“Lithp”

Standard

What grade was I in when it was determined that my lisp was so pronounced I was required to visit the school’s speech therapist? This person was likely not dedicated to any individual school, but traveled around the district. All I remember was feeling mortified. Everyone knew what a lisp represented. Only sissies lisped. I already “ran like a girl,” “held my books like a girl,” was studious and not sportif. My speech impediment was just one more marker in the mix.

So, with humiliation, shame, and fear, I traipsed to my appointment. I don’t even remember the gender of the practitioner, but I was given some simple tests before being offered exercises to alleviate this dread condition. When I returned (the following month?)) the therapist spoke to me briefly before declaring that my stutter seemed to be much better. Stutter? I’d never stuttered. I said nothing and departed victorious. Obviously, this person was so overwhelmed they couldn’t keep track of kids’ presenting problems and I escaped further investigation.

Was this before or after my “star turn” in a grammar school play? I certainly wasn’t cast as Julius Caesar for my acting ability, perhaps because I was tall. Was Sylvia Chesla the playwright? Were Jim Holcolm and Cari Lyn Hughes in the cast? As Caesar is striding into the senate, he is warned “Beware the Ides of March!” My one line: “Begone foolish soothsayer!” Suffice it to say, it was a challenge to wrap my tongue and teeth around the twister. I might as well have been trying to make my way through “She sells seashells by the seashore.” After many failed attempts, I pleaded my case, “Can’t I just say ‘begone foolish fortune teller’ instead?” No, apparently the playwright didn’t want any changes suggested by the pre-teen cast. So once more, humiliation and shame.

When I inherited a large reel-to-reel tape recorder from my grandfather and first heard my voice, I was horrified. That wasn’t how I sounded, was it? There it was again, the dreaded lisp.

By the time the next-door neighbors’ dad derogatorily referred to someone as “light in the loafers,” I knew instinctively he meant homosexual. Were my wrists limp, was that why I couldn’t play ball with the boys? At one point I was assured mine was only a “sibilant S”. What was the difference? Eventually I learned not to care.

Watching David Thorpe’s 2015 documentary Do I Sound Gay? I was somewhat validated to watch his “personal journey to unpack layers of cultural baggage concerning sexuality, identity, and self-esteem.” Now, after years of singing and speaking in public, I can laugh at myself.

Just don’t ask me to say “Begone foolish soothsayer” in your play.