I’ve been thinking a lot about voice lately: who has it, who doesn’t, and why it’s worth having in the first place.
I think it’s safe to say that for much of my life I’ve been searching for this voice – the one I can proudly proclaim to the world and say, yes, this is mine, this is me. I’ve already mentioned a few struggles as to why this voice has been harder for me to find and cultivate than it may have been for others. I think I’ve been scared, quite frankly, to put my voice out there because I’m afraid it will be shot down, or, worse, will be drowned out by other, louder voices.
This past year I’ve read a lot of marginalized voices. This was both for my Masters studies and for I course I T.A.’ed at the University of Winnipeg called Representations of Disability in Literary and Cultural Texts. It was the first time the course – or anything remotely like it – was offered, and it was such a thrill to see undergraduate students engaging with characters and narrators that they wouldn’t normally have interacted with in your typical English course. Discussions of such characters opened up lively conversations about different body forms, expression, notions of compensation of what a body can do and what it can’t, and various other topics. I’m not saying that these topics might be ignored in other classes, but it did make me think a lot about why topics like the ones mentioned aren’t talked about on a regular basis.
And what I’ve come up with is that it depends on what kind of character brings them up, or evokes such conversation. Usually it’s a character that might have been ignored or deemed abnormal (for whatever reason), and so those characters are the ones less likely to appear in literature and other cultural texts (media, film, etc.).
Ok, so I’ve gone off on a tangent. What does this have to do with voice, you might ask?
Well, if that character (appearing in either fiction or non-fiction) has been relatively ignored in literature, then their voice has also been ignored. And because of that unfortunate circumstance, whenever that voice happens to appear, it’s still treated as an anomaly.
And so the merry-go-round takes a spin once again.
I’ve been trying to figure out a way for years to make a voice like mine be able to stand up on its own. And it’s been hard, I’ll admit. There’s a lot of diversity in this world, and rather than competing with those rich and diverse voices that tend to talk over one another at times, we should be able to work together to make our voices stronger.
I say should, because I don’t think that’s happened yet – there have been attempts, yes, but not to the extent that I think it could potentially happen. And I think this is possible, it just might be down the road a bit.
So, in the meantime, I’m going to put my voice out there and just let it go. I hope that not only disabled people can see truth in it, but anyone who has run up against this somewhat impenetrable mentality of “oh, sorry, you have to act/look like/embody such-and-such in order for us to listen to you, so go back and try again.”
And all I can do is hope for the best.
And for all those people out there trying to find their voice, whether in print or just in life, here’s my advice: don’t stop trying till you find it. Because when you do, and when you know how to use it, it’s pretty dang special.
“You have a freak flag. You’re just not flying it.” – The Family Stone