What It's Like To Be a Gay Little Person
There are about 30,000 little people in America, according to Joanna Campbell, executive director of the largest little people organization in the country, Little People of America. Campbell estimates that the amount of little people are equally divided by sex. If there are 15,000 men with dwarfism in America, and like the general population according to Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, five percent of them are predominantly attracted to men, that means there are 750 gay little men in America. That’s .000233 percent of the population, or one in every 430,000 people.
These are rough, rough estimates, but they do indicate just how small a minority gay little people inhabit. Earlier this year, I met with two of them to discuss their lives: dating, sex, prejudice, aspirations. David Funes, 25, and Joey Navedo, 30, are both entertainers living in New York, and they both have the most common type of dwarfism, achondroplasia. They know each other, but are not close friends. Their experiences often converge, but not always given their personality types (Funes is more soft spoken and modest; Navedo is extroverted and outrageous). Both were incredibly frank with me about the experience of being gay and little in New York and provided among the most fascinating conversations that I’ve had all year. Below are reports of those discussions.
This piece is a companion to the episode of Gawker’s video interview series Rare Lives that features Joey Navedo:
“My disability has more of a chance of being laughed at than any other disability,” David Funes told me over lunch of lobster rolls and sweet tequila cocktails earlier this year. “If a person is missing a hand or a foot, your mindset is feeling pity toward them. If a person sees a little person, he knows he’s capable of everything, he’s just funny in height.”
Funes, who’s 4”3’, pointed out that in the 1800s, practically the only shot a little person had at employment was being the object of ridicule in a circus or some similar showcase. In 2015, little people have more options. Funes, nonetheless, is an entertainer. He’s a nightlife personality/dancer who goes by Nano (named after the iPod, but also because “nano” means dwarf in Greek)—check his Instagram and you’ll see pictures of him dressed as Captain America, Elvis Presley, Rocky from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Indian from the Village People, and Dionysus. He is handsome and his frequent shirtlessness reveals a ripped physique. David is hot by any standard. He’s currently studying to be an accountant, and in the meantime has strict boundaries between which entertainment gigs he will and won’t take.
“There are jobs that are so demeaning: dwarf tossing, midget bowling,” he said. “That’s something I wouldn’t do. Even if you offered me $500. That would make me feel objectified and not able to express myself. As an entertainer, you should be able to express yourself. When you’re doing midget bowling, you’re only there for one purpose: Be the ball.”
Funes, 25, lives in Astoria with his parents, as he has his whole life. His parents grew up in Argentina and moved to the U.S. in 1979. They realized he had dwarfism as soon as he was born. Giving birth to the only known member of their family with dwarfism was initially “devastating” to his parents and used by his father’s family in rural Argentina as fodder for conflict (his mother’s and father’s families have a longstanding rivalry in their hometown of Mendoza). Like many little people, Funes uses the word “overprotective” to describe his mother’s parenting. She did not let him go outside much until he was in junior high.
“There were moments that were sad,” he said of his childhood. “There were moments that I stared in the mirror hoping that one day I would change. It really depends on the mood I was feeling that day. There was an era I was depressed, around 14.”
I wondered if he was as strict about objectification in his love life as he was in his career. I was inspired to seek out him and his fellow interview subject, Joey Navedo, after I watched an episode of Little Women: NY, Lifetime’s Real Housewives-esque reality franchise that throws together a bunch of little people for nominal sociological reasons (but mostly just to have them argue endlessly for entertainment). In this particular episode, cast member Lila Call talked about setting up an online dating profile but leaving blank the field that asked for her height—not because she was embarrassed of her dwarfism, she said, but to stave off fetishists who only would want to date her because she’s a little person.
It struck me, though, that the situation is probably different for men, specifically gay ones and particularly those who are interested in hooking up. In a superficial, no-strings-attached sex scenario, objectification is the name of the game. You use what you’ve got to get what you want. In the gay world, there isn’t just somebody for everybody; there are multiple potential partners for whatever type you inhabit.
“There are people that contact me for fetishes, like, ‘Oh my god, I always wanted to try a little guy,’” Funes told me. “If they look really good, I’ll be like, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ You know what I mean?” He grinned subtly and devilishly when he said that.
Does he indulge people’s fantasies? “It depends on how the conversation goes,” he said. “If it’s just all about talking about me being little, and that’s all he wants to see, then it gets kind of annoying. But if it’s like, ‘We got that out of the way, you found a little guy,’ and then we start sharing our common interests, that’s more acceptable. That’s more like, ‘OK, you can talk to this guy. He’s not insane.’ It varies.”
Funes tends to meet guys on geolocation apps like Grindr. Though he works in nightlife, connecting with an average-sized person (the only type of person Funes has slept with) IRL can be difficult from a logistical standpoint. “They’re all the way up there and I’m here and I need to yell to get their attention,” he said of his interactions in clubs. “When it’s crowded all I see is butts. Butts and crotches.”
Fuenes described himself as “very selective” when it comes to the guys he hooks up with. He said he attracts guys on the dominant side.
“Because I’m little, I’m very easy to maneuver,” he explained. “I’m very easy to throw around. They feel a sense of dominance. They feel I’m going to say yes. They think I’m desperate, but I’m not. That gives them that sense of confidence to walk up to me and say, ‘Hey, let’s go to bed,’ you know what I mean? That’s a really big turn-off.”
When Funes describes his use of Grindr—some persistent creeps, some sessions in which he contacts multiple guys only to get back not a word in response—his experience verges on the universal. Until, that is, he reveals that there have been “many, many, many” times in which he has been called a “midget.” It’s a pejorative that Funes doesn’t mind in certain situations (“If you’re my friend, you can use it”) but views as a sign of disrespect overall.
And yet, Funes can relate to those who voice curiosity about hooking up with someone of his height. That is because he shares it. “My fantasy was always to fuck a little person,” he said. “That’s the first time I’d ever be able to dominate someone. Sometimes I get the urge to top.”
Funes knew he was gay his “entire life” but was forced to acknowledge it out loud when he was 16 and his older sister spotted some gay porn on his computer. Soon after, he came out to his parents. That was the first and last conversation he had with them regarding his sexuality. “My parents never gave me shit about it,” he said. “They just never brought it up again.” He remains close to them.
He told me that he started hooking up with guys when he was a senior in high school via Adam4Adam. He was 19 or 20 when he had his first boyfriend, who was 27. And then at 22 or 23 when he started dating a 50-year-old that he fell in love with.
“We had more of a daddy/son relationship,” he said. “I loved it. It drove me wild. We would spend hours watching TV and I would just be there like a little son, right next to him like that. It was the kind of a relationship you can’t explain to anybody.”
It’s a double-edged sword to be a person with special needs in New York. The city is not nearly as accessible as it should be for its citizens with disabilities, but it’s also full of people who either by nature or through the experience of having seen it all are more accepting than in most other places. It’s less a melting pot than a salad bowl of distinct cultures. But regardless of diversity and ensuing philosophies, it’s a place with a lot of people, period. There are more open eyes than minds—eyes that pry, stare, and remind a person of his differences.
“It’s a very low class thing to do, to stare,” said Funes on those eyes.
“The first thing I told [my 50-year-old ex] was, ‘We’re going to have a lot of people staring at us, and I want to make sure you’re OK with that,’” said Funes. “That was one of the reasons he was attracted to me—I took into consideration his feelings. I didn’t think much of it. I just didn’t want him to be uncomfortable.”
After a year, Funes and his boyfriend broke up. He said he doesn’t have many gay friends, nor many little people friends—he isn’t at all involved in the best-known little people organization in the country, Little People of America. In fact, he said he feels awkward when he encounters another little person on the street (he knows his fellow subject in this piece, Joey Navedo, but not very well). When he walks down the street, he almost always wears headphones.
“Most of the time, I’m not even listening to music,” he said. “I wear them because there are many times people are going to come up to me. Drunk people, late at night, or homeless people: ‘Hey, hey shorty.’ I pay no mind, I go the other way.”
Funes says he uses his dwarfism to his advantage when finding work, and implies he’ll do as much when hooking up, but he’s more LTR-oriented than anything. He told me he was looking for love, but wasn’t exactly sure what settling down would look like.
“There’s a higher chance of me making a little guy,” he said, regarding having kids one day. “Do I want to bring him into the world? I lean toward no. I know what it felt like to be raised as one. I don’t want him to go through that. Even if I did have an average-sized son, for him to have a little guy as a father, I know he’d be embarrassed of me one day in his life. It won’t be consistent, but it will happen one day. I don’t want him to go through that. I don’t want him to feel like, ‘I have to be ashamed of my father.’ I was never ashamed of my father. As a little kid, all you want is to be liked and have as many friends as possible. I don’t want him to miss out on that opportunity.”
“I will not be used as a prop,” Joey Navedo told me, exhibiting his trademark assertiveness, over lunch at 4 Napkin Burger in Hell’s Kitchen earlier this year. The requests for him to be just that come from all sides—from party-throwers who want to hire the entertainer/dancer to be the ball in so-called “midget bowling” events to the “kinda cute” guy who approached him at midtown gay nightclub XL years ago and told Navedo that he wanted to fist him.
“He was like, ‘I really want to put my hand in you and for you to be my puppet.’ He was a total creep about it,” Navedo recalled. “There’s kinkiness and there’s crazy.”
When I met Navedo this spring, he told me he was just back from Savannah, Georgia, where he broke things off with a military guy he was seeing. Navedo was looking forward to a summer on Fire Island, working as the assistant to hoteliers Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner, who set off a firestorm when they hosted a reception for and donated to the virulently anti-gay Senator Ted Cruz.
