Outed by Speech

September 11, 2017 | Ariel Carlin, 2017 AAPD Summer Intern

Full disclaimer, my personal speech and linguistics do not “out me” to the general public, in these settings I consider myself abliest because my disabilities do not interfere with my speech. This anecdote is my personal reflection on friends and colleagues verbal speech and the implicit biases forced upon individuals with disabilities based on their speech as well as referencing the intersect of one’s sexual orientation.

The month of June is considered LGBTQ+ Pride Month for many, globally and here for me in Washington, DC. Some of the ways I identify myself are disabled and lesbian however these identities are invisible to most of society. My disabilities are mainly mental and learning-based, and I am part of the femme lesbian community; those whom adhere to feminine social standards.

For me, I have been very thankful for the invisibility. It has given me the personal time and space to learn and adapt to the American social structures and recognize my otherness. One way I looked at it was never being the female in the American Dream ideology due to my sexuality. For me, this took a very long time to accept about myself because I had inherited these constructs, as did my friends and family. Similarly, I will always require SSRI and benzodiazepine medications to participate in “day to day” activities. Socially, mental illness is perceived as a weakness as are most disabilities. I needed this social invisibility cloak to cope and learn about myself but what happens if you aren’t invisible like myself?

A trait I refer to is speech or one’s linguistics. While participating in Pride Month many of my friends have high, flamboyant voices which socially appeared to conform them into the LGTBQ+ community. While in this setting it was appropriate and appeared comforting to be embraced by such identifiable speech, I think back to many other settings where they felt afraid to speak, in fear of being outed. In terms of disability, the simplest “thank you” is perceived differently than most. Just as higher octaves can out a man’s sexuality, speech or any different form of communication is perceived as other to those outside the disability world. Those who may use assisted technology, sign language, autistic, cerebral palsy etc. vary in their speech but these differences do not make us less human.

The next time you encounter any individual, think back to this post. Are you unconsciously judging someone because of their voice? Did you disassociate from someone because they linguistically sound different? Our society is full of social constructs including the social norms required when interacting with others. This post outlines how speech is a social construct; learn to recognize our societal constructs and act accordingly. Me and my friends should not be outed on our ability or sexual orientation because of our speech.


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Ariel Carlin is a 2017 AAPD Summer Intern. This summer she interned with the Administration for Community Living within the Department of Health and Human Services.

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