SAN FRANCISCO -- In her San Francisco home, Maya Chupkov is prepping to interview someone for her podcast. Something she may not have dreamed possible when she was growing up. That's because Maya has a stutter.
"When people hear me stutter," she says, "I don't shy away from it as much as I did before I was out about it. Once that switch flipped for me, I realized that I can finally share my voice by just accepting my stutter."
It's estimated that more than 70 million people worldwide have some sort of communicative disorder.
"Being vulnerable has never been an option for people who stutter," says Chupkov. "Because as soon as we open our mouths, you're sharing the deepest, shameful thing about you, without choosing it."
Maya is the creator, producer, and host of the "Proud Stutter" podcast, which was launched on International Stuttering Awareness Day on October 22, 2021. The podcast aims to create awareness and a better understanding of people who live with a stutter.
"Growing up with a stutter, I felt very alone in my experience," Chupkov says, "it was a very lonely childhood in that way."
Maya says she was always described by teachers and classmates as "shy" and "quiet," a description she says couldn't have been further from the truth.
"I was very outgoing," she says, "like inside myself, I like always wanted to contribute in class and speak up and share my voice. But there was always that conflicting thought in my head of like, 'you want to say that something, but you stutter.' There was always that 'but.'"
She says she battled with her stutter and would pretend it didn't exist.
"And I would develop ways where I can hide my stutter," Chupkov explains, "and that's kind of how I lived my life. Like I had this hidden part of myself that I was constantly battling."
As Maya got older, she became more comfortable with expressing herself.
"I'm way more open about my stutter now," she says.
During the pandemic, Maya's fiancée, now husband, suggested she start a podcast about stuttering.
As soon as I heard that idea, I'm like, that's actually a really good idea," she says, "but how am I going to go from hiding this to like suddenly like screaming on the rooftops, 'I have a stutter.'"
Maya started the podcast with her best friend, Cynthia, who does not stutter.
"Having this outside perspective through Cynthia," Chupkov explains, "it really expands the audience because you're kind of learning along with those that may not stutter themselves or have a loved one who stutters. We did that together."
Now in season two of her podcast, Maya is doing it on her own, but still having a rotating co-host of people who don't stutter, allowing for more diverse and intersectional conversations.
"I think my biggest goal is to see more stuttering on TV and film that is more representative of the stuttering experience," Chupkov says. "What I'm really trying to do is to like build a movement where the stuttering community feels safe enough to come out of the shadows and really not be afraid to be who we are. Because the more of us takes that brave step, the more others will too."
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