Tom Shakespeare

Being distinctive has its disadvantages. When I was a child, I was disappointed that I could never be a mysterious spy or dashing criminal, because anonymity is a luxury that disabled people like myself cannot enjoy, whatever the disguise. But now it makes me feel a little special that a few months after moving to a new city, all the railway staff greet me by my surname when I arrive to be assisted onto a train, and the taxi company is even more familiar as they dispatch another car to pick up “Tom”.

Wheelchair users are not very memorable, but back when I was a walking, talking, real life dwarf, and consequently very remarkable, it turned out that people were more familiar with me than I was with them. I was regularly greeted warmly by strangers who I could never remember having met before. The trouble is, I find that most average height people are rather forgettable, I meet so many of them. But they might only meet one or two dwarfs in their lifetime, so they are not likely to forget me. They would call me by name, while I was struggling to recollect their face.

But, truth to tell, I am not quite as memorable as I think. Strangers would often mistake me for another dwarf.
“Hi Jim!” they’d call.
“No, it’s Tom”, I’d reply.
They would look confused:
“Are you sure?”
“Yes”, I’d insist, wondering how they could possibly imagine I was having an identity crisis.
“But you work down the welfare office, don’t you?”
“No!”.

I was regularly accused of being another dwarf, or suspected of concealing my true identity. I suppose that if you know one short person, it’s easy to assume that everyone else is him. All dwarfs look alike, it seems. I didn’t mind that so much: it was better than when they assumed I must be working in the circus. At least now I am a wheelchair user, they are not going to make that mistake again