Funny thing to observe this conversation happening again and again. The interruption of perceptions is a rewarding byproduct of my training. Responses are predictable: “Oh, kickboxing?” sidelong glance at my biceps, sizing up the plausibility. “Doesn’t that hurt you, getting hit like that?” Defense is the foundation of offense. Never without supervision and gear. Has there ever been such a closely monitored soccer game? I’ve never been kicked with the force of a bare cleat. My most serious injuries are self-inflicted – a badly thrown jab (lost elbow mobility – Barbie arm syndrome), knuckle jumps in the sand (whacked out shoulder), letting someone else get in on me (calls for lots of Traumeel & Kool n’ Fit). Presumption has it that getting hit is an infliction; how I see it is I didn’t get out of the way fast enough. It’s all a matter of smarts + strength + speed = power in the ring.
The symbolism of the Fight centers in the debate: “I can’t imagine you angry like that.” Consensual sports means the competitive spirit is real, but the fight isn’t. At least not for this champ. “Really? With that face? You are too pretty to box.” Limited concept misogyny aside, the knocks show me what I have to do to get better – my hardest opponents are my best teachers. “I don’t see how women taking down other women with violence is empowering.” Only in company of other female athletes is my participation in this sport is possible.
I suffer from an inability to participate as your equal – the ego pulses “look how much better than you I am,” or “what a piece of shit I turned out to be.” Even as I laud other women who train in this sport, my insecurity surfaces at they gym with other women boxers more than ever has with men. How many times have I thought, shit, I’m never gonna get this like she does. And yet, how many times have I cringed watching other women work out? resenting the hell out of the tough-girl charade, which features bad form, showy exhaustion, pastel gear, puppy eyes at coaches. It seemed to make a mockery of my own struggle to be taken seriously as an athlete in a male-dominated sport. Solipsism, right? As if their only job is to make me look bad. Yah.
I hear myself speak truth to wanting more women to take up boxing – to go for it, to give of themselves and take a risk, even professing I’d like to make a vocation of it. The outrage that it struggles to receive recognition as a real sport. I’m proud of to be amongst the advocates, making history just by doing what we do. And yet the judgments, the skeptical assessments of whether the desire to box is authentic seep out of me. I remember acting very protective toward anyone who didn’t take on training like their life depended on it – as if my own life depended on it. Part of me hates being a woman who will never just be a wall of lean muscle, a vessel without a cycle, an apparatus of pure function devoid of vulnerability. The so-called tough-girl charade exposes who I really am, it represents parts of me I am desperate to dissociate from. Honestly, I’ve often felt more threatened than heartened by the courage of other women trying something new; I’d find little compassion for the automaton doe eyes which I, too, put on in default when faced with male authority (and what do I know, maybe that stance is natural and comfortable for some). What’s really at stake here my pride. The danger of this pink athleticism only becomes real when women cling to it out of fear: “I will no longer be seen as feminine unless … I will lose my sex appeal unless … I will be thought of as masculine unless … I will be seen as a lesbian unless … ” Internalized misogyny and homophobic dissociation, part and parcel of the rough going gym culture.
It takes gall to express unapologetic femininity in the city center of machismo. The pink gloves worn in the tough-girl charade are no less flippant than my “pretty face” under the raggedy head gear – simply a true expression of what is. A former teammate, Cara, lost her false eyelash during sparring in one of my favorite spectator moments. She simply flicked it off into the spit bucket along side the snot, the blood. Kept on trucking. I once even donned girly gear out of necessity since that day I mistakenly grabbed an extra shirt thinking it was training shorts. Another former teammate, Fire, loaned out her pink skirt that I was absolutely mortified to wear. This managed to be extensively documented, which I’m glad I’ve somehow only now discovered. There is something profound about being an embodiment of a new femininity that both empowers and challenges old ideas about what women are capable of.
The antidote to this divisive, self-hating cycle: practicing acceptance. I’m a cancerian, feminine, queer, woman training as a competitive athlete, defying all my own expectations in so doing.