This month we have a very special edition of So Your Character Is ...! So Your Character Is ... is an on going series where I interview or talk about myself about different people groups, countries, etc. for writing more accurate characters. Tyler Gray has volunteered to answer some questions about being mute. I have a mute character, so his answers have been so enlightening to me and I'm definitely incorporating them into my story. I applaud his honesty. Also if you haven't checked out this month's edition of So Your Character is from Another Country be sure to give that a look as well!
Let's welcome Tyler to the stage!
Hello! I’m Tyler Gray. I’m a 19-year-old mute writer guy who occasionally goes outside. My other hobbies include ceramics and avoiding cashiers. I’m currently a college student on the last term of my English degree. I primarily write in Romance and Coming Of Age with a little Paranormal/Magical Realism thrown in there.
How does your mutism physically feel? How do you think it compares to those who don’t have mutism?
I suppose I have never thought about that before. It's not painful or uncomfortable. I don't think it varies much from the alternative, in my case. There is a lot of different kinds and causes of mutism, though. So it could possibly feel different for someone with physiological mutism. Sometimes it's caused by an issue with the mouth or throat, and others because of a hearing issue. I can hear. My mutism is psychological Somatoform Disorder.
How do you feel about your mutism?
“It doesn't bother me much” is the answer I normally give to that, which is, more often than not, the truth. But really sometimes it's like I'm trapped. And, all dramatics aside, it's a tad torturous. I don't mind the jokes; being teased about it takes the edge off.
I would do almost anything to be able to not be a nuisance. I'm sure others would say that I'm not a nuisance, but the poor cashiers who have to read my handwritten notes to interact with me may think differently. I don't like going out much because of it. Frustration is an easy place for me to end up if I'm not constantly mindful and patient. But at the end of the day, I could be walking a far worse path of life, so I'm really okay.
What challenges does your mutism pose?
The outside world is quite terrifying. Most people probably don't think about the amount of random, obligatory, exchanges that happen day-to-day. Going to stores is the hardest, I think. “Are you finding everything alright?” and “How are you today?” Just go walking around in public for a day, visit a few stores and try to check out without talking. It's rather anxiety inducing. It's hard, having to write on my phone or notepad, watching the way their smiles fade a little. I really don't like to cause trouble for others, but writing down what I want to say seems to be all I can do.
On the note of anxiety, the level of awareness I have to constantly have in public is a one-way ticket to it. After I tried to push myself more to leave my room and venture into the world, I developed massive debilitating anxiety issues. The first attack was terrifying, being unable to call out to anyone in my house. It's small things like that, the times when I need someone but can't make my words reach them that make this so hard. It's been a couple of years since then and I have been able to combat those issues. I haven't had an attack in months, but it was pretty constant when I was in the thick of it.
Is there anything you like about your mutism?
I get to marvel at others a lot more than normal, I think. I get to watch my friends go back and forth, laughing and having a great time. I can enjoy every nuance of their presence, every shift of tone and smile they flash. Not that others ever experience those things, but it's all I can do. In general it's rather peaceful, when I'm with people who won't put me on the spot. It has also taught me a very deep level of patience with everything, though it is a little too easy to get frustrated with myself sometimes.
The people I get to live my life with truly make this set-back tolerable. I have the most amazing group of friends, family, and significant other. They are always mindful and kind. I am truly blessed to have them. They never make me feel like a lesser, but they always help me when life has decided to deck the living daylights out of me. :)
Do you think your day differs from others because of your mutism?
Completely. Other than the things previously stated there is a safety element here, too. I cannot yell out for help and I'd be lying if I said I have never needed to. It's always in the back of my mind, so I rarely go anywhere on my own. Getting separated from those I'm with absolutely terrifies me. I recently had the horror of needing to call emergency services when on my own and I was unable to speak to the operator. It's that sort of thing that really gets in my head and messes me up day-to-day.
Classes can also be difficult. Being in college for a few years now, it's not that much of an issue anymore. But those 'go introduce yourself to three people' on the first day activities will be the death of me, I swear to Thor.
Do you have any cultural differences between others who also have your ability and those who do not?
