A month before my wedding, one of my closest friends confided in me that she didn’t think I should marry my fiancé. “What would you do in an emergency, like if there was a fire?” she asked, sounding legitimately concerned for my safety. So far in my adult life, I only know one person who is married to an actual firefighter. That woman should call on her husband if her house is burning down; everyone else should probably call the fire department if they find themselves in such an emergency situation involving flames.
People choose partners for infinite reasons. I’m not saying it’s impossible that “up-to-date on fire safety” is on someone’s checklist – it’s just that it has never been on mine. So it took me a beat to realize why my otherwise non-catastrophizing friend was suddenly sure I was going to die in a fire due to a failure of heroism on the part of my incoming husband. My husband is 5’5’’ and I am 6’0’’ tall – a seven-inch height difference that wouldn’t be remarkable at all if our genders were reversed, but is apparently very alarming and confusing to some people.
A light Googling and quick turn through Reddit will let you know that a height difference among partners is not uncommon or revolutionary; the majority of people do not care, are not paying attention to you, and aren’t completely unmoored by it. But I would like to focus on a different group, a more audible and visible group, a group of unhinged weirdos comprised of all combinations and permutations of human being who, upon seeing a couple where a cis woman is taller than her masculine-presenting partner, dissolves into hysterics, rage, tears, convulsive laughter, obscenities, ridiculous questions about anatomy, and (admittedly my personal favorite) “love-is-love” speeches about how brave I am for marrying someone shorter.
Heteronormativity has certainly broken everyone’s brains and provided us with bizarre frameworks that seem to result in failure more often than not. We are to understand that there are men, and there are women; men are big, and women are small; the former is supposed to save the latter from fire. If a pairing violates this rule, you must scream at them on the New York City Q train at 8:00 am and demand that they explain the mechanics of their sex life to you. This has happened to us on more than a few occasions (though not always on the Q). One time a man just walked by us and yelled, “How do you have sex? Which one of you stands on the table?” We need better sex ed in schools, as the act really only requires two consenting people with body parts. (With the precarious construction of IKEA’s more popular pieces and the inevitability of teenagers exploring their sexuality, people are going to get on tables, and they’re going to get hurt.)
My husband and I have encountered the “family values” folks as well. I think fondly of a woman, seemingly about my age, who spent a not insignificant amount of time watching my now husband and I make out at a bar. We were doing this because we were in our 20’s, we were in grad school, and we were very into each other and very gross. People stare at other people – that’s not the weird part. But later in the night, she walked up to us, introduced herself, and mentioned that she was a student in the investigative journalism program at Columbia University. We had a polite and deeply forgettable conversation, at the end of which she asked us straight-faced and earnestly, “Are you brother and sister?”
“Yes,” we replied, for the hell of it. She conducted no further investigation. At the end of the day, is that not all of us, just pining for a world that makes more sense and is more comforting, in which brothers and sisters are railing each other in public and women are not taller than their dates? That’s my working definition of family values, and I’m pretty sure it’s unassailable.
A few weeks prior to our wedding, I received a call at work from a writer at a newspaper of record informing me that they would be running our wedding announcement – but there was something terribly wrong with the photo we submitted. “I’m so sorry, but the way you’re positioned in the photo, your eyes are higher than your fiancé’s, and it makes it look like you might be a couple of inches taller than him. Do you have any other photos?” I reassured him that I was in fact taller than he, but by seven inches, not two!, and that I had a whole lot of photos I could send over that illustrated this if he wanted. I was met with complete silence on the line. It was probably about ten seconds of silence, which felt like roughly three years.
Thinking we had been disconnected, I said, “Hello?” and asked if he was still there. Then a bit more silence. “I’m still here.” His voice was quiet and slow and sullen. “I’m going to have to call you back.” It took a while, but he did call back. I don’t know what transpired in between those calls, but my final conversation with him consisted of him repeating, “It’s fine, it’s fine,” before confirming that the announcement would be printed after all and that I did not need to send more photos, and then hurrying to get off the phone.
I don’t actually think about my height most days, and I’m long past the era of feeling awkward about it, but I did that day. And I thought a lot about the writer whose workplace breaks stories of revolutions, war, space exploration, the government admitting that aliens are real, and all the weird sex stuff congressmen seem to get up to weekly, needing to take a professional moment to regain his composure. I return to his bravery often – it’s some love-is-love level bravery.
When I see headlines about Zendaya and Tom Holland having to explain their height difference, over and over – she is a mere two inches taller than him – I feel for them. They are up against another barrage of criticism that my husband and I do not have to experience in our daily lives, being two very famous people in an interracial relationship. I don’t think you can look at the meltdowns about their height difference without considering that some of it is almost certainly piggybacking on racist discomfort. But still – Tom Holland finds himself in interviews having to defend being a “short king” cast against a slightly taller woman with whom he fell in love. Why is this notable at all?
The truth is, I don’t see my husband’s height, and he doesn’t see mine. He is a brilliant, caring, deeply good, deeply funny person. I don’t need to crane my head upward to kiss him in order to validate my gender identity, nor do I need to be perceived as smaller than the person I showed up to an event with to access whatever desired amount of femininity I want to access that day.
If our apartment in Brooklyn were to suddenly catch fire, my husband and I would be equally ill-equipped to deal with it. And I’m quite sure that were he taller, the same would be true. In fact, when I absentmindedly left a pot of boiling chicken for our dog on the stove until the water evaporated and did literally catch on fire, it was our dog that saved us, and he’s four feet shorter than I am. Were my husband taller and I shorter, we would still have the same dreams for the future, we would still have the same inside jokes, and we’d still argue over how closing a cabinet does not actually stop bugs from getting in them. It’s a cabinet, not a force field. I would love him exactly the same amount. And none of this – absolutely none of this – should need to be said.
But if I could make one final request, it’s to please not stop yelling “Yassss, short king!” out the window of your car at us. We actually love that one.