Friday, December 31, 2010


Just a thank you and a Happy New Year to people who have read and commented on this blog over the past year.

I am much more of a short-term person, and have trouble staying consistent with long-range projects. With that in mind, I am quite pleased that I've been able to maintain this blog over the past few years.

This is not the "Huffington Post" or anything like it in terms of readership but if anyone has found value in a post or a comment, I am thrilled. The blog has helped me in terms of giving myself an outlet for what happens to me and to the dwarfism and disability community.

I wasn't sure what to do with this blog in 2011, considering that my term as Vice President of Public Relations expires in June and that I write about the same stuff over and over again.

But I plan to keep it going for at least one more year. My friend Ethan from Little People of America and I are planning a spring project that will provide plenty of material to write about, and, if the project is executed well, it will probably make news beyond this site.

Also, I am considering running for President of LPA. That too should offer some material about which to write.

So, I didn't make my 2010 goal of 52 posts. But I came close and for the most part contributed on a consistent basis.

Thanks again to everyone and have a great New Year.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Toni Morrison

I've read just two books of Toni Morrison's, Sula and Jazz, but I call myself a fan of the author. I read Jazz first. I don't remember much about the content. I just have this recollection that reading the book was like taking a deep breath, holding the breath for a long time, then letting the breath, as well as a life's worth of emotion, out over the lines of an epic poem.

Sula I remember as a book that reinforced an important life principle. There are mores and expectations by which most of us are expected to live. How well we fit into those expectations has a lot to do with how we will be judged and remembered. Sula, I believe, goes beyond the mores and expectations to uncover what is human, and asks the reader to make judgments based not on what a community expects but based upon how closely an individual follows his or her beliefs and desires, not the principles of others.

Years ago, soon after I read Jazz, I picked up Song of Solomon, hoping for a similar book in style. But the style was much different. So much different that I couldn't continue reading the book. I recently started the book for the second time. This time, probably because I am not judging the book against Jazz, I have continued reading Song of Solomon and will probably finish it. In my opinion, what is best about Morrison is her female characters. The best female characters in Morrison's books squeeze life beyond the expectations and rules of others. Their experiences may be far removed from mine or those of other readers, but they win the sympathy of readers because they live according to what they believe in and treat others, not according to the codes developed by the communities in which they live, but according to how they would treat themselves. The problem with Song of Solomon is that Morrison focuses too much on male characters. Some of them are strong characters and sympathetic, but Morrison fails to give them the same life as her strongest leads in Jazz and Sula. They fail to become human, remaining characters on a page.

The best part of Song of Solomon is a character named Pilate, who I wish showed up more often in the book. Pilate's umbilical cord slips off as an infant, taking her belly button with it. This physical fact, that she has no belly button, shapes how other characters think of Pilate and treat her more than any other characteristic. She would grow close to people, or take a lover. But as soon as others learned she had no belly button, it was as though she lost her humanity. At one point in a passage that cover Pilate, the author writes --

It occurred to her that although men fucked armless women, one-legged women, hunchbacks and blind women, drunken women, razor-toting women, midgets, small children, convicts, boys, sheep, dogs, goats, liver, each other, and even certain specifies of plants, they were terrified of fucking her -- a woman with no navel, (p. 148-149).

In the early 1990's, in college, I wrote a paper titled "The role of height in literature and popular culture." If I had read Song of Solomon at the time, I probably would have said something about the passage quoted above. Today, though I often think and talk about specific language in the context of people of short stature, it's not use of the word midget that bothers me. It's the fact that people of short stature are a part of this long list of sexual taboos. As if there is something wrong with having a sexual relationship with a person of short stature.

It's disappointing to find a passage like that above in a story by Toni Morrison, an author I like and an author who has used art to highlight characters and lives who are members of a race that historically has been marginalized, segregated, discriminated against, and murdered because of physical difference. But I should keep in mind three things. First, the third person narrator was reflecting the sympathies of the early 1960's in the United States. And second, little people were not alone in the passage above. The sentence also included ableism and homophobia. Third, we are all human. Humans aren't perfect.

