There have been several good pieces this week about how to cover the Caitlyn Jenner story and because Ms. Jenner is 6-foot-2, I offer How to Talk and Write About Tall People:
1. Before you write anything, ask yourself: Are you tall? If not, do you at least know some tall people well? If the answer is again no, then will you at least be consulting people who have actual experience with being tall? Or are you just going to write about how this one time, when you were a child, you stood on a chair for five minutes but realized it wasn’t for you and never looked up again?
Will you conclude this chair story by noting that life’s worked out great for you – as though that were the moral of the story of tall people? While making some joke about how kids are weird and mercurial and … mermaids … or whatever?
2. If the answer to the first part of that question is “No” – you aren’t yourself tall, don’t know any actual tall people, and have no intention of consulting any but just heard about some of them from some people of what you consider to be a reasonable physical stature – then write about something else. Anything else.
3. Is your thesis that tall people are choosing to be tall – either to get attention or because, you imagine, society is constantly showering them with rewards for being tall – rather than mocking them, making it terribly awkward for them to buy clothes and causing them to suffer grave head and other injuries?
Then surely, if you cared to make the slightest effort, you could find a few of these allegedly limelight-loving leggy souls willing to go on the record about what their lives as tall people are actually like.
Why, by your logic, tall people are calling you – so either pick up the phone or reconsider your angle. I promise you that doing the first thing will lead to the second.
4. Remember that without tall people you have no story because how tall someone else is isn’t a story about how you feel about anything, shorty. Your story should be a chance to learn about what tall people experience – not you letting tall people know how you feel about them or gathering people around you to crane their necks.
5. This is true even if you’re compelled to tell everyone that you’re actually okay with some people being tall – even though you “don’t get it.” Because when you say that, you’re implying that you’re being permissive in your beneficent toleration of the misheightened. Something it isn’t your place to be.
In saying “whatever floats your boat,” you’re both congratulating yourself for waving at those you clearly perceive as having, obstinately, obtained an unnatural height – those people you’re pretty much characterizing as circus freaks – and suggesting that this is about some kind of leisure sailing. Instead of about not drowning.
6. If you do talk to a tall person for your story, don’t ask about shoe size . It’s not a polite question. “What size shoe do you wear now?” isn’t a question you would ask any other story subject, and what size foot is in another person’s shoe is none of your business and is meaningless as to who they are anyway.
You don’t habitually count your other interviewees’ toes, do you? No.
So, worry about your own damn feet. Keep them clean. Or don’t. Whatever floats your boat.
7. There’s no need to constantly refer to a subject as “born short.” If it’s relevant to your story, perhaps say, briefly, “Lydia … who was once 5 feet tall … ” But remember when reporting on a person who at one point in her life presented differently from the way she presents now – a time when she, perhaps, runs a cake shop you’re writing up, or has put her name on the ballot for Ward 6 – her previous height isn’t relevant information.
8. Never use the fact that some people are tall, and that some people accept them, as proof that an ultimate societal shift you’re convinced everyone should be alarmed or pleased about has occurred. Tall people are not your barometer or your parable; they’re only tall and people.
9. Don’t call anyone “a tall” or refer to them as “talled.” Just say “a tall person.” “Tall” is an adjective, not a noun or a verb. It’s not a thing that happens to someone – like being laundered.
10. What pronouns should you use for tall persons? The same pronouns they use to refer to themselves. Like everyone else. If you’re genuinely flummoxed and a pronoun is genuinely needed, then ask the tall person what to use .
Never put one of those pronouns in quotes. It’s not a goddamn song lyric. It’s a fact.
11. If you’re about to tell us where you draw the line because, as a person of average height, you assume you get to be the line drawer, put down your pen. A little research will tell you that no one is permissively making children tall. They’re just not telling them every single moment of their childhoods that they’re not allowed to grow.
Needless to say, setting rules about the maximum height of one’s progeny doesn’t work and it makes some children desperately sad.
13. Never use humiliating words to describe tall people – even if you think what you’re saying is “just a joke,” and you imagine that said tall person has never heard anyone say “How’s the air up there, Stretch?” and will burst out laughing and immediately book you on The Tonight Show.
Tall people do not, in general, have the power to book talent on network shows or, in fact, have any other near-mystical abilities. They’re just people and tall; they’re not there to serve as your spirit guide as you discover the true meaning of your own height or whether the missing fondue set is indeed in an upper cupboard.
14. Be sensitive to the fact that people’s height has nothing to do with whom they want to sleep with – nor does it make whom they sleep with a more interesting or salient fact.
Yes, being attracted to a tall person does mean you’re gay and, if that’s a problem for you, then I must inform you that the only solution is to sleep with a short person, after cooking them a really nice dinner. And I say that on behalf of myself and everyone else who is 5-foot-2 or under.
15. Remember that tall people are not a dilemma that needs to be solved, by you or anyone else. And that one tall person being great at, say, basketball – maybe even ending up on the cover of Vanity Fair – while nice, wouldn’t do that anyway.
Tall people are not a problem. Maybe we are.Report Typo/Error