Stuttering and Masculinity Part Two: A Strawberry Milkshake

People are often shocked when I admit to being an Irishman who doesn't drink alcohol. They ask me why, and I reply with the immensely witty: "Because I tend to get very obnoxious and horny and it has gotten me into trouble on many occasions." Only once has someone believed that and been even more enamoured with me, and that is another blog entry.

The real reason for not drinking for me was two-fold.

As I got older, survived secondary school, repeated the Leaving Certificate and successfully got into Trinity College, I prayed that achieving such a thing would somehow "fix" me. Like osmosis, this process would be passive and magical. Imagine my panic when in my first week as an undergraduate as I found myself paralyzed at the student bar. As someone who stutterers, asking for a pint is a terror inducing chore. My default was to try everything to distract myself from the fear and try and fool my listener by pretending to think about my order. After failing at all these tricks, I would point to any bottle of beer I could see and end the ordeal for both of us. On bad speech days, I would avoid drinking altogether on nights out. I wouldn't even have water. I would smile and pretend everything was ok, while parching from thirst. Inside I was burning with rage. Rage towards myself for not being man enough to ask for a simple beer. Rage at other fluent speakers and envy what I imagined it would be like to be a fluent speaker. 

The second issue was IF I actually managed to order a bottle of beer at the bar, I was terrified of letting go in any way, shape or form. I knew I was attracted to guys. I wasn't ignorant to those primal urges, just in absolute denial and feeling intense rage at having them too. I couldn't risk getting pissed and saying or doing something that would out me to everyone. 

My College years were the loneliest years of my life. I became numb to the feeling, but it was still there. As graduation approached, I knew I was in trouble. As isolated as I was, I was safe in university. I worked hard and kept my head down. When working in teams, I would pander to others, explaining my stuttering nature and in most cases, taking on most, if not all of the workload in exchange for not having to speak in public. That kept me safe but I was castrating myself in the process. Like in my previous blog, where I was not willing to take a physical hit, here I wasn't willing to stand in front of another room with my peers, not be able to breathe and eventually collapse into tears. I couldn't sit with those feelings. It was taking all I had to just keep up my numerous facades. 

Graduation was like a death sentence to me as I had no idea what I was going to do. And then came the McGuire Programme. Three separate people gave me copies of a newspaper article about this self-help stuttering recovery programme. What made this special was that everyone had a stutter and was in recovery. Despite my skepticism, I attended a four-day intense weekend. I go into much more depth in Just One More Drive, and I won't bore you here. For the sake of efficiency, let me summarize. The Programme consists of four days of intensive training included learning a new way of breathing and speaking. These were put into practice in the hotel and in public. The third day, involved all the new students (including me) getting out on the street asking questions and using our new technique and making disclosures. A disclosure is admitting to having a stutter. 

Learning these new skills and being surrounded by people who struggled in the same way, was simply the most transformational experience I have ever had. It trumps driving for the first time, losing my virginity and meeting Amanda Tapping. (Not necessarily in that order, but you get the idea). On the first evening after I fluently said my name, address and telephone number a comment was made that I had a beautiful voice. No one had EVER said that to me and I believed it because these were my people. It gave me hope and made me feel like a man for the first time in many years. I was feeling free and safe speaking. 

The third day involved getting out into the world. I was accompanied by a man called Michael and off we went. I had clear goals. We were in Dublin so I headed for Trinity College. It had been six months since I had graduated and I made a disclosure to the female college guard who I had passed for five years. I went into a video game store and asked about a  release date using good speaking technique. The day culminated in a soap box speech on Grafton street. Standing there, talking and stuttering occasionally, I felt safe surrounded by other McGuire graduates. I felt like I was six years old again, before the bullying, before the rot. It felt like a rebirth. Hope was present again in my heart. 

All of these things were amazing for sure, but it was our dinner in the local diner that meant the most to me. I had to order Michael's meal as well as my own. I couldn't avoid any words and Michael's order was a burger or something simple like that. I didn't know what I wanted. The question has shifted from what can I ask for to what do I want? WHAT DO I WANT? I wanted a strawberry milkshake. I wanted onion rings. I wanted everything on the menu because I could ask for it and I wanted to experience EVERYTHING. I had missed so much. I felt powerful and free. My world was expanding before me. I got to redefine it all and reclaim my masculinity in the process.

That is what people misunderstand about stuttering. It is the simple things. Talking on the phone, saying your name. Ordering food or a beer. The bigger things like talking on radio and TV would come later, but for me, ordering a simple milkshake made me feel like a new man. 

Living in Vancouver, I have missed the ongoing support that the McGuire Programme offers. I have tried to be a fluent speaker and grappled for control and I have struggled. But I know now what I am capable of and who I can choose to be. Being gay does overlap with this journey and I will explore the emotional similarities with being a closeted homosexual next week. 

If you want more information on the McGuire Programme, you can view the official website: