t check my social media channels for hours. This was because I was afraid of what the comments would say. Most of the time, I got in my head over nothing. The post would only have one comment and two “likes.” Over the past five years, I’ve become more and more comfortable with talking about stuttering on social media. I think this is because over the past five years I’ve become more comfortable with this part of myself and stuttering advocacy has become my passion. Today, I post about stuttering often and use my platforms to advocate for stuttering and PWS. My comfort in disclosing has transcended from my social media pages to my online dating profiles. I put I’m a PWS either in my bio or as an answer to the prompt, “What’s a fun fact about yourself?” I disclose because it’s also a good way to weed people out. If me taking a few extra seconds to say what I want to say is going to be a deal breaker, then why bother wasting our time and energy to go nowhere quick? As I’ve become more comfortable with this part of myself, I’ve become more comfortable disclosing this part of myself to strangers. Whenever I meet someone new, I tend to subtly disclose. My main method for disclosure is when someone asks what I do for a living I respond, “I’m a histocompatibility (HLA) technologist and a writer on the side.” They then ask, “What’s an HLA technologist?” and/or “What do you write about?” If the latter is asked, I respond by saying, “My journey with stuttering.” My audience now knows why I talk the way I talk, plus it gives me an opportunity to plug my work. In situations where I have to do an icebreaker, I disclose by saying: “My fun fact is I’m a person who stutters.” Over the past few months, I’ve played a couple of online games based off the CBS show “Survivor.” As soon as the game starts, I put in my team’s group chat I’m a PWS and explain what that means. By openly disclosing, I accomplish two things. One, I’m taking ownership of my stutter. I’m telling my audience it’s more than OK to stutter and more than OK to discuss. Second, every disclosure presents a new opportunity for me to further accept and embrace this part of myself. My long journey with disclosure has thus far culminated with two life lessons. I care about my stutter so much more than anyone else does. The bigger and more important lesson is how powerful and beautiful it is to own all of who you are.

