I remember the day I learned I was short.
Let me back up. My height and weight were never things I thought about or considered. I was just me, in a me-shaped package. I moved through the world more concerned about what I thought and felt than what my body did or didn’t do. Thoughtless about anything other than thoughts is a good way to put it. Some people I had to look up to meet their eyes; others I had to look down to—but I did not keep a running tally of how many of each.
When I was a kid, and my mom would take me clothes shopping, I paid no attention to the sizes. I particularly did not stop to consider the array of sizes that were available. I’d pick out something I liked, and mom would then go find it in a size that would fit me. I let her do that stuff because she was Mom. I’d try clothes on, and she would ask, “does it fit? Is it comfortable?” and I would almost always answer “yes” regardless of how they felt on my body because they were on my body. As long as I could close the fasteners around the meat that stored my brain, I was good. “Fit” never bothered me, for good or bad.
I do remember, as I advanced through my teenage years, that mom would fret about the day when I grew taller than her. That was a milestone. My sister, a year older, passed that point before I did. And, of course, eventually, that day came and went. I noticed it, laughed a bit about it, but she was still Mom, and I was still just a Brian-sized skeleton and frame with Me, the important part, riding around between the ears. In the broader context of the world of humanity and the value judgment of “short” or “tall” or “thin” or “fat,” I was an outsider; not necessarily an outlier so much as an exception. This whole thought process was me manifesting my Straight White Cis Dude privilege. I was Special. My gender allowed me the space to give zero thought to the volume my Me occupied.
I retained this level of dissociation from my physical self until my late 20s, a fact that I just had to do the math on, and which I now find difficult to believe. I am astonished that I was unconscious.
The moment that all changed is something I will remember, however, for the rest of my life. I was sitting in my bedroom, in front of my computer, sometime in 1993. My computer was connected, via dial-up modem, to a bulletin board system (BBS) called, and I swear I am not making this up, “The Heartbeat of Portland,” which was run by a guy out of his home in SE Portland. I only knew the owner by the name Cuda, even though I had met him in person. The people I was chatting with were Jewel and Highlander. My handle on the board was Lunar because of
Without getting into the social dynamic at play too much, Jewel was the sweetheart of the BBS; flirty, funny, optimistic and charming, and Highlander was the guy she flirted with the most, so the rest of the board considered the two of them to be the unofficial Queen and King. Even Cuda, actually, and he paid the bills for all the phone lines required to keep us all chatting.
I was having some fun and playing along and joking with My Queen and King, and trying to find out more about these characters I only knew as words on a screen. This time was a much more innocent one, the community on the BBS was tight-knit, and there were very few topics we could not discuss, and so we all felt no anxiety talking about the presidential election of the prior year. Highlander had voted for Bill Clinton, Jewel liked Clinton but wasn’t convinced.
I mentioned I had voted for this Ross Perot guy (I was always an independent thinker). At the time, I didn’t really understand or empathize with the needs of the working class or the underclass, as I do now, so don’t make me defend my choice. I think I had reacted to Perot’s outsider nature, and his charming directness, much more than his policies.
When I mentioned Perot, Highlander LOL’ed (we only had
I considered what he was saying, but it didn’t follow. “What does his height have to do with anything?” I asked. Recalling the moment now, I can feel the cold, detached, scientific curiosity of my past self. Need more input, does not compute.
Highlander: He’s short.
Me: He’s as tall as I am.
Highlander: How tall are you?
Me: 5′ 6″
Highlander: That’s short!
…was it? Am I? I scoffed at the idea, and the conversation continued. Highlander explained that he was 5′ 11″, and Jewel laughed at him and teased him for not being a full 6′ tall. And I played along, but after the conversation wound down and I disconnected, my mind reached back and put a bunch more scenes into context, movie montage style.
Being at a family reunion with my many uncles and aunts from my mom’s side of the family as a teenager, and being eye-level with most of my mom’s brothers, but having to look up at most of the uncles who had married into the family. Oh. I had inherited my height. Shortness ran in the family. (Having never met my dad’s side of the family, with the lone exception of meeting his father when I was very young, I didn’t have any of them to compare me to. Dad, however, wasn’t that much taller than most of my maternal-side uncles.)
Standing in a store with my friend Dennis and having the shopkeeper laugh at us and call us “Laurel and Hardy.” Oh. Yeah, I guess Dennis was tall and thin, and I was… not as tall and not as thin as he was. Did that mean I was short? Is that what that meant?
Was mom’s fretting about me growing taller than her worry about growing old? Or was it something more: socially-informed anxiety about being short?
It didn’t take long, maybe a day or two, for me to incorporate this new belief into my worldview, however. It still didn’t bother me, most of the time.
No, that being bothered by it came later, although it has always been mild for me. I believe that had I been, through genetics or whatever else controls height, I would have become a different person—I would have developed a personality other than the one I have now. Maybe I would have been less sensitive, less introverted, less thought-focused, and more physical-focused.
That is an experiment we can’t run, and I can quickly think of dozens of examples of tall but shy men, so I can’t even entertain the idea seriously. I am who I am. There’s no changing that now.