When a Friend Used the M-Word to Describe My Dwarfism

So let’s talk about the M-word. The word “midget” is a highly offensive term to people born with dwarfism.

I understand if you didn’t know that it was offensive. A lot of people don’t. A good friend of mine in college didn’t know either.

Kate Braun with her husband and puppy, Louie

One night while driving to dinner with her, she was telling a story — I can’t even remember what it was about now — but in the middle of it, she used the word “midget” to describe me.

As soon as the word came out of her mouth, it stung. I was so surprised she had used that word to describe me! How could she? We had been friends for so long. Did she not accept me? Why would she view me like that?

I had no idea how to respond.

When the emotional rant in my head subsided, I realized she had kept on telling her story without skipping a beat. She had no idea what she said was offensive. I didn’t address the issue at the time because she would feel awful, but I knew I needed to educate her because she wouldn’t want to continue using hurtful language.

Strangers have called me a midget before, but I realized at that moment many loving and well-meaning people out of lack of understanding or ignorance struggle to address differences in people.

The word has been used over time to refer to a person on display and a spectacle. It has come to be used as a derogatory term to label and demean a population of people who are simply small.

To a person with dwarfism, the word “midget” can be as painful as someone using the R-word to describe a person with an intellectual disability. These words are derogatory because they label a group of individuals by their differences, typically in a negative light.

I am not my label. I’m a person who was born with achondroplasia. To call me a midget puts a label on me that denigrates my individual nature.

When talking about someone who is different from you, choose words that recognize and empower the individual instead of derogatory words that degrade or shame. If you’re worried and don’t know if what you’re saying could be offensive, it’s always OK to ask the individual.

Kate Braun with her husband

I have had many situations where people have asked me, “What is the best way to describe the condition you have?” I love these situations because it gives me an opportunity to help others understand more about my difference and shows they aren’t making assumptions.

It’s always appropriate to describe me as “a person who has dwarfism” or “someone who has achondroplasia.” Two words, which are oftentimes associated with my condition, are “dwarf” or “little person.” I don’t mind being described as a little person. It’s especially helpful for children because it helps them better understand that we are just smaller people.

It’s also accurate and acceptable to describe me as a person with dwarfism. However, to label me as a “dwarf” puts my condition ahead of my individuality and reinforces the physical difference. (Note: There are some people with dwarfism who aren’t offended if you would refer to them as dwarfs. But midget is fairly universally viewed as a negative label.)

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my perspective. If you hear someone using the word “midget,” I challenge you to speak up and educate others.

Follow this journey on kateandbraun.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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