James Hayden

What It Was Like Playing Virtual 'Survivor' as Someone Who Stutters

You might be blindsided by this news, but I’m a bit of a “Survivor” superfan. So much so, that recently I participated in an online reality game of Survivor better known as a Survivor ORG (insert your judgement here and here). These are typically played over Skype or Discord and last about six weeks. I knew these things existed, but I had zero desire to ever play in one. That changed in May when the host of this ORG, Survivor: Tierra del Fuego, recruited me via Twitter. I applied because why not? I completely forgot about it until I received an email five days before the game started saying that I was on and asking if I still wanted to play. I told the host that I was ready to go. I had five days to figure out my strategy, but more importantly, figure out how my stutter could/would impact my game. A bunch of questions raced through my mind during the days between accepting my spot and day one of the game. What would be the best way to disclose my stutter? Would my tribe mates care that I stutter? Would they use my stutter as a reason to vote me out early? Would they believe the false narrative that I’m stuttering because I’m lying? I also hadto get comfortable, or as comfortable as I could get, with the fact that I would be watching myself stutter a lot over the next few weeks. Knowing we would be using Skype was hardest part of the pre-game period for me. As I’ve recently mentioned, I’ve been uncomfortable watching myself stutter as a result of everything going on. When I do use video chat platforms, it’s with people that I feel comfortable with or it’s for SLP classes that I’m guest lecturing for and they don’t care about the fact I stutter. Yet, even then I’m uncomfortable with the image I’m seeing in the box that has “James” in the lower left-hand corner. Knowing I would be video chatting a lot with strangers, in a game setting, made me a bit apprehensive to say the least. All these questions were quickly answered within minutes of day one. Once the game started, I was put in a group chat with the other nine people on my team, called tribes on “Survivor.” We started talking about what we did and where we live. Within minutes of meeting everyone, I typed in the group chat, “I just want to let everyone know that I’m a person who stutters. All I ask is that you don’t try to finish my sentences. If you have any questions, then please ask me. For more info on stuttering, click on the link below.”  Everyone on my tribe (shoutout to Hanúha) was instantly receptive to it and thanked me for sharing. With those words, they proved to me that my stutter would be a non-issue in this game (as it should be) and would not be a reason for me to be voted out early. I’m glad I disclosed when I did because shortly after meeting, we decided to do a video call to put names to faces. Since everyone knew, it was a non-issue and my tribe mates knew that I was stuttering and not having internet issues or lying. Whenever I was video chatting with my allies or at tribal council, everyone was respectful and gave me the space to stutter openly and without judgement. That was and is much appreciated. When I swapped tribes on day 10, I once again openly and quickly disclosed and once again it was a non-issue with my new tribe members. My disclosure on day one was the quickest I’ve ever disclosed to a group of strangers who weren’t SLP student. I think it has to do with the fact that the National Stuttering Association’s at Home Conference was the same day as day one and that gave me a little boost. I think a part of my quick disclosure is also due to me being more comfortable and open about this part of myself. I think my instant disclosure helped me make connections during the first couple of days in the game. One of my biggest insecurities about stuttering, being recorded, greeted me very early in the game. Every round, we had to give at least one confessional about what was going on in the game. We had the option of writing our confessionals, but I thought it would be best to record them. I knew people were following us live and I wanted to give them a show. I also felt giving recorded confessionals would best show how I felt about the game because I could use body language and change my tone when needed. I recorded my first confessional and immediately watched it back, which is something I never do. I watched it to make sure I covered everything I wanted to cover. When I watched it, I didn’t notice my stutter that much. As the game progressed, I continued recording my confessionals. The more I watched them back, the more comfortable I got watching myself stutter. What made me uncomfortable was how cocky, confident and comfortable I came across. Those are three cardinal sins in this game and I fell into them. In addition to recording my confessionals, our tribal councils were also recorded. That’s something I was unaware of until I went to my first tribal council. During that first tribal, I didn’t give much thought to the fact it was being recorded because I was too busy trying to not give away the blindside that was about to happen. Only after tribal did I process that it was recorded, but I didn’t care that much. I was just excited to play the game and being recorded was an afterthought. During mysubsequent visits to tribal, I kind of forgot that my biggest vulnerability was being recorded to live forever on the internet. I ended up in 13th place out of 20 and just missed making the merge and jury. The three C cardinal sins I mentioned earlier came back to bite me and I was blindsided in a pretty epic way. As a superfan, it sucks to just miss the merge and jury part of this game. Yet, I got a lot out of this experience. I proved to myself that I can play this game and do it well. I just need to tone down the confidence and not be too comfortable the next time I play. More importantly, I became comfortable with the uncomfortable. For years, being recorded and watching myself stutter are things that I hated doing. I would only do it when the situation required it and I would rarely watch it. The first few times I showed my TEDx talk to people I left the room because of how uncomfortable it made me. When I watched my TEDx talk for the first time, I almost turned it off after 10 seconds because I was just that uncomfortable. Recently, I’ve been using Zoom more for meetings that would’ve taken place in person. During those meetings, I was extremely uncomfortable with the image I saw in the box that had “James” in the lower left-hand corner. It made me wonder just how uncomfortable the rest of the people in the meeting were watching me stutter. I can honestly say I’m now comfortable with the uncomfortable. This experience taught me how to become comfortable watching myself stutter and being ok with my biggest vulnerability recorded for posterity. I didn’t come close to winning, but I won in my own way. And for that I’m thankful for my pre-merge downfall.

James Hayden

My Reaction to Joe Biden's Candidacy as a Person Who Stutters

Growing up, I didn’t have anyone in my life who stuttered, or know anyone that sounded like me. The only representation I saw in the media was Porky Pig, the comedic relief in the Looney Tunes universe. These facts caused my younger self to believe he was the only person out of seven billion people who talked that way, no one else “got it,” and his speech instantly qualified him to be the comic relief in every room he walked into. I wish I had positive representations of people who sounded like me, truly understood what I was going through, and showed me that my voice does not instantly make me the room’s court jester. I wish Joe Biden was running for President of the United States of America in 2000 or 2004 and not in 2020. Honestly, I’m jealous of today’s children who stutter. Not only is stuttering better understood today as opposed to 20 years ago, but they have someone just like them running for the highest office in the land. They have this incredible role model showing them that a stutter cannot hold you back from accomplishing anything. Children who stutter see a Senator, Vice President of the United States of America, and the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States of America. I wish I’d had this for my 10-year-old self. Not only would 10-year-old James know he’s not the only person in the world who stutters, but that he can (and will) accomplish incredible things in his life. Having this kind of representation at a young age would’ve answered some of the questions I struggled with during my childhood and adolescent years. But as much as I want to celebrate Biden being the presumptive presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, it’s hard to celebrate that victory in this political climate. I’m also envious of the children who stutter who are unaware of the backlash Biden is facing because of his stutter. All they see is someone who sounds like them and not the mocking he is receiving from those in positions of power. Because I admittedly spend way too much time on social media, I see a lot of the mocking Biden’s receiving. I’m not going to lie, it hurts me a lot. It hurts knowing that adults are the ones mocking him. It hurts knowing people currently or formerly associated with the present administration are using their platforms to mock him. It hurts because it reminds me of the times I was mocked and bullied because I stutter. It hurts because I’m reminded of the pain I felt when an adult picked on me because of my stutter. It hurts because I fear Biden will be bullied and mocked even more by the present administration as the election gets closer. Yet, as much as I’m hurt by the response from the adults in power, I’m also inspired by it. Their reactions light a fire under me to continue writing and speaking about my journey with stuttering. By speaking out, hopefully one more person has a better understanding of stuttering and that creates a domino effect of a better understanding of what stuttering is and what it means to be a person who stutters. My hope is that by advocating for stuttering and people who stutter, the next generation won’t have to deal with the mocking and bullying I’ve experienced. Hopefully, my voice gives people a better understanding of why those currently and formerly associated with the present administration’s response to Biden’s stuttering is harmful and hurtful. I beg everyone, including those currently and formerly associated with the present administration to be better, for the sake of the stuttering community. Another mocking comment would set us further back and continue to perpetuate the false stereotypes of people who stutter. Biden said it best when he spoke to The Atlantic’s John Hendrickson last year about his journey with stuttering. When asked by Hendrickson what he would do if Trump calls him “St-St-St-Stuttering Joe” Biden responded, “It’ll just expose him for who he really is.” For the sake of 10-year-old James and all people who stutter, make the right decision and don’t go there.

