Annabelle has been a new fixture in my life for some time. She was one of the first commenters on this blog and has not left. An ardent defender, a gentle corrector, and someone I have learned a lot from. She asked to write a blog after my last guest blogger did such an amazing job. I had honestly been hoping this day would come. So, it is with great honor that I introduce “A Little Problem” by Annabelle Larousse.
A Little Problem
There’s a certain issue I’ve had in my life from the very beginning. I’ve never spoken out about it—until now, and I’d like to thank Pat for giving me the opportunity to do so. Time to have my say, get it off my chest once and for all and have done with it.
What decided me to at long last speak out was this remark I saw recently in reference to Jeff Sessions:
I have less respect for him than his demure height.
Now if someone were to say in reference to Carly Fiorina, “I have less respect for her than that face of hers,” everybody would immediately spot the problem. We’re onto comments about people’s looks. Yet when a comment refers to someone’s size, it passes unnoticed. In fact, on the forum in question no one called the poster down for that remark. (And let me say here this is in no way anything personal against the poster. I’ve seen enough of his posts to know that he’s a fine person. We all have our bad moments, that’s all.)
You have to wonder about the purpose of the remark, though. What exactly does Jeff Sessions’ height (which I find listed as 5’4”) have to do with anything? No more than someone’s looks have anything to do with their political views. There’s lots of things you can say about Sessions—and I don’t know of one good thing myself—so is it really necessary to bring up his height? Would he be more respectable if he were taller? Would any individual automatically be more respectable if they were taller? Donald Trump is listed as 6’3”. When some day Trump is summed up as a human being, will his height be considered a significant factor?
Some readers may at this point suspect that I myself have a stake in this game. Indeed I do. I had a good growth spurt during my teens that got me up to a towering 5’3” (one notch below Sessions) and there I’ve remained. Perhaps we transgender people, given that so many of us experience life in both genders at one time or another, might be in a position to offer a unique perspective on this question of size. But it’s clearly a question for lots of people besides us.
What exactly does it entail being a “wrong-sized person”? Naturally there will be the expected practical concerns—e.g., buying clothes. Anyone who’s seriously outside the norm will know that problem well. It’s one that many transpeople have to face. If male clothing is made to fit you, more than likely female clothing won’t be. Or if female clothing suits you, you may run into difficulties looking for men’s stuff.
My situation in this regard has proven to be a bit odd, meaning that lots of transpeople would envy me. It’s been one of the great ironies of my life that it’s always been handier for me to find women’s clothing that fits than men’s. On one of our transgender forums my signature for a while was, “Designed and engineered to cross-dress!” I don’t know how much of my life I spent clunking around in shoes that were a size or two too big for me, but my first forays into women’s shoe shops were a true revelation. All of a sudden a world of choice was open to me. All sorts and styles of shoes everywhere that actually fit! Also, the first time I tried on a pair of ladies’ slacks, I found to my astonishment that they fit perfectly. No need for any adjustments anywhere. I sighed deep within me: “I really should have been a woman.”
When it comes to being the wrong size, there are other broader concerns. When, e.g., there’s a social convention that of a couple the man must be taller than the woman, that can be a problem for the tall woman or the small man. Their range of potential partners is seriously restricted. It depends on how open people are to ignoring a sometimes inconvenient convention—and perhaps these days lots of people would be.
You can decide for yourself whether such concerns qualify as “genuine complaints” or “injustices”. Sometimes in life things simply are what they are, and you just have to take them as they are. No point in grumbling, you have to get on with it and make of it what you can.
But there’s more to the question of size than this. Being the wrong size, as people generally see it, carries all sorts of baggage along with it. In childhood of course it can lead to a lot of name-calling and ridicule—though for me personally I’d say that was a relatively minor problem. That part of my life is but a dim memory now. When it comes to childhood bullying, whatever the reasons for it, people’s experience can vary tremendously, as can its lasting effect on their lives.
But one problem I have with this sort of bullying is that it doesn’t stop with childhood. It’s a life-time thing. Far too many adults never get beyond this point. As the above quote shows, you can be past 60 and you’re still being linked with the likes of Jeff Sessions. Why do we have to drag small people into this? What is it about being small (or being tall, for that matter) that merits disrespect? No one would seriously claim that one’s size has anything to do with their character—except perhaps for a university professor (a committed feminist and champion of liberal causes) who openly declared in her class, “Never trust a little man.” Come to think of it, that’s one you will hear from time to time.