I'm sure it's different in every single case, no matter where the person happens to be. It all depends on how people communicate around them and how they can adapt to communicate the most effectively.
I'm not sure if this is too relevant to the question, but where I live everyone is very friendly. Which is wonderful, downright amazing, and I wouldn't change it for the world. But I feel reallllly bad when a super excited kind lady is trying to talk to me in the book store, or the guy standing next to me in line decides he absolutely has to sling his arm over my shoulders and tell me all about his horse. Half the time they're so nice and apt to talk with just about anyone that I don't even have a chance to get out my notepad before a response is warranted.
What are some stereotypes about your mutism that irk you?
Honestly, the only one I have ever come across is that my tongue must be cut out. I'm sure there are others. Something people tend to assume is that I'm shy. I'm not shy, I'm just scared of causing others issue so I keep to myself. If I could speak, I'd probably never shut up. I have so many stupid jokes that I can't tell because they'd lose their charm on paper, so the one that irks me most is the shy assumption. If conveying my thoughts to another didn't take so much effort, I'd 'say' a lot more.
Unfortunately it quickly becomes a battle between wanting to connect with someone and not wanting to expend the huge amount of effort to do so. And I'm not saying that out of laziness, it just gets exhausting. It is far too easy to convince myself that what I have to say doesn't matter that much therefore it isn't worth the time to convey it, which I know isn’t a good thing to think.
What media portrays your mutism badly be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Just about everything that I've seen when it comes to psychological, 'selective', mutism manages to do it wrong. What gets me most are the stories where the person is somehow cured in the end. And I admit I am somewhat guilty of that in my own writing, but not to the extent we often see. It's not always that simple. If it were, I wouldn't be a 19-year-old boy petrified of cashiers. I'd love some of that movie magic. It would be pretty neat to be able to buy something without walking away from the store feeling awful.
What media portrays your mutism well be it a movie, a book, or a TV show?
Well there's that handsome gentlemen in the movie Warm Bodies but he's sort of a zombie so... There's the child in Scrooged. He's one of those 'magically cured' ones, but like I said, that could be a possibility.
I actually had to do research on this because I hadn't come across anything naturally to answer this question other than those two. Does Boo Radley from To Kill a Mockingbird count? I don't have the slightest idea. Some others I've come across are a character who have watched a brutal murder or something along those lines and that’s what turned them mute. That's also a little hard to relate to, or, at least, I'd hope that is hard to relate to.
IMBD had a list of eighteen movies that had a mute character. The most recent one was made in 2013...and that was the zombie one. Frankenstein was on that list too, so that's cool, I suppose... I'd like to comment that The Hunger Games was not on that list, despite having a mute character. Pollux had his tongue cut and communicated through sign language. He is a good example in that regard.
This was very hard to research. I did come across some movies with mute main characters that I didn't know about before, but there was only a few. I suppose it would be hard to have a movie about a mute person compared to a book. But reading has never been a hobby of mine. (I know, I know, to be a good writer one should read), so the only mute book characters I, the uncultured swine that I am, know of are my own.
Who are your top three favorite characters who share your mutism in books, movies, or shows?
Along the lines of the last question, I had a really hard time finding portrayals, good or bad, of my type of mutism.
OH WAIT NO. Does Ariel from The Little Mermaid count? I'm going to pretend like she counts. Ariel, the Zombie R, and Frankenstein. Yup. Top three. I think the fact that I can only seem to find monsters, zombies, and mermaids may mean I'm a tad underrepresented in the media. I'm pretty cool with a Disney Princess, though.
|Pollux from the Mockingjay Part 1 and 2|
Thank you again, Tyne, for your transparency! This is such a wealth of information! I'm looking forward to adding this information to my mute character, Ashlyn. Thanks for reading! Come back next month for So Your Character is From the Philippines ...!
Do you have any mute characters? Did this inspire you to write a mute character? Do you have mutism and you have further input? Feel free to share! Do you have any questions for Tyne? Be sure to thank him!
If you liked this post, come back every other Tuesday for book reviews; Friday for tags, character interviews, and link-ups; Saturdays for writing advice and life updates; and Sundays for the Writerly Bundle which includes a new soundtrack piece, vocabulary word, and tea review!