Sunday, March 25, 2012

Still a little Green

When I was 20 years old, I attended a national conference of Little People of America. At the time, I had not attended a conference in 10 years. While growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, I was shy, introverted and tentative. Though I was fairly well liked and got along with just about anyone, I did very little dating in middle school, high school, and college.

The summer before my senior year of college, when I showed up in Dallas, Texas for the LPA Conference, I expected to be a different person. Around a bunch of other little people, I thought I'd be outgoing, the center of attention, and a dating magnet. After about a day in Dallas, I learned an important lesson. I learned that who I was in high school and in college in Wisconsin had much more to do with my personality, my interests and my ambitions than with dwarfism. With that in mind, who I was didn't change when I was around people who, like me, had dwarfism. In Dallas, and throughout my life within the LPA community, I was just as shy and tentative, and just as inept at dating.

Last week, over the Saint Patrick's Day Weekend, I was reminded of the lesson I learned in Dallas more than 20 years ago. Chicago, probably like many other cities around the country, goes wild on Saint Patrick's Day weekend. Starting early in the day, nearly every bar, especially those downtown, is packed full of people all day long. By early afternoon, young adults and older adults who've already had too much to drink are staggering in the streets looking for their next Guinness. When I left the house just after 11 a.m. on Saturday, the St. Patrick's Day Party was in full swing. I biked from downtown to a Park District Field House on the near northwest side of Chicago. The streets and the bars were full. When I crossed the river just north of Wacker Drive on Dearborn, the bridge was loaded with hundreds of people wearing shamrock t shirts who had come to look at the water, which, in an annual Chicago Tradition, had just been dyed green. Biking north up Milwaukee Avenue, I passed a long stream of trolleys. They trolleys, often rented outed by wedding parties, were taking groups of people from bar to bar. There were so many trolleys and not enough space along the curb, they were forced to double park.

About three hours later, I returned from the Park District back downtown. I weaved in and out of pedestrian traffic that had been drinking since at least 11 a.m., if not long before then. While I was out and about on Saint Patrick's Day, I was a little freaked out. Not just because I was in the midst of hundreds of people whose judgement was probably impaired. But because I was a dwarf out and about on Saint Patrick's Day. I had bought into the idea that on Saint Patrick's Day, people of short stature are more vulnerable to attention because of the Leprechaun stereotype. Even though nothing happened on my way from home, or back home, I was still nervous, and assumed that all other people of short stature felt the same way. But I was wrong. Browsing through Facebook, I read posts from all sorts of people with dwarfism who had, like thousands of people in Chicago and millions around the country, partied all day long in the midst of all the holiday mayhem.

Monday afternoon, I ran into two little people friends who had been out and about in Chicago on Saint Patrick's Day, enjoying the warm weather, the bars, and the beer. When I saw the two people on Monday afternoon, I thought of my time in Dallas long ago. They reminded me of the lesson I had learned then. They helped me realize that my aversion to crowds, bars, and Saint Patrick's Day isn't rooted in my dwarfism. I just don't like those things. I am happy to have finally made that connection. Knowing that my dislike of the St. Patrick's Day madness is about who I am, and not about dwarfism, I will feel a little more justified avoiding it all next year.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


When the media announced on Friday, March 16 the cancellation of "The Rosie Show," the news wasn't that surprising. Considering that Rosie O'Donnell had already reported she was moving to New York, and that other media stories had reported on turmoil behind the scenes on "The Rosie Show," official cancellation of the show seemed the next logical step.

The cancellation has inspired a new wave of posts on social media by people of short stature. One man who, after O'Donnell made her disparaging remarks about little people back in February, created a petition that called on the Oprah Winfrey Network to cancel the show, posted a message that thanked the hundreds of people who signed the petition. Others who spoke out against O'Donnell over youtube thanked the people who showed them support. Most people who commented on social media indicated that they were very pleased with the news by "liking" the media stories on the cancellation that were posted on Facebook.

I am not disappointed by the news of the show's demise. I don't feel bad for O'Donnell. My guess is that she didn't like living in Chicago and she wasn't happy working on "The Rosie Show." She is probably pleased to put the show behind her. Though the cancellation and the negative reports of what happened behind the scenes on "The Rosie Show" will tarnish her reputation, I am sure O'Donnell will pick up the pieces and will continue to have a successful career in entertainment.

Nevertheless, I am hesitant to click the "like" button on Facebook stories about the cancellation. Despite the petition by the one individual member of the dwarfism community, I never, and Little People of America never, wanted O'Donnell's show to be cancelled. We wanted her to recognize the damage that her comments about and her attitude toward the short statured community could have on people with dwarfism. We wanted her to make a real apology for what she did, and to engage in a real discussion about dwarfism. Few will say that her so-called "apology" late in February would suffice. With that in mind, there is a bit of 'comeuppance' and karma around the cancellation. But I would have much rather been a contributor to the forces that made her show better in the long run, than be one of the many who kick her on her way out the door. Because some day, another door will open for O'Donnell. I just hope she uses her next opportunity to build bridges, rather than walls.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The next move

Earlier this week, my friend asked me about Little People of America's efforts around the recent Rosie O'Donnell issue. Joking, I told him that LPA's efforts had driven O'Donnell from Chicago. Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported both that O'Donnell's show, "The Rosie Show," was having problems with ratings, guests, and management, and that O'Donnell put her Chicago home up for sale. Interestingly, in this housing slump, while many homes for sale have sat on the market for months, if not years, O'Donnell's home found a buyer in just one day. For a moment, my friend believed that LPA may actually have influenced O'Donnell's decision to leave Chicago.

Of course, LPA had nothing to do with the decision. But nevertheless, I believe the dwarfism community should be proud of the way it responded to the February 8th "Rosie Show."

Hundreds of people reacted to the negative message about dwarfism that were sent by O'Donnell and Handler on February 8th. Expressing outrage directly to O'Donnell, people sent emails, posted on Facebook, and produced youtube videos. In addition to individuals acting independently, the community also called for a unified message from Little People of America, which was delivered by Leah Smith in an Open Letter to O'Donnell. Whether it was in response to the volume of messages O'Donnell received, or one particular message that resonated with O'Donnell, she decided to address the issue on her show. She invited a little person named Chris Errera to appear on her show on February 29. On the show, O'Donnell delivered an apology and she talked about the issue with Errera.

Though O'Donnell gave the dwarfism community what it wanted, an apology and an open discussion about her 'discomfort' with little people, the majority of little people who watched the show seem to be unsatisfied with her response. Writing on Facebook after the February 29th show, people said things like 'too little, too late,' and that her apology didn't address the real issue of her biased behavior toward little people. I agreed with the sentiments and posted a blog on the Huffington Post. This post didn't generate much response among Huffington Post readers. Of the six people who wrote comments, only one supported the post. The others thought I should get over it, or wondered why I was making such a big deal if O'Donnell had already apologized.

But I think it was important to respond. O'Donnell did indeed apology. But she didn't apologize for what she did, and what she said. She apologized for making people feel bad. Her apology and her discussion with Errera never addressed the real reason that some many people were upset, the fact that she objectified and dehumanized the entire community of people of short stature.

Though we didn't get the apology we wanted, and though we have nothing to do with O'Donnell leaving Chicago and her show failing, the dwarfism community should be proud of what we accomplished. We forced O'Donnell to respond. Just as important, we came together as a community in a strong, unified way. Though it won't be easy to come together like that again, what happened with O'Donnell shows that, if we do come together, as a community, we have incredible potential.