When Gym-Goers Said Inviting a Dwarf to a Party Would Be ‘Hilarious’
It’s a Monday evening and I’m at the gym, quéll surprise! It’s my home away from home — I feel welcomed there, like we are a family. A crazy, back-talking, punch-face-playing, dance-off-competing family. I like that about a small gym.
As I’m walking over to the cubby holes where we store all of our huge bags of gear, two of the guys, who are regulars, are trying to get my attention.
“Jenn! Jenn! Come here, we have a question for you,” shouts one of the men as he motions me over towards both of them.
“S’uuuup,” I drawl in my lax, boxing-gym-friendly tone.
“Jenn, we have this friend,” he begins.
“Yeah…” I respond hesitantly.
“And he’s getting married.”
“And we wanted to throw him a bachelor party.”
“Good for you,” I deadpan.
“But he’s, like, really big. Huge guy. I mean huge guy.”
“Your point being?” I now know where this is going.
“We thought it would be hilarious if we hired a guy, a midget –”
“Dwarf,” I interject.
“Yeah yeah, midget –” he continues.
“Dwarf or little person, please,“ I interject again.
“Yeah yeah, dwarf, midget….to come to the party and hang out. Wouldn’t that be hilarious?”
“I would die laughing,” the other one chimes in.
“How do we do that?” he asks me excitedly.
“Um, well, first, no. I don’t think it’s hilarious. And second, there are individuals with dwarfism who do that sort of thing, so, I’m sure if you searched the internet you could find that.”
The other one posits the question, “Dude, Jenn, why don’t you do that!? You’d be great at it!”
I respond, “I have a brain and a job that pays me to use that brain and I’d prefer to do that than exploit myself and get paid to be laughed at.”
They went on to explain that the reason they wanted my point of view is because in their group meeting at church (yes, church) one of the other members, who is a teacher with a little girl with achondroplasia in her class, found what they were suggesting to be offensive. They wanted me to assure them that she was overreacting. Quite the opposite. I applauded her for standing up against stereotypical acts and I stated, “She’s right. It’s hurtful to a group of people to make fun of them because of a genetic condition, in this case dwarfism.“
This is where the conversation ended and at that point I walked away to change into my gym clothes. Later on that day I still was ruminating about our conversation. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I gathered together a bunch of articles and websites and sent an email to these two in hopes of making a difference and showing them what it is like to try and overcome a stereotype.
Before this disconcerting interaction, I had thought to myself, “I think they have been able to accept my dwarfism.” That they respected me and saw me as their equal. I had taken the extra time to prove myself by trying to being a good example and share with them some personal stories in the hopes of creating an empathetic bond. In short, I let these people in. And that is a hard thing to do when every day those of us with dwarfism have to guard ourselves against the general crap that is thrust on us.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Not all of them respect me, and some of them may never. Some may never respect me because they just can’t get past the dwarfism. And thinking about that is upsetting. I am a walking, talking, living, breathing, teaching entity. I can’t escape the stares, the questions, the constant observation of my every move. Having dwarfism will always put me in the front of the group, begging questions from everyone staring at me: “How did she get that way?” “Look at her on her own, how inspiring!” “What type of ‘disorder’ does she have?” “Is she smart?” “How does she drive?” “OMG! I’m going to video her and upload it on the Internet!” “I wonder if she knows Peter Dinklage?” (I wish!)
When an average person walks into a room, most people don’t have any predetermined thoughts about them. They simply just walked into a room and that is all. But when those of us with dwarfism walk into a room, generalizations tend to flourish and we become the characterization of our observers’ previous exposure to someone with dwarfism. So if the exposure was good, then we get that same good perception. But if the exposure was bad, we embody those negative examples associated with our stature and are treated in the same way. That is a hard concept to accept and even more difficult to experience. Society is slowly changing and is starting to recognize the individuality of people despite their similarities within a minority.
The next day at the gym one of the men was there and told me he got the email I sent and that there were some really great articles in there. Awkward silence dotted our conversation. I was waiting to see if anything had clicked. I don’t know if anything made sense to him or if any of it made a personal impact on him and how he treats others who look different than him. Maybe yes. Maybe no. But the seed was planted.
They know how I feel, and how others in the community feel. They know where we are coming from. I can’t change them. Only they can choose to make that change for themselves. I have said before, “Things are changing, advocacy is working,“ and while that is absolutely true, we still do run into setbacks, and that’s OK. All I can do is give them my point of view and hope they decide to make that change for themselves.
Follow this journey on Psh, Totally.
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