In a way, this reminds me of an idea my friend and Little People of America collegue Bill Bradford has suggested on more than one occasion, "It's a sign of progress that we are fair game, just like everyone else."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

perpetual photo op

Since beginning this blog a few years ago, I've written a number of times about people taking my picture without my permission. Usually, the stories I share involve me chasing down on my bicycle whoever it is that took the photo, confronting that person, and demanding my photo back. I know from the internet and from dwarfism listserves that I am not alone. Many other people of short stature have their picture taken without permission. Often times those photos end up on a website or on youtube, presenting the person of short stature in a very objectified and demeaning way. On this blog, and to others off the blog, I've said that my most significant fear is my image appearing on the internet in a compromising way. That's why I chase down cars after a passenger has taken my picture.

I've thought more about my reactions recently, and I've thought about what it means when a stranger takes my picture. I have begun to wonder if my anger isn't just about the possibility of appearing on some jerk's website. After all, chances are probably slim the person will actually post it. And if the person does, I probably would never find it. I think my anger comes from a different place.

On Monday, I received an email from a campaign called "I am Norm." The campaign is a group of young people with and without disabilities promoting inclusion and diversity by redefining what is quote, unquote, normal. In the email, the sender theorized that the most significant barrier to inclusion for people with disabilities isn't something tangible like housing, employment, transportation or education. The most significant barrier is attitudes. When people fail to treat others with respect, or treat others differently because of physical or intellectual difference (because they are not "normal"), then any level playing field of equal opportunity is lost and all of the tangible problems quickly follow. This may be where my anger lies when others snap a photo. Sure, I don't want the photo appearing on the internet. But even if the photo goes no further than the camera's card, damage has been done. Because by snapping the photo, that person has made a statement that, in his or her world, I am not normal. In fact, my presence is so removed from reality, a picture is needed to memorialize the moment. After enough people indirectly tell you that you are not normal, even if they are all jackasses, the sails generating one's confidence begin to deflate a little bit.

The only answer to this is to hope that groups like Little People of America continue their work and build a stronger community. The better that LPA does its job, the more familiar the average citizen in the United States and around the world will grow with dwarfism. The more familiar people are with dwarfism, the more "normal" it will become to see a person of short stature on the street and fewer people will freak out, grab their camera phone, and take a picture.

But what happens in the meantime? Yesterday, I was on my way back to the office from a supply store after picking up a calendar. I passed a guy on the sidewalk. Even though it was freezing cold, I could tell the guy was going to go through the effort to stop, pull out his phone and take a picture of me. I turned around. He had his back to me while fumbling through the pocket of his big parka. He found the phone, then turned around. I don't think he expected me to be standing directly in front of him, staring at him. He raised the phone up to his chest. "Do you mind, sir(sir??, really???)?" he asked. "Yes," I said. "Why?" he asked. "Because you are an asshole." (not a good way to raise awareness) I walked away. He probably still took my photo.

Though I may have re-evaluated the root of my discomfort around unauthorized pictures, I still believe, until the world does a better job of embracing differences, it's okay to confront a person with such a narrow vision of the world. Because there is nothing wrong with difference. If a person is uncomfortable around difference, than so be it. But when a person goes out of his or her way to marginalize difference, that is unacceptable.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

you've got style

Congratulations to Ethan Crough, Little People of America's Vice President of Membership. With a few emails, some persistence, and a good approach, Ethan impacted some real change that should have a deep and a long-term impact. Ethan registered for a membership with the Associated Press, then initiated a conversation with the Associated Press' Style Book Editor. Soon enough, the Associated Press updated its Style Book with the two entries below.


The preferred term for people with a medical or genetic condition
resulting in short stature. Plural is dwarfs.

Considered offensive when used to describe a person of short stature.
Dwarf is the preferred term for people with that medical or genetic
condition. See dwarf.

Last year, LPA was successfully in influencing the New York Times to change its style guide in a similar way. Note to self -- Spending time trying to change resources that are used by writers who communicate with millions of people is probably time better spent than speaking out against and trying to stop midget wrestling or a shock jock.

In the wake of the New York Times success, I have reached out to the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, with no such luck. It's often a matter of finding the correct person, someone who will listen and reply to an email. Luckily, in an organization as big as Little People of America, there will always be people like Ethan and Jimmy Korpai, individuals who are really good at connecting with the right people. Congratulations Ethan, and thanks.