My multiple identities as a woman who stammers

A woman looking at the camera

4th December 2021

Shiran Israel talks about the challenges she faces as a woman who stammers, and how meeting other women who stammer helped her realise she's not alone.

Growing up in the 90s was supposed to be so much fun. We had the best music and the right amount of technology in our lives. Back then, having a stammer slip out of my mouth was the worst thing I could have imagined. 

As a teenager I concealed my stammer. Boys were out of the picture back then because I was so insecure. My friends knew something was different about my speech, but my stammer wasn't 'in your face' as it is now. We didn't even say the 's' word at home (my parents still don't).

At some point I ceased to be just a girl who stammers and began to feel like a girl who had disappointed everyone after having failed subsequent speech therapies. As adolescents, our most important mission is to form an identity. And back then, I didn't see any other identity than that. 

Discovering Take That

In the midst of all this, when I couldn't find any reason to wake up in the morning, I came across a phenomenon called Take That. Take That was the biggest boy band in Europe at the time, and they offered everything I could possibly want: great songs, good looks and comfort. My identity grew to include being a Take That fan; in my head I told these lads all the words I couldn't say when I needed someone to reassure me that everything was going to be OK. I replayed their songs endlessly and started to copy the dictionary so that when we would finally meet I would speak English perfectly (spoiler: when we did finally meet I was speechless). This is my story. Take That made my years as an adolescent who stammers feel less lonely, and for me, they saved my life. 

As a teenager I concealed my stammer. Boys were out of the picture back then because I was so insecure.

My name is Shiran, I'm 37, I live in Israel and have a husband, two girls and a dog. I went through the entire spectrum from completely concealing my stammer and feeling like the worst failure on the planet; to being declared as a person who 'stopped' stammering (spoiler: it was only a brief relatively fluent time); and finally making peace each day with my beautiful, highly observable stammering. 

Identities

Being part of the Israeli Stuttering Association, I get to meet so many people who stammer, and witness the resemblance in experiences, feelings and insights, as well as differences in points of view.

One of the things I've realised that's crucial for living a full life with stammering is acknowledging the multiple identities we carry and finding a way to balance them all. As women, balancing our multiple identities can be quite difficult. Being a person who stammers has so many implications, but being a woman who stammers has an additional burden. Society expects us to be attentive mums, have a successful career, maintain decent social and romantic relationships, fulfill ourselves, verbally express ourselves and look good while doing all that. Navigating to find the balance between all of these expectations is hard enough as it is, even if you don't stammer. 

One of the things I've realised that's crucial for living a full life with stammering is acknowledging the multiple identities we carry and finding a way to balance them all.

Although I stammer openly — and being a person who stammers is not ranked as the most important aspect of my identity — it is the one identity I cannot shake off in any circumstance. Stammering is there when my kid's teacher calls, when I enrol at the gym, when I orchestrate a birthday party, and also when I fly alone to a foreign country to see a Take That concert. Stammering is there when I search for a job and ask my future managers to keep an open mind (because I stammer) and also be flexible with working hours (because I'm a mum) and still give me a chance (because I'm really good at what I do).

It's not a question of whether men or women are impacted more by stammering. It's a question of the nature of experience. Living up to the standards of being a woman in the 21st century, as well as juggling the excess baggage of stammering and our various, sometimes conflicting identities, can be too much. I think that the self-acceptance we strive to exercise in stammering is especially applicable for women who stammer, because we cannot always do it all, let alone do it all 'perfectly'. We will not always be the best mothers, nor the best students, or senior managers, and we will not always be given the chances we are entitled to get. As women who stammer, we owe it to ourselves to be self-compassionate and learn that doing our best is good enough. 

It has been so long since that time when I couldn't see any identity other than being a person who stammers. I now know that I'm not alone in my experiences as a woman who stammers and got to meet truly exceptional women along the way. We all experience daily challenges, stigmas and discrimination, and we are fabulously imperfect. But each of us changes the world in her own way.

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