"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

Girls Don't Play Football

Girls Don't Play Football

I was a tomboy. I hated acting like a lady and absolutely refused to wear dresses at Easter or funerals or whenever the occasion absolutely called for it. To my mother’s dismay, I would not back down on this, and had some pretty serious meltdowns over it— usually a half-hour before we were supposed to be somewhere. 

I didn’t want to play dress up or have tea parties. I wanted to play G.I. Joe and Hot Wheels. I wanted to join the Cub Scouts, the boxing club, and play football. I wanted to dress like a boy, even down to the tighty whities. I was strong and athletic. From the ages of eight to ten, I was usually mistaken for a boy. 

I don’t know why I was this way. Sometimes I think I must have been a man in my last life, maybe my last few lives, and my soul was having trouble coming to terms with not being one anymore. Maybe I just didn’t want to be told I couldn’t do certain things or had to act a certain way because I was a girl.  

All I know is that I felt more like a boy than a girl. Truth be told, and I am embarrassed to admit this (I always shush my sister when she reminds me), I proclaimed to my family at one point that I wanted to be a boy. Sex change, the whole nine yards. If I had been eight in 2018 and if I had had different parents, I probably would have ended up a transgendered youth who went by the name John and played football; and nobody would be the wiser, except those families who once knew me as a little girl named Mary.

But it was the 1970s and my parents were conservative. They were open to me doing what I wanted, but unfortunately in those days, that was limited. When my mother called the youth football league to inquire about signing me up, they informed her that girls don’t play football. I was devastated. I thought football was the ultimate male activity. Mud and tackling, and cool uniforms. I’m not sure I ever really cared for the game. I don’t remember ever watching it. The only thing I knew about the game play, I learned from playing my stepbrother’s hand-held electronic football game.

Anyone who knows me now, knows that I detest football. When asked why, I usually say, “How much time do you have?” When pressed, I usually list things like: the barbarism of the sport; the culture of it; the girlfriend-beating and entitlement of the players; the ridiculous salaries of the coaches, especially at public universities, where yearly salaries are in the millions; the machismo of the players as they arrogantly taunt their opponents in offensive ways after they make a touchdown; the nasty skin-tight uniforms that seem to get smaller and tighter every year; all of the bandwagon fans wearing their stupid jerseys every “Blue Friday;” and finally, the incessant whistle blowing! 

The question is, do I hate football for all of these reasons, or do I hate it because I was deprived of the opportunity to play? Perhaps if I had been allowed to play, I would be a football lover like everyone else and would be cheering the Seahawks on to division playoff victory at this moment instead of writing. Maybe I would have turned out and found that after having tried it, I didn’t like it for all the reasons I listed, but I’ll never know. I just hate football, and that’s the way it is.

When I entered the sixth grade, I realized that I preferred chasing boys more than living like one. I’m not sure what would have become of me had I been living as a transgendered youth at that point, but I’m pretty sure it would have put a damper on my social life. Awkward! 

From what I’ve seen, transgendered teens endure heartbreaking bullying and discrimination from their peers. I hate that people who are simply trying to be who they are have to endure that kind of bigotry and I’m grateful that I didn’t have to experience it. 

I outgrew my desire to be a boy, but I never lost my interest in doing the things men do and I spent most of my adult life doing what is typically considered “man’s work.” I joined the military, where I worked in construction, primarily as a carpenter, welder, and sheet metal mechanic. After that, I worked for many years in civil service as a maintenance mechanic. More recently, I worked for nine years as a corrections officer. 

I never wanted to do what was typical or expected. My goal in joining the military was to learn a trade that I never would have learned as a woman. I have always felt more comfortable in a tool belt or a duty belt than I would have in a fashion belt.

I am a heterosexual woman and a mother. I love being a woman. I am not feminine and don’t enjoy many feminine activities. When it comes to the things I want to do, or my ability to do them, I never see myself in terms of gender. If I want to buy and old house and fix it up, I do it. If I want to travel solo, I do it. If I want to work as welder, I do it and I see myself as an equal to anyone else. 

Gender shouldn’t stop a woman from being a scientist or a man from being a gardener. We all have different personalities, temperaments, and dispositions. There is no reason why we need to pigeonhole certain types of people into certain types of activities. Gender stereotypes and gender bias need to stop. Some men are nurturers and some women are adventurers. Some boys like to play with dolls and some girls want to play football. Let them play.

Mary Senter writes in a cabin in the woods on the shores of Puget Sound. She earned certificates in literary fiction writing from the University of Washington and an M.A. in strategic communication from WSU. She writes literary and historical fiction, essay, and poetry. Her work can be found in SHARK REEF, Claudius Speaks, Six Hens, FewerThan500, and many others. Website: www.marysenter.com, Instagram: MarySenterWrites

Cover photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

the halo effect

the halo effect

The Apology

The Apology