LIFE IS SHORT AND SO AM I
Let's avoid those questions.
by: Courtney Simross
Hi, I'm Courtney. Hola, soy Courtney. Bonjour, something something Courtney.
Upon meeting someone for the first time, I am often asked a question along the lines of, "What do you call yourself?/ What names are offensive?/ How do I refer to someone with dwarfism?" While I can appreciate their honest curiosity and desire to avoid offending me in future conversations, the offense has already been done by this point. The problem with these types of questions is that they imply that I need to be labeled. I need to be defined. I need to be reminded, as well as remind everyone else, that I am different. From 19 years of experience, I know that these people are referring to the words little person, dwarf, and midget. I have been called any and all variations and combinations of all three, but that doesn't mean they are all welcomed. For those of you who thought they all carried the same meaning, please let me enlighten you for a moment.
Little person. This is the simplest of all 3. Literally, a small person. I stand at only 4'2" and am therefore... little! I also eat, sleep, breathe, love, complain, and will eventually die, hence... person! I take no offense when referenced as a little person, and use it most often when describing my friends who are little like me as well, usually with the acronym LP. On the contrary, AP refers to average people. Expect to find both of these used in future posts.
Dwarf. As defined by Merriam-Webster, a dwarf is a "person of usually small stature who's body proportions are abnormal." The 3rd definition reads, "a small legendary manlike being who is usually misshapen and ugly and skilled as a craftsman." Recently, AP's (Did you forget already? Average people!) have increasingly found difficulty in wrapping their heads around this word for that very reason. If you're not familiar with dwarfism, your only experiences with this word probably involve Sneezy, Bashful, Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Sleepy, or Dopey. (Just a simple Google image search of the word "dwarf" will confirm this; it takes some serious scrolling to find an actual human. Ironically, the first one I saw was the man who was paralyzed by 'dwarf tossing.' Yup, it's real. More to come in a later post.) I've been told there are dwarfs in Lord of the Rings, but that's still not enough motivation to sit through 345380495834 hours of those movies to find out for sure. But anyways, I can understand why some people don't feel comfortable calling me a dwarf. They don't want to compare me to creatures that exist in fairytales and magical lands far, far away. While that is very considerate, I cannot deny the ties that I have to that word. It is on my permanent medical record. I am an Achondroplastic dwarf, and nothing that even the most talented and educated doctor could ever do would change that. Besides, I don't really see myself as an ugly and misshapen craftsman anyways.
Midget. Heeeeeeereeeee we go. I'll try to keep this short (lololol) because this topic will SURELY fuel topics of many other posts. Back in the day, this word was truly meant to be used to describe small things. One of the most common references was to the sand fly. If someone hadn't come along and ruin it for the dwarf community, this word would maybe still be accepted with equal weight of little person or dwarf. But no. Some asshole had to tie it to circus freak shows. I don't even remember his name, and I don't really care to. He was probably one of those people who doesn't use turn signals either. Anyways, this is where the negative connotation evolved. Although circus freak shows are less common today, that word still has the power to make me feel as worthless as an ugly and misshapen, manlike being who dances for the entertainment of circus audiences. I truly understand that most people who use this word do not understand its connotation, but that does not in any way make it hurt less. When I find myself in an awkward situation or with not enough time to explain what you just read, I tell people "It's like calling an African-American person the N-word." Please, please pass this on to anyone you know that may not understand the truth behind using this word to reference or speak to a person with dwarfism.
Here's when things get tricky. All dwarfs are little people. But not all little people are dwarfs. Neither little people nor dwarfs are midgets- actually, that word just isn't used at all.
But do you know what's less tricky? Referring to me as the person I truly am. Courtney. Daughter. Sister. Niece. Cousin. Best friend. Neighbor. Student. Nanny. Babysitter. Computer lab assistant.
One day I'll have more names. Girlfriend. College graduate. Fiancé. Wife. Aunt. Mother. Colleague. Speech therapist. Grandma (yikes!). One of those awesome grandmas, no doubt.