How to Take Charge of Those Uncomfortable Moments When You’re Compared to a Porn Star

‘Noooooo!’ I mentally yelled in slow-motion.

I imagined my arms stretched out in front of me, palms outward, pushing against the air … pushing him away.

This young man was finishing one of the oddest comments a stranger had laid on me in a long time.

“…I’ve watched Bridget the Midget porn. You know, out of curiosity.”

As an adult who’s 3 ½ feet tall, I get a lot of comments that cross the line and this certainly did.  In fact, this comment and the awkward conversation that ensued might fall into the Top Ten.

“Bridget the Midget” has an active and robust career in her chosen field. But comparing me to a porn star because we have similar disabilities is like saying all blondes are dumb. This kind of objectifying is why I give talks, write blog posts and agitate decision-makers about disability issues.

But let me back up

As an outspoken activist on disabilities, I often get asked to speak to groups of people, typically students, about having a disability and how it affects my life.

Having lived as a “Little Person” all my life, if there’s anything I’m an expert in, that’s it.

So, last fall I spoke to a group of college students in a class called “Adults with Disabilities.”

I was one of two guest speakers and when it was my turn, I talked about inaccurate assumptions people make about me – for instance, people don’t believe I drive a car, have a job or want kids.

My size sets me a part from the “norm”. What sets you a part?

 

They ask about adaptations I’ve made to operate in a world created for much taller people.

I use hand controls in my car, stepstools all over my house and lowered closet shelves.

And generally, I share a few interesting stories about existing in this body of mine.

 

 

Although the details vary from talk to talk, I target a few specific, important things each time I speak.

For one, I try to show that I’m a full human being – certainly influenced by my disability but also more than just my disability. For example I do love my job and yes, most days I want kids.

I let my audience know that I’m not ashamed of it, nor would I change it. In fact, I always talk about how profoundly grateful I am for the perspective my disability gives me.

The other important thing I try to do each time is politicize my experience by helping others understand the systems that oppress those with disabilities and how we can change these systems.

There’s a vibrant disability rights movement – but it’s not as well known yet as other movements for equality like the Civil Rights or LGBT rights movement.

Hence my eagerness to give talks, write blog posts, and agitate decision-makers about disability issues.

I keep an upbeat attitude during my talks, which is probably how one evening, while talking to a college class, I happened to mention that one of the pros of having an obvious disability like mine is that shallow men never even waste my time.

“I weed them out from the get-go!” I quipped.

Everyone chuckled. It was a passing comment … but apparently it made an impact.

 

Sucked down the rabbit hole

The next night, I went with my partner, Ryan, to a local bar to watch the Tigers. As soon as I rolled in in my wheelchair, the woman behind the bar chirped, “Hey! You spoke to my class last night””

“That was me!” I said and smiled, turning to see yet another familiar face.

“Hey, you spoke to my class last night!” This time it was a fit, clean-cut, guy in his mid-twenties, who I remembered from my talk as he had sit in the front row and attentively nodded at everything I said. He seemed quite studious.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said in class last night,” he began thoughtfully (See? Very studious).

He continued, “I really appreciate how you were so funny about everything. You have a good personality for talking about this stuff.”

“Thanks! It’s fun and important. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

He then introduced me to his two buddies, also studying physical therapy. He told them about how I’d explained in class that I didn’t have a femur (thigh) bone or knee, just lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) fused together.

The buddies added, “We just took anatomy last semester. This is cool to hear.”

Taken-for-granted-weirdness aside (yes, I was in a bar talking to strangers about my bones. Weirder things have happened) everyone was perfectly pleasant, but then the conversation took a left turn.

Not coincidently, this was also the beginning of my suspicion that these were maybe serious students but for sure drunk college guys.

The attentive student from the night before said “I know this is weird to say …”

Weird? This is where time slows down in my head.

Usually when someone gives me that warning and we’re talking about disability, they’re not kidding!

He continued, “I was thinking about what you said about shallow guys not ever hitting on you?”

Before I had time to panic he said, “You’re right. We wouldn’t.”

I know that sounds like a total insult, right? But, actually, the way he said it wasn’t a dis. His tone and expression actually conveyed more “I’m so busted!” than “you’re so gross.”

All I could do was laugh.

Amazingly, he went on. “I mean, when I go to the bar, I’m not looking for a relationship, I’m looking for a hook- up.”

Hmmm, interesting rationale on many fronts, dude.

“You know,” I chimed in, “you can hook-up with a girl with a disability.”

Since when am I the bar hook-up promoter?

(By the way, another friend who uses a wheelchair pointed out later, “And how does he know we’re not headed to the bar for a hook-up?” )

Good point, girlfriend.

 

The fine line between being ignorant and being a pervert

Anyway, this guy was on a roll, “You know, I’m not going to lie…”

Ok, wait for it … “I’ve watched Bridget the Midget porn. You know, out of curiosity.”

Again, his tone wasn’t lecherous; he seemed matter of fact.

Either way, I would love to have seen my face at that moment. Unfortunately, Ryan was a few feet away talking to a friend and missed the whole thing.

There was so much hurdling through my brain …

  • Where’s the line between respectfulness and honesty?
  • Did he even know what was out of line and inappropriate?
  • As a man and as an able-bodied person, why wasn’t he able to make the connection between what he says and whether it’d make me feel uncomfortable, unsafe, insulted?

In other words, he essentially admitted to having participated in objectifying people like me (in lumping me in with Bridget the midget because we have the same body type).  And then felt totally fine telling me about it.

And should I feel embarrassed that I don’t know Bridget?

What to do in this awkward moment?

I pulled a Dessa. I made a joke and rolled away. “Yeah, I figure if I ever lose my job doing political leadership trainings I’ll always have a back up career.”

It makes me wonder if I accomplished my goals when speaking to this young man’s class. Did I succeed in showing my full humanity?

Or am I now free to be objectified with all the other women?

And did I politicize my struggle?

Or did I just give up my job in politics to be a porn star?

Dessa

About Dessa

Originally a Southerner, Dessa loves the charm and hospitality of Detroit. Dessa is a proud Little Person, using her disability to challenge, endear, and cut lines at amusement parks. Training community organizers by day and earning her Masters of Social Justice after hours, Dessa loves shifting paradigms, breaking glass ceilings, and honoring the Feminine Divine. Click here to read more about Dessa

, , ,

5 Responses to How to Take Charge of Those Uncomfortable Moments When You’re Compared to a Porn Star