I remember the first time I saw a comment about my voice. It was just one comment at the time. There were so many positive words yet my brain gave me tunnel vision to that singular comment. What did they mean by that?
If there is anything to know about me, you must know that I love making coffee. I love all the different flavors and aromas that emerge from brewing it in a aeropress or a moka pot or a pourover. I love learning and practicing how to make a cortado or affogato or café au lait. I love trying my hand at latte art yet never quite getting the swirls just right. On a random evening in November 2020 in my parents’ kitchen, I started sharing it with the internet through short TikToks under the name, @acaffeinateddesi — adding to my very long list of quarantine hobbies.
As a millennial, I had very little understanding of how this app worked yet my videos garnered so much attention that I had a brief stint of virality and I was swimming in it. The videos traveled to the Netherlands to India to a little town in Oregon and it was so new and exciting. It felt like I was building a virtual community in the midst of such intense isolation but the internet has its limits. With virality comes the comments and it wasn’t about coffee.
I’ve sat on these comments for over a year, nearly two. Admittedly, it has taken up brain space and I’ve come to learn that it’s because my voice told them about me before I got to. It’s because I was no longer just a girl who was enthusiastic about making coffee. It’s because I have spent my entire life fixing this voice so at what point did I fail?
I continued to ignore them yet they kept pressing on. It didn’t matter what I talked about – they were fixated on my voice, debating with each other in the comments on what could possibly be wrong with me.
While the comment section is brainstorming about my voice, I am reminded that this voice is led by another voice that lives inside my head and directs me at every interaction.
“Sita, don’t trail off”
“Sita, be clear”
“Sita, slow down!”
“Sita, be articulate”
“Sita, don’t mumble”
“Sita, be normal – don’t let them figure it out”
And even then, they figured it out. It’s like they caught me in this act when they say, “I detect a speech impediment – you’re deaf, right?” and they’re so proud of themselves for solving this riddle as if that had anything to do with coffee but I digress.
Between “I knew you weren’t from here. You don’t look American” to “What is wrong with your voice?”, I find myself so othered on both ends of my own identity. Being a deaf South Asian American means constantly working to belong. It is the very thing, if not the thing, that led me here because I worked hard to belong here.
There came a choice. I could keep letting these comments sneak in or I could let them in through the front door – and I let them in. I cracked the door wide open by sharing my deaf experiences, one by one. And for the first time in my life, I met people who shared the same experiences as me, who found a part of themselves in me, and who, without needing further explanation, resonated with me.
The comments changed. These responses expanded my world 10 times over. It changed the way I view myself because it made me want to build a space where I make sense, like this blog. The internet is a sorely complicated place, I know – but I also believe it can be a lovely place if you let it.
I am supremely aware of my voice, far more than I need to.
And it’s because I have spent my entire life making sure my voice still fits the ears of hearing people.
I spent hours and hours throughout my childhood with numerous speech therapists and pathologists working on my upper end of the speech banana. I signed up for speech clubs and contests all throughout grade school. I became student body president in high school because I wanted to give weekly speeches every Wednesday at our school wide assemblies. I joined Toastmasters to continue to perfect my voice well into my 20s. I participate in open mics to allow myself the gift of hearing my voice echo in a room full of strangers.
It is not lost on me how much effort I put to make my Ss and THs so strong and so clear that when I say my name, I know I delivered it and I delivered it well. I know because I can hear the sharpness of those high frequency phonemes that sits at the beginning and middle of my name and then, I quietly celebrate as I feel my entire body rising like it’s smiling.
Because I am so aware of what a labor of love it took to get this voice.
So why wouldn’t I show it off at every chance I get?