I am 5′ 11 1/2″ tall without shoes. But since you’re probably not going to see me without shoes, I usually just say I’m six feet even. When I’m sitting, I look even taller, about 6′ 3″, because I am all torso with short legs.

In other words, I’m tall — taller than the typical American male. Not that you would know it from talking with other men; on average, they overestimate their own height by two inches (per a study by OkCupid; all apologies for the bisexual erasure at the end.) It goes without saying that I’m a good deal taller than the average American woman.

The strange thing is that I rarely think of myself as tall. Through much of my childhood, I was one of the shortest kids in class. At least, that’s my memory; my sixth-grade class picture places me in the bottom third — short but not the shortest. Genetics and puberty were kind and I eventually caught up, but for whatever reason, the belief that I’m short is lodged in my subconscious.

My brain conflates the notions of who I was with who I am. Once I cowered in the shadows of towering bullies. Today, I’m easily mistaken for the bully. I’ve learned that I need to say “excuse me” as I come up behind a woman on the sidewalk so that I won’t be mistaken for a silent, lurking predator. It took me a long time to realize I had to do that, that my bulk does not properly translate my meekness and pacifism. It disturbs me that I live in a world where I need to do this.

I forget, too, that my height privileges me in the workplace. It’s not just that I’m the one everyone goes to when they want something pulled down from a high shelf. Statistically, earnings improve with height. Given that I’ve never been flush with cash, I’m forced to consider that my financial lot might have been even worse had my height genes not cooperated. It doesn’t make any sense, inasmuch as height has no bearing on intelligence or dexterity or any other workplace-friendly trait. It’s unfair, and I benefit from the unfairness.

But height doesn’t come up when the discussion turns to privilege, in spite of the research that suggests it should. And I’m stuck wondering why that is. We don’t see coalition-building around the rights of the short. Why not? I’ve known people of below-average height, particularly men, who have recounted all manner of discrimination that I can’t relate to.

I’m left perplexed as to the illogic and unfairness of my species, and wonder if we will ever do better.


Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He presently serves as nonfiction editor for Permafrost. His work has been published in The Rumpus, The Good Men Project, Apogee, Jonathan, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology, and elsewhere. A native of Indiana, he earned his BA in creative writing from Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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