No, it's not OK to say you're afraid of me because I have dwarfism
Every morning when I was a young teen, my homeschool teacher would turn on The Rosie O'Donnell Show. At the time, Rosie was the Queen of Nice, and she proudly displayed tiny figurines sent in by kids all over the country on her on-set desk. During this time, I was going through a painful bone lengthening procedure in order to become more independent, and Rosie's show helped me look forward to tomorrow.
My teacher made a deal: Learn the art of writing formal letters and we'll write into Rosie's show. She even picked up a small Winnie-the-Pooh figure at the Disney Store to include. His little yellow paw reached for a blue butterfly, and after sending in my letter, I faithfully reached for the remote at 10 a.m., wide-eyed and hopeful that Rosie would mention my gift as she had done for others.
She never did.
Over a decade later, my memoir, Dwarf: A Memoir of How One Woman Fought for a Body — and a Life — She Was Never Supposed to Have, was published. And in the news at the time was O'Donnell... joking about the fear she had of little people.
I wondered: Did she ever read my letter? Did she read I had a rare form of dwarfism called diastrophic dysplasia and break out into hysterics? Did she just ignore the love and admiration I had for her show? And what about the Pooh Bear I had sent? Did she throw him out, because he never made it to her desk?
I was heartbroken.
It was also the first time I had ever heard of someone professing a fear of dwarfism. The second time I heard about this phobia happened mere weeks ago.
You know that instinctual gut feeling a woman can get about another woman? That feeling that they just don't like you? Louis and my husband served in Iraq together and were roommates in the infantry. But I had this overwhelming feeling about his fiancée, and I couldn't understand why. I had met her only once. Louis was super excited to introduce her. It was like bringing The One home to meet the family, because that's who he is: family. An uncle to our boys and a man we could never see ourselves without.
When he came over to pick up the newborn baby items I had saved for him, as he is anxiously awaiting the birth of his first child, I knew I needed to share my feeling.
"What makes you think that?" he asked.
It's because every time I asked her to come over, join our family or partake in an event, Louis showed up solo. It was because "she was suddenly called into work," but on Facebook would be out doing pageant things with her pageant daughter. It was because every time she called Louis and he was at our house, she needed to hang up the phone. It was also because of ridiculous petty things I overanalyzed, like sending me their wedding invitation without a response, reception or directions card enclosed. It was as if to say, Hey, we're getting married. I want you to come, but not really.
Finally, he said it: "Yeah... She just has trouble with the height thing."
"The height thing?"
"She has her moments. She just doesn't know how to deal with little people. They scare her."
My mouth dropped. Sweet Baby J., she's fucking afraid of me! In a valiant attempt to make me feel better, he said she also had issues with a teacher at her daughter's school who also had dwarfism. Hearing his words hurt me so much more than watching, day by day, as Rosie's desk hosted everything but my Winnie-the-Pooh.
I had to do research.
As it turn out, the phobia is called achondroplasiaphobia. It also goes by nanosophobia or lollypopguildophobia. The fear originates from a negative or traumatic experience with someone who has dwarfism. Lindsay Lohan is said to suffer from it, but we won't get into that. Symptoms range from severe anxiety, crying, screaming hysterically, dry mouth, shaking and avoiding places where a little person may be: a casino, a circus, a fair or my house.
Think this can't get any more ridiculous (because it is ridiculous and childish that any educated adult would be afraid of another's disability)? Some apparently even believe little people are from outer space and possess magical powers.
I can hear the comments mounting up — Tiffanie, how dare you dictate what an acceptable fear is! Tiffanie, you insensitive woman, the poor girl can't help what she's afraid of. But consider this: Would it be alright for someone to say they have a fear of those with autism? How about cancer? What about (I'll go there) someone who is black? No, of course not! So, why is dwarfism any different? It's not.
There is nothing OK about this absurd phobia, nor is it OK that society seems to give people a pass when they come out with it.
I could have been snarky and warn Louis's fiancée (as my close friends told me to do) that coming into close contact may cause her to shrink. I could say I named my son Titan, because he, too, has supernatural powers and when he matures will destroy all those of average height. I could go one step further with her and retort that I suffer from cacomorphobia, the fear of those who are overweight. But I wanted to be the bigger person. I'm used to questions about my condition. So, I wanted the ordeal to be a great teaching moment. But, it would do no good. Denial is a handicap of its own.
In the end, I attended their wedding anyway... even though my husband was deployed and couldn't attend with me.
I went for Louis. I went because I was invited. And even though she said not two words to me, I had a great time, because I remembered what my mom taught me: Everyone has issues. Some you see. Some you don't.