James Hayden

My Reaction to Joe Biden's Candidacy as a Person Who Stutters

Growing up, I didn’t have anyone in my life who stuttered, or know anyone that sounded like me. The only representation I saw in the media was Porky Pig, the comedic relief in the Looney Tunes universe. These facts caused my younger self to believe he was the only person out of seven billion people who talked that way, no one else “got it,” and his speech instantly qualified him to be the comic relief in every room he walked into. I wish I had positive representations of people who sounded like me, truly understood what I was going through, and showed me that my voice does not instantly make me the room’s court jester. I wish Joe Biden was running for President of the United States of America in 2000 or 2004 and not in 2020. Honestly, I’m jealous of today’s children who stutter. Not only is stuttering better understood today as opposed to 20 years ago, but they have someone just like them running for the highest office in the land. They have this incredible role model showing them that a stutter cannot hold you back from accomplishing anything. Children who stutter see a Senator, Vice President of the United States of America, and the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States of America. I wish I’d had this for my 10-year-old self. Not only would 10-year-old James know he’s not the only person in the world who stutters, but that he can (and will) accomplish incredible things in his life. Having this kind of representation at a young age would’ve answered some of the questions I struggled with during my childhood and adolescent years. But as much as I want to celebrate Biden being the presumptive presidential nominee for the Democratic Party, it’s hard to celebrate that victory in this political climate. I’m also envious of the children who stutter who are unaware of the backlash Biden is facing because of his stutter. All they see is someone who sounds like them and not the mocking he is receiving from those in positions of power. Because I admittedly spend way too much time on social media, I see a lot of the mocking Biden’s receiving. I’m not going to lie, it hurts me a lot. It hurts knowing that adults are the ones mocking him. It hurts knowing people currently or formerly associated with the present administration are using their platforms to mock him. It hurts because it reminds me of the times I was mocked and bullied because I stutter. It hurts because I’m reminded of the pain I felt when an adult picked on me because of my stutter. It hurts because I fear Biden will be bullied and mocked even more by the present administration as the election gets closer. Yet, as much as I’m hurt by the response from the adults in power, I’m also inspired by it. Their reactions light a fire under me to continue writing and speaking about my journey with stuttering. By speaking out, hopefully one more person has a better understanding of stuttering and that creates a domino effect of a better understanding of what stuttering is and what it means to be a person who stutters. My hope is that by advocating for stuttering and people who stutter, the next generation won’t have to deal with the mocking and bullying I’ve experienced. Hopefully, my voice gives people a better understanding of why those currently and formerly associated with the present administration’s response to Biden’s stuttering is harmful and hurtful. I beg everyone, including those currently and formerly associated with the present administration to be better, for the sake of the stuttering community. Another mocking comment would set us further back and continue to perpetuate the false stereotypes of people who stutter. Biden said it best when he spoke to The Atlantic’s John Hendrickson last year about his journey with stuttering. When asked by Hendrickson what he would do if Trump calls him “St-St-St-Stuttering Joe” Biden responded, “It’ll just expose him for who he really is.” For the sake of 10-year-old James and all people who stutter, make the right decision and don’t go there.