Or you can read a letter to the editor of a newspaper in which the writer, a man 5’7” tall, declares that he would willingly sacrifice some of his intelligence rather than lose a few inches. This is an amazing confession. Because what is it that we humans boast of most when we compare ourselves to other animals? Our superior intelligence. Yet here is someone who rates size above intelligence, meaning that he rates size above his very humanity. Perhaps he’d be happier as a gorilla. But as a small person yourself, you’re disappointed with this view of size v. humanity.Now we all know what disrespect is. It’s something we all get from time to time. But we need to recognize that disrespect can have some very hard consequences. E.g., if you’re in a quarrel with a man, depending on what sort of man he is, the rights and the wrongs of the issue may never come into it. He’ll solemnly promise to stand you on your head, and you’ve got no come-back to that. Even a child will feel free to insult you. If she’s an awful child with an awful father who has the size to back her up no matter what she does, then she’s free to treat you, and lots of your neighbors, any way she wants because she knows there’s nothing you can do about it.
I might also remark in passing that a preoccupation with size is possibly a cultural thing. I myself have lived in four different countries. My long experience of Ireland would lead me to rate the country as fairly good in this respect. I recall no particular issues in France or Kenya. Far and away the most numerous and worst experiences I had in this regard were in the USA. In that country size is important, and it’s not just the men, it’s the women as well who will let you know that. The message I often got during my years in the States was, “You’re not really a man, but you’ve got to pretend to be one anyway.” Back then, you see, being transgender, at least for me, simply wasn’t an option.
People have different ways of attacking you. Some of them are positively vicious, directly lethal. Some of them are more insinuating, and those who are subject to them know how wearisome it gets. It wears you down bit by bit. What we’re really talking about on this score, the constant harping on size that some of us have heard, is just plain stupidity. You wish that people would finally get tired of it once and for all and find something else to do. And every one of them who has something to say to you seems to think that he’s being truly original, like nobody’s ever thought of that before. What annoys me most about idiots is that they seem so eager to prove to everyone that they’re idiots. Most of us, when we do something stupid (like I did yesterday), are embarrassed and apologetic about it. But idiots want to make sure you know all about their idiocy. It’s just part of being an idiot, and they never seem to get tired of it.
This question of size can have very hard consequences for transgender people. Lots (not all) of transpeople work hard at “the art of being inconspicuous”. It’s a question of survival. You want to fly under the radar, to blend in with the crowd so as to draw no attention to yourself because you never know what sort of person you’ll be dealing with if you do. Size, however, is one factor that can make it well-nigh impossible for you to blend in.
I feel certain that my size on the other hand is often a great help to me as a transgender person—when, e.g., I make that dreaded trip to the restroom. It’s happened so many times, when I walk into the ladies’ room, that one or two patrons might glance my way and then immediately forget about me. Because they’ve seen nothing untoward. They’ve seen what they would expect to see, and they think nothing of it.
I had been out, living as my true self, for a few months when all of a sudden I realized how relaxed I was. Because when I came out, I got two for the price of one. I wasn’t now just living in the correct gender. I was also living in the correct size. I’m still a bit below average height, but not enough to make any real difference. (I was surprised recently to learn that the average American woman was only 5’4”. I would have thought it was more than that.) You cannot imagine the pleasure, when you encounter it for the first time in your life, of being average, of being unremarkable, of being like everybody else around you. In this world there are rewards for being average, for being the same as everybody else.
For me one of those rewards was that I could like myself. Being small in itself is no real problem. True, sometimes you can’t reach something overhead, but there’s always a chair to stand on or somebody else to get it for you. Or if you’re thinking of an occupation that requires some size and strength, you might want to think about another one. But I personally have never had any problem with being small. It’s just a part of what I am, like my red hair and blue eyes and corrosive tongue. As you love yourself, you love what you are, and this is what I am. But then there are people who work so hard to make you dislike what you are. Now that pressure’s off. It’s OK to be me, it’s OK to be what I am. Offer me a few extra inches, I wouldn’t take them. I’m fine as I am. I always have been.
Donald Trump has said a lot of things, and he’s been called down for a lot of them, and one of his most lamentable proclivities is his taste for the childish taunt: “Crooked Hillary” and “Low-energy Jeb” and “Lying Ted”. Another one was “Little Marco” (even though Rubio measures 5’10”). Now that our child-president has shown us so clearly what adult childishness is, maybe we’ll see that this instance of it is one more unfortunate trait that really should be put to rest for good. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
Annabelle Larousse grew up in Texas, then gratefully went out into the wider world when the time came. She’s made her home in Ireland for the last 30-odd years and enjoys the perspectives that “international living” can give you. Her main concerns at present are her son (a very fine lad) and transgender issues. Toiling away in the world of translation doesn’t prevent her from taking an interest in history, politics and literature. She doesn’t own a dog or cat, but is reasonably friendly to daddy longlegs.