A few months ago, I wrote a post for Love Your Body Day that struck some commenters as flaunting my own privilege. I discussed the matter with a few of those commenters outside of the comment section and thanked them for assuming that I had good intentions but for holding me accountable. Now, one of them, a woman named Emily Sanford Sullivan, has started her own blog. Emily has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism. She lives in Berlin, where she writes and speaks about disability and equality, and today, she brings us this guest post.
What’s easier? Sticking up for your own rights, or someone else’s? When you argue on behalf of a minority you don’t belong to, you risk saying something inaccurate, exposing someone who doesn’t want to be mentioned, and being accused of being a patronizing do-gooder addicted to the ego-boost. When you stick up for your own minority, you often wield more authority on the issues, but you risk being accused of self-pity and hearing that your rights aren’t of concern to anyone. Even when you know that it’s their problem, not yours, nothing feels so vulnerable as putting your own rights on the chopping block, especially as you bear in mind how those like you have been treated throughout most of human history.
And it’s the word vulnerable that surges through me whenever I see the word “dwarf tossing.” I’ve seen it a lot ever since Peter Dinklage dedicated his Golden Globe award to Martin Henderson last month.
How serious is the issue he’s drawn attention to? Let’s forget the social, psychological and moral implications for one minute and focus on the health risks. Being picked up and thrown for the purpose of reaching the greatest possible distance isn’t simply dangerous for anyone, it’s especially dangerous for people with dwarfism. Because of the narrow spinal column, individuals with achondroplasia are more prone to paralysis than the average individual, which is why I was never allowed to do somersaults, head-stands, play on trampolines or participate in contact sports or gymnastics as a kid. Using only people with dwarfism in a throwing competition is like using only people with allergies to work with bees.
While my husband still has a hard time believing that dwarf tossing is in fact much more than an offensive locker room joke, Republican state representative Ritch Workman of Florida has recently introduced legislation to re-legalize dwarf tossing to stimulate the economy. He argues that it’s a prime example of government regulations preventing job creation. This in the wake of empirical research predicting that same-sex weddings—and divorces—will provide the spending spree we’ve been waiting for. That such politicians would rather see humans treated as objects than two guys promising to love each other speaks volumes to their humanity.
I don’t like to think a full-blown assault on a protesting victim like Martin Henderson is what it takes for some to consider dwarf tossing horrific, but it’s a circus freak show that’s been thriving for years in the culture of sports bars and Spring Break. Dwarf tossing is apparently so popular in New Zealand that the makers of The Lord of the Rings included a joke about it, and then discussed in the DVD commentary their surprise at discovering many foreign audiences didn’t get the reference. I spent most of my youth trying to avoid these scenes as best I could. During my senior year at Bard, the college newspaper asked students what sports should be included if we were ever to host the Olympics. Dwarf tossing was the suggestion of one student who signed his name to it, undoubtedly in an attempt to give a wry answer to a wry question. But at an über leftist college full of hippies that prided itself on its intolerance for intolerance, would the newspaper have published the answer if the word “dwarf” were replaced with the name of an ethnic, sexual or gender minority?
I in no way intend to insinuate that people with dwarfism “have it worse” than other minorities. Nothing could be more unproductive, inaccurate and offensive. Sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and racism are not only immense problems around the world, but they were far more prevalent at Bard than anyone wanted to admit. But shaming those unwilling to shed their xenophobia into adopting more covert tactics is indicative of at least the minority’s visibility. The newspaper’s decision to publish underscored that the invisibility of dwarfism as a social issue at my school. Invisibility has both its advantages and its disadvantages.
Even though I was promoting a film and a book about dwarfism to which I had contributed, I didn’t write to the newspaper because I didn’t like reminding myself of such adversity in a place I loved so much. I was the only representative of my minority and my initial openness had resulted over the years in both loving support and more ableism than I’d ever experienced before. (A distant acquaintance referred to me as “Dwarf Emily” behind my back to distinguish me from another, while cruel jokes made by those I had considered closer to me will go unspecified because they remain unresolved.) Since then, the experiences with ableism have continued to increase into adulthood, evolving from jokes into serious arguments about society, while my inaction regarding the newspaper haunts me.
Peter Dinklage is heroic not just for selflessly dedicating his Golden Globe award to Martin Henderson, but for drawing attention to his own vulnerability in his moment of victory.