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.