Rahima Dosani is a member of the 2018-19 MALA Young Leaders Fellowship. Fellows participate in monthly digital seminars, dinner discussions, and other MALA events. As part of the program, Fellows reflect on their multiple layers of identities – as daughters, sons, professionals, athletes, and so much more – and share those reflections into the MALA story collection. Personal stories can be a powerful catalyst for change – challenging stereotypes, building bridges, and inspiring action. In a country as diverse and complex as the United States, the identities of Muslim Americans remain layered and contested. We all have stories to tell: stories that deserve to be collected, conserved, and celebrated. We are honored to share the stories of our Fellows here.
I am many things – a woman, a Muslim, a person of color, a person with a disability, a survivor of loss, trauma, and sexual violence, an Indian, a Pakistani, a Kenyan.
I am a daughter, a caretaker, a wife, a sister, a friend, a public health professional, a businesswoman.
I am also an artist, a chef, a photographer, a gymnast, a volleyball player, a diver, a yoga instructor, and a spiritual being.
As I have gotten older and lived through more experiences, and particularly in the political and socio-cultural climate we are in today, I have realized that although all of these identities comprise who I am, the most important and salient identity that I or any of us can have is simply that we are human.
It is this common thread that weaves us all together in the tapestry of colors, experiences, geographies, and perspectives that make up humanity. At the core, despite our identities, groups, races, religions, sexual orientations, income levels, and lived experiences, we are all human. We all want to be safe, healthy, and treated with respect and dignity. We all want to protect those whom we love and live a life that we are proud of. We want to be able to express ourselves and be accepted and celebrated by our community. We all want a community. We all want love.
For most of my life, I lived as a shell of myself. I didn’t express myself when I wanted to, I didn’t pursue love, and I didn’t pursue professional or personal opportunities that could help me grow and learn. I existed, but I didn’t live. This experience, sadly, is extremely common amongst people who stutter, particularly people who are covert stutterers and are not open about this part of their identity.
For 28 years I lived as a covert stutterer, and expended an incredible amount of energy covering up my stutter by planning out my sentences, substituting words, avoiding situations where my stutter might come out, and withdrawing from professional and personal speaking opportunities. My stutter dictated everything, from what I selected to eat from a menu at a restaurant to what meetings I attended, to what extracurricular activities I participated in. Although I was “successful” on paper, I knew I wasn’t living fully, driven completely by fear, shame, and avoidance.
Before attending business school, I decided to take a leap and try a new kind of speech therapy, from the American Institute for Stuttering (AIS). Their approach was to work with desensitization, acceptance, and reducing fear and avoidance to help people who stutter live a higher quality of life.
AIS’s approach was a huge break from traditional speech therapy, which focused on saying words and syllables with fluency, which subconsciously tells your mind that stuttering is not okay. My intensive speech therapy program at AIS in the summer of 2014 taught me for the first time that stuttering is okay. I had never thought of this as a concept before. This experience was a key driver in my decision to become open about my stutter, work towards accepting myself as a person who stutters, and finally start talking about it with my friends, family, and even strangers. It was a complete redefinition of who I was, socially, professionally, personally, and significantly changed my relationship with myself and the world. My identity evolved greatly.
Embracing my stutter by being vulnerable, stuttering openly, and accepting stuttering as a part of my identity has been infinitely more challenging than I could have imagined. However, I am so grateful that I am finally living as a whole person and saying what I want to say when I want to say it.
Previously, stuttering was such a big part of who I was due to my extreme fear and shame, and it dictated every part of my life. Rejecting my identity as a person who stutters made it much worse, as every speaking situation became a life or death fight to prevent outing myself as someone with a speech disability.
Accepting this one part of my identity and embracing it has ironically allowed stuttering to become a much smaller part of who I am – just a spoke in the wheel of my identity instead of the primary hub. The personal growth and work I did on this part of my identity has helped me live with compassion, acceptance, tolerance, and patience and has enabled me to focus on other parts of my identity now that I embrace myself as a person who stutters.
I am still all of those other things. Now I finally accept that I just happen to stutter as well.