By Charles Fernyhough (editor)

Writers celebrate the power of words to show us the world as others see it, raising funds for refugee and anti-hate charities.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Twelve Days of Others #6: 'What You're Looking At When You're Looking At Me' by Tom Shakespeare

It's the time of year when restricted growth people are on stage, but not in a good way, it seems to me. In 2005, I did my own one-man show, at Newcastle’s Live Theatre, and talked about all the ways in which inheritance has marked my life. Here’s an extract, looking at what you’re looking at when you look at me.

Being a dwarf isn’t a big problem. It’s not a degenerative illness. You don’t drown in a lungful of phlegm, your muscles don’t waste away, your skin doesn’t fall off, you don’t eat your own fingers. Having restricted growth doesn’t affect the brain. It doesn’t stop you leading a normal life, it doesn’t stop you getting it up. Dwarfism is at the easy end of the spectrum of disability, the place where physical difference becomes just another variation, not a heart-breaking medical tragedy.

Of course, having achondroplasia does limit your possibilities. Evolution designed the human spine and the human limbs rather differently, and this version doesn’t work as well. If your bones turn out like mine, you won’t be able to walk very far, or stand very long because of pressure on the spinal cord. Inevitably you will suffer back pain, and quite possibly you will end up in a wheelchair. You won’t have to do national service, but nor will you be able to play for the first eleven. Or any eleven, come to that, or fifteen, or eight. You can be the scorer, or you can be the cox, or if you can’t count and you can’t steer, you can be the spectator.

The real pain in the arse is the reaction of others. Wherever you go, you face a wall of stares. As you walk past, you hear the conversations stop and heads turn. Children look dumbfounded, ask their parents questions, burst out laughing, point and stare.  

I’m that funny man, that silly man, that little man, how old am I, why I am so small, am I a child or am I a man, look, look, look, quick, quick, quick. 

Being small is not something you get over. You don’t wake up every morning feeling different, but you are reminded every time you leave the house. Children may not know any better, but adults do.  

You say I'm a midget, a Mekon, a mutant, a munchkin, a goblin, a dwarf, a short arse, a half pint, an Oompa-Loompa, Mini-Me. You tell me I’m cute, I’m sweet, I’m brave, I’m special, I’m amazing, I’m unforgettable, you know someone just like me, I’m related to every other dwarf in the world, of course I must know them. We all look just the same. We’ve met before, no we definitely have, didn’t you use to work in the DHSS? I don’t mean to be funny, but… If you prick us do we not bleed?

Tom Shakespeare

Tom will be contributing a new piece to Others, an anthology celebrating how writers and writing can help us to see the world from other points of view. Read more from our contributors (including the rest of the Twelve Days of Others sequence) here. Please pledge your support now, and help us to raise funds against hatred. 

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