“I have some past hook-ups I want to revisit,” explained Navedo on bidding adieu to his military man. “It’s kind of the brat in me, saying I want to whore around.”
Navedo, 30 and Puerto Rican, told me that he often surprises people with the amount of dick he gets. He shared a story about meeting a guy out one night on Fire Island and bringing him around his friend group the next day. Half of Navedo’s friends assumed the guy was a rent boy. “‘How rude,’ I thought,” Navedo recalled.
“I don’t see myself as having an issue with my height,” said Navedo, who is 4’4”. “I’ve never come to a blockage where my height is an issue in a relationship. Someone told me one day, ‘You literally walk around and you come across like you’re 6’2”.’ It’s true. It’s sad. I’m supposed to acknowledge who I am, but I don’t really see it. People think I must have an issue or it must be hard.”
Navedo told me that it’s been relatively smooth sailing throughout his 30 years on earth. He was born in New York grew up in Long Island City. His dad was in the picture until Navedo was 5, and his mother was “overprotective.” When he was 12 or 13, they moved to Texas, where he got his first taste of bullying over his height.
“It was really nasty, and I was in a fancy private school,” he said. “Here, at public school, it was not an issue.”
After four years they returned to New York. He moved out of his mother’s place at 19, and has lived alone, aside from a roommate here or there, since then. He says he lost his virginity at age 14 to his friend’s crush. “She went home and it was late and we went to the basement of his building,” he said.
Like David Funes, Navedo tolerates a certain amount of curiosity in his potential sex partners—he’s been crossed off a few bucket lists. He identifies as a submissive power bottom (“It’s on my Grindr”), but like most gay men, will vers-ify as needed.
“A lot of guys are like, ‘Can you top me?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah,’” he said. “I do it when they ask me. I won’t say, ‘My turn.’ If they don’t then I continue to be the bottom that I am.”
Navedo told me that he “never” hears rude things about his height on Grindr and loves that his size makes him easy to pick up and toss around. “I get off on it,” he says. He’s had four boyfriends, all lasting over a year (his first lasted four years). He has been out as gay all of his life.
“I never had to tell anybody I was gay,” he recalled. “I just lived my life out loud. I wasn’t being dramatic, I would live my life. If you asked me, I would tell you, but I never had to announce it. That’s what gave me the self-esteem I have now.”
If I closed my eyes while Navedo was talking, I would have heard the words of a confident gay man who is very much on the scene and invested in nightlife. He said his work is a far bigger hindrance to relationships than his height. “When someone doesn’t understand nightlife, and just sees pictures, his mind gets cluttered,” he said of potential mates.
When he talked about other little people, though, he reminded me of a different type of gay—one who adamantly does not get along with his brothers. I sympathize with guys who say they don’t like other gay guys—the scene can be a catty place and I wouldn’t fault anyone for taking one look at it and then running in the other direction—but I also think they just haven’t met the right gay guys. For Joey Navedo, the answer (if he even needs one) isn’t as simple. There just aren’t that many little people around, let alone gay little people.
“You know, I don’t get along with little people,” he said. “When I work with little people, I have a different energy than they do. When people hire me, I’m not a hype person, I dance my ass off. When you put me and someone else together, they look at me like I’m overdoing it, but I’m doing my job. They’ll let themselves get disrespected. I’m not going to get called the m-word. I’m not going to get disrespected. I earn the respect that I get. I always get into fights with little people who are like, ‘You’re too much.’ No, I’m dancing. If you’re twentysomething and you’re still battling self-esteem as a little person, you don’t need to be on a reality show, you need to be in therapy. It wasn’t easy being little and being gay. I dealt with that in junior high, and it was done.”
Like many in nightlife, Navedo talks at length about wanting out. He said that foresees a 9-to-5 job in his future, like the internship he had when he studied to be a veterinary technician at LaGuardia.
“My manager didn’t even look at me in the eyes, because she heard some rumor that if she looked a little person in the eyes, her kids are going to turn out little in the future,” he told me. After a year there, she finally looked at him in the eyes.
“I still walk through doors and get that, but it’s my job to prove them wrong,” he says. “And I do, because I know I am going to. And I get satisfaction when I leave a certain situation that I proved that person wrong.”
He doesn’t know exactly what is next but that it will be a journey to get there.
“Eat, Pray, Love, have you seen it?” he asked. “I need you to go watch it. I’m serious. I can’t swear enough on it. Everything that she had in her life goes to shit. She needs to reevaluate how she lives her life. I feel like once my 10th year [in nightlife] is done, I’m going to reevaluate how I live my life. I’m going to reevaluate now how I can be living not in nightlife. That’s my next challenge. That’s my issue. That’s what my current situation is.”
[Images via David Funes’s Instagram and Joey Navedo’s Instagram; Top image design by Tara Jacoby]