Height Dysphoria


I’m a small guy. I’m 5’2″ (157cm), and 135lbs (61kg).

The average size for a white cisgender man is about 5’10”, and that of a woman is 5’5″. I’m small for a woman, let alone for a guy. 

When I identified as female, I didn’t mind as much. Society likes short women more than it does tall women, and it likes tall men more than it likes short men. Occasionally I would get short jokes, or pats on the head, but I could tolerate it.

Identifying as trans-masculine and being read as male more often, there are different cultural connotations. Being a short guy doesn’t command much respect, and in fact most people like to comment on it. You’re an easy butt to a joke, there’s also the stereotype of the Napoleon Complex that makes being a short man harder to operate. If you try to assert yourself, you’re accused of having short man syndrome. I generally am very good at negotiating conversations, and don’t feel the need to over compensate for my height, but this stereotype comes up nevertheless. So to operate the most effectively, a short man doesn’t assert themselves too much, and laughs when people make fun of them.

Although I prefer to be patient and charming, as a short man I have little other option.

I’ve mentioned before that part of my philosophy on trans/queer activism is the slowly slowly, catchy monkey technique. To me, this means that I am my normal, charming, Midwest-friendly self, and I am endlessly patient and answer questions again and again to keep informing the people around me about trans and queer issues. I try to be aware of my privilege as an out trans-masculine person, and use it to further the cause as best as I can. My height affects this as well though. Although I prefer to be patient and charming, as a short man I have little other option. If I’m any other way, I’m easily accused of the stereotypes I mentioned before.

Then there’s the idea that a woman can’t date a man shorter than her. I’ve heard the rules a million times from female friends, and most of them completely rule out the idea of dating someone an inch shorter, let alone 6 inches or more. It’s one of society’s strongest gendered ideas, is that men have to be tall (or at least taller than women).

There is an extra layer of being a short trans-masculine person though. Height is associated with gender. If you are a tall woman, you’re more often mistaken as a guy. If you’re a short guy, you might be mistaken for a women more often, because both are uncommon.

As someone who was born female, this creates a lot of dysphoria. It makes it harder to shop for clothes that are small enough for me. I still sometimes have to shop in the women’s section for shoes, because my feet are too small for almost any men’s shoes. It makes partner dancing very difficult to lead (not because it is more difficult, but because women don’t feel they can follow a short man), makes someone’s view of me sway more easily to female if they catch a certain glimpse of my silhouette. It makes garnering respect that much more difficult, because not only am I a short man, but I’m a short trans man.

As someone who was born female, this creates a lot of dysphoria. It makes it harder to shop for clothes that are small enough for me.

One reason I didn’t transition earlier (besides the whole being a classical singer thing), was because I was short. It’s a huge obstacle depending on your self-image, and for me, it meant that performing would be more difficult, and casting would be more difficult. It effects whether you can even have a chance at your Fach, and affects how you are staged. literally. every time. If there is a short character tenor, there will inevitably be short jokes to follow: someone leaning on you like a shelf, jumping on someone’s shoulders, being picked up and carried/repositioned…the list goes on.

As a performer, this doesn’t actually bother me, just as kissing someone, being naked, hitting someone on stage wouldn’t bother me. It’s part of the job. What I find distasteful is when people think that they can make fun of my height outside of this context. For example, I was once in a staging rehearsal, and a director told me to grab a chair and stand on it. I took their direction in earnest, and grabbed a chair and stood on it. To everyone’s embarrassment, it turns out they were making fun of my height, and didn’t actually want that as part of the staging. I didn’t make a fuss, but ultimately it made me dysphoric for the rest of the day.

The interesting thing about this is that I’ve talked to a number of good friends, and no one has ever said that I actually look short on stage.

Check out these pictures for example:

IMG_5959 IMG_9149

My mom took this of me in a recent rehearsal for ‘Le nozze di Figaro‘ for The Berlin Opera Group, and I was incredibly surprised with how not short I looked. I finally got some insight into what other people might actually see, and it relieved a bit of my dysphoria, despite my mathematical height dimension.

Here are a few things that help me deal with my height dysphoria:

  • Correct Posture: It’s very common for trans guys to slouch to make their breasts seem smaller. Binding also can cause shoulder and back problems which round your shoulders, and make you feel and look smaller. Maintaining proper posture has helped me relieve some of this dysphoria.
  • Wear Clothes That Fit: Baggy or unfitted clothes make me feel not only sloppy, but reminds me of the fact that I often can’t find male clothes in my size. Getting second-hand clothes tailored (not very expensive by the way), or finding brands that fit is the biggest relief for my dysphoria.
  • Heeled Shoes/Raised Insoles: Trans-masculine people might not like the idea of wearing heels (as they probably have worn female heels before), but a bit of lift in shoes can not only give you a few inches, but make you walk straighter.
  • Confidence: This sounds stupid and I can hear you rolling your eyes from my apartment, but it’s true. If you carry yourself with confidence, people will mentally add inches. For example, did you know that Prince was my height? Yep, he was 5’2″ mother fuckers.

I’d love to hear your experiences about height, whether you’re cisgender or trans. I think everyone has feelings about this subject one way or another, so let’s talk about it!