Blog by James Hayden

By this point in our relationship, dear reader, I think it’s safe to say you know I’m a superfan of the TV show Survivor. Look at my Twitter or Facebook bio and you’ll see “4x Survivor applicant. 0x contestant.” Every week, I listen to several hours of a podcast about a single 42-minute episode. The main podcast network I listen to is Rob Has A Podcast (RHAP). It was created in the spring of 2010 by former Survivor contestant Rob Cesternino and I’ve been a regular listener since fall 2012. Almost two years ago, I became a patron through the paid service Patreon. For those unfamiliar, Patreon allows creators to create additional content via a subscription service. On November 16, there was a patron only event that I wanted to attend that was hosted by Rob and Brice Izyah, another former Survivor contestant and host of The Purple Pants Podcast. For context, I was on Brice’s podcast back in May 2021.  

So now that we have some background on my fandom and the podcast, let’s get into how this picture came to be. The patron event was a live call-in show on YouTube where patrons could join the call and ask Rob and/or Brice some questions. As a huge fan, I was looking forward to this event and wanted to join the call. Yet, if I’m being honest, I was hesitant to join the call.

Yes, I embrace this part of myself and I’m a huge advocate for stuttering and PWS; however, I was worried about how much my stutter would overshadow my voice.  I was worried about how the audience would react to my stutter. I was worried if the behind-the-scenes people would think my stuttering moments were “technical issues” and not my voice and would hang up on me.  I was worried about audience members writing “Is something wrong with his audio?” in the comment section.  I knew none of these things would be an issue or would happen, but self-doubt and insecurity tend to tell you otherwise. Yet, I decided to do it because I knew if I didn’t, then my stutter would win and that’s not good. While waiting for my turn I was apprehensive and considered not doing it a couple of times. But the desire to talk to some of my favorite players was stronger than my self-doubt and insecurity.

This wasn’t my first live YouTube event. I did one back in March 2021, but this one was different. My event in March was an interview about my journey with stuttering for an audience that is familiar stuttering and was planned months in advance. For this event, I didn’t know if or when I would be on the call. Six seconds elapsed from when my name was announced to when I appeared on camera. Six seconds to process everything and remind myself to not “fanboy” too much. Six seconds for the excitement to kick in. Six seconds to wonder how much I would stutter on what I said. Six seconds to remind myself that it’s ok to stutter.  

I knew others were in line to appear, so I wanted to say what I wanted to say, but also be cognizant of the time and didn’t want my stutter to take up too much time. In the name box, I did disclose by putting “James Hayden (PWS)”. That was for both me and the audience. I did it because disclosure has been something I only started within the past couple years and disclosing this way was a big deal for me. I did it for my audience so they would know. I also put PWS in the box to let any other person who stutters (PWS) in the audience know they are not alone.

I was the fourth out of twelve callers to appear on the call. I rambled, and occasionally stuttered, for about 5 minutes on why I enjoy their podcasts, my book, and stuttering representation in the media. Rob and Brice were great during my stuttering moments. They didn’t make any weird facial expressions, kept an acceptable level of eye contact, let the stuttering moments happen, and didn’t make a big deal out of them. For me, that’s allyship in action. The behind-the-scenes people didn’t care and never asked if my stuttering moments were “technical issues.” The only comments I got from the audience were positive ones.   I did say, “I’m a person who stutters,” but it was two minutes and many stuttering moments later.

After five minutes, my turn was over. I turned off my camera and celebrated what I just did.

Talking to Rob and Brie was really cool, but how we had the conversation was cooler. It was another tangible sign of how far I’ve come on my journey towards accepting and embracing this part of myself. James from one year ago would not have done that. Even though he’s done a TEDx talk, he still would’ve been scared for an audience that’s not in the stuttering world to see him in that light. He would’ve been scared about the mechanics of his stutter being live steamed and archived for others to see. He would’ve allowed the self-doubt to win. Instead, I did the thing.

I know that doing a live YouTube event back in March helped give me the confidence I needed to join this call.  I highly doubt I would’ve to talked to Rob and Brice had I not had that experience in March. I didn’t let stuttering win and allowed myself to talk to two of my favorite Survivor contestants. Stuttering was there, but I didn’t care. 

Dec. 15, 2021