For the most part in my life, I’m incredibly privileged.
I am a white man who lives in a world that favors and benefits white men.
There is perhaps only one area where I feel a sense of injustice or unfairness about some aspect of my identity and that’s around my height.
But before I talk about I want to be clear that my height and any suffering I’ve felt about it pales in comparison to the pain caused to most people around their race, sexual orientation, gender, or class status.
I offer this simply an exploration of my experience not as a claim that being short is of the same variety or magnitude as being a person of color, a woman, LGBTQIA, or of any other marginalized group in our world.
Ok with that said, let’s dive in.
- Vertically challenged
- A small guy
- little guy
- of slight stature
These are all terms that can and at some point in my life been used described me.
There are some men who were tall at some point growing up and then who lost ground as other boys and girls outgrew them, but that wasn’t me. I’ve always been one of the shortest kids in my class. And not just short but small.
In middle school, I wrestled in the 75 pound weight class and while I’m sure there were people in my middle school that weighed less than me, there weren’t many.
I can’t even remember a time in my life where being short didn’t impact me or affect me in some way.
It was the subject of much of bullying or teasing I endured.
It was a reason why I couldn’t date certain people or a reason they gave me for not wanting to date me.
It became a context I have and continue to live in, to this day.
The Hardest Thing About Being Short
Perhaps the hardest thing about being short is that you’re not supposed to let it bother you.
It’s perfectly ok if it bothers other people. It’s ok if women don’t want to date you because you don’t check the Tall box of being Tall dark and handsome. It’s perfectly ok for other men to poke fun at you because of it, to call you chief or champ or buddy or tiger.
But you CAN’T let it bother you.
If you admit for a second that it’s not very much fun to be called short, the teasing simply gets worse. In fact, you’re not really even supposed to stand up for yourself at all.
Because if you do people will whip out their favorite phrase:
Which is a bizarre concept in and of itself because Napolean actually wasn’t short.
You can look it up. I’ll wait.
Calling him short was actually a piece of British propaganda, used to downplay his power. Such is the power of calling a man short. It’s so effective that even when not true it can take the shine off the apple.
In any case, you are supposed to be completely ok with being short. You are expected to have a zen-like exterior of calm and peace when you get picked on, poked fun at, and generally made light of something you’ve been aware of your whole life and can do nothing about.
I remember once in college when I was sitting with my Acapella group a member was talking about getting to meet a famous female singer. He said, she was so small, he’s even smaller than Sam! (which is the name I went by in college).
Everyone laughed. And I did too.
Because that’s what was expected of me.
I remember thinking afterwards how I couldn’t have made fun of anything about him. I mean I could have, but it would have seemed mean and nasty. He was a man of color and a large man. But I couldn’t make fun of these things or even comment on them.
And while I think that’s actually better. (I don’t think it’s ok to make fun of someone’s weight or their race) it struck me as incredibly unfair that it was ok for them to make fun of my height.
And yet somehow this is still ok.
Worse if you get made fun of for your height and get upset, you’re the one who’s ruining the joke.
As an adaptation, I learned to make fun of it myself. I learned to be more confident. To come into a room with more energy and verve. My comfort with myself became as much a performance as a practice.
- LOOK HOW COMFORTABLE I AM WITH MYSELF BEING SHORT
- LOOK HOW IT DOESN’T MATTER TO ME
- LOOK HOW I MAKE FUN OF MYSELF BEFORE YOU DO HA HA
I don’t mean to sound bitter.
You might even think I should “just get over it”? which something I’ve been asked to do my whole life. I’ve often thought, how about you go first?
In many ways, it’s actually helped me in life. I’ve had to rely on my charm, my wit, my seduction, and the power of my will to get what I want. But it frustrates me at times that I’ve had to do these things because of the heightism that exists in our world.
A friend of mine once said that when he met me he “never realized a short man could be so confident” and while the compliment touched me at the time, later on, I realized how much better it would have felt if he had removed the word ‘short’ from the sentence.
Even my confidence is held in a context of shortness.
And yet I can’t escape it.
Though there are long stretches of time where I forget about it.
Every time I go to a concert I’m reminded of it, especially when a taller person comes and stands in front of me, which invariably happens.
Every time I’m in a relationship I am likely one of my partner’s shortest boyfriends.
And it leaves me to wonder
– Would they be happy with someone taller?
– Would this kiss be better if it was coming from a foot higher?
– Would they be more turned on, feel more safe, trust me more, if I was at least six feet tall?
Even in my kitchen, I’m reminded.
I’m reminded every time I have to get a footstool to get things on a top shelf. It’s either that or jump onto the counter, a trick I learned from a very young age and still do, though I imagine a day when I’ll be much too old or spry to actually achieve this.
My height is almost always there.
Of course, I don’t want you to think it’s all bad.
I mean playing hide and seek, sitting in coach on a long flight, and whenever someone needs to get something from under a car or in a crawl space my size actually comes in handy, but those are generally the exceptions to the rule.
In general, my height makes me feel like I need to apologize.
Apologize for not being taller, for not attaining a height that the world has deemed a requirement for being a powerful, sexy, trustable man. Someone people naturally see as a leader.
My height is something I am and probably will always be aware of.
And though I don’t let it hold me back nor do I allow the insecurity it produces to drag me down it impacts me as much as it benefits me.
One small benefit it grants is that it does give me a small peek inside the world of other people who live in a context they can’t escape.
Because even though I can’t forget that I’m short.
I can forget that I’m white, that I’m a man, and that I’m cis-gendered.
Unlike shortness, these aspects disappear for me all the time.
I get to think, I’m just a person.
And my ability to forget these things are a distinct sign of the incredible privilege I experience in the world.
Sure I’m short and yes it does impact the people I date and the respect I’m given from time to time, but it’s nothing compared to the suffering caused by racism, sexism, genderism, or heterosexism.
As we go through these difficult times my height helps me remember that other people have it much worse than me. And while I can largely overcome my vertical challenges with a step stool and a bit of swagger, it’s going to take a lot more than that, if I want to live in a world where the most important context people live into, is related to the content of their character vs the color of their skin.
So yes I’m short and yes I’d like for you to pause and consider the judgments you make about short people and certainly to stop before you make a joke about it.
But I don’t want you to stop there. I want you to keep going and to consider the jokes or assumptions you make about all people. People of color, trans people, and blue-collar people.
Height might still be a thing you’re allowed to make fun of openly, but just because you have to hide your other prejudices doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
It is impossible to free of judgment and the very nature of assumptions is that you mostly don’t know you have them. So please slow down, become more responsible, and own up to the unwelcome things you naturally and with no effort think about these groups of people.
While racism is a systemic problem, you can address it personally every day by noticing your thoughts words and actions. It may not always be comfortable but I assure you, it’s definitely worth it.
Adam Quiney and I decided to write about the intersection between two aspects of our identity. I chose my height. This is my essay and I encourage you to go over to his profile and read his.
Are you interested in collaborating with me? I love writing with people. I love the challenge and enjoyment.
Because of my no woman vision quest right now I’m only collaborating with those who identify as men. If you’d like to jam on a common topic just drop me a comment or shoot me a message.