Girl Among Boys

1998,  Mulan   (I had to shout out to the OG warrior princess)

1998, Mulan (I had to shout out to the OG warrior princess)

“Girls can’t play with us.”

Indignant, I snapped, “Why? Afraid I’ll beat you?”

The other, bigger, older boys chuckled at my retort and surprisingly let me stay. I no longer recall the game we were playing, only the message remained. I was six, and that was the first time I realized how being a girl could be used to exclude me. I always had this mentality that despite our physical differences, I can do what guys do, sometimes even better. Unfortunately, my physical difference also became a reason for some boys to hurt me.

“I’m gonna teach you a game only adults play,” he said as he pointed at his parents’ bed.

When I was seven, my neighbor invited me to their house. He was one of the boys I hung out with. He was my age and I didn’t think anything of it so I went along. His parents weren’t home, his nanny was out buying groceries which wasn’t unusual in the Philippines to leave children unattended: my neighbor and I were alone when he showed me his parents’ room.

A lump in my throat formed when he uttered those words. All I knew was I had to get out as soon as possible. I shoved him hard to the ground, unlocked the door before he got up to stop me and ran back to my house as fast as I could. I didn’t cry, I didn’t yell. I just sat in silence in my living room, livid that I didn’t punch him (repeatedly) for attempting such a thing. What terrified me was that it was someone I knew, someone I thought I could trust. What surprised me more was that I didn’t tell anyone about it until someone else tried to take advantage of me again years later. My shame took over, and my fear stayed buried.

This time, I was ten and it was during recess. I was speaking to a group of friends in the playground. Suddenly, I was interrupted when a classmate picked me up a la Heimlich maneuver with one arm, and put his other hand under my shirt. I struggled to get free and when my feet finally touched ground, I turned around to see him roaring with laughter. I shoved him to a brick wall (his fault he had his back to it) and attempted to punch him until my teacher called out my name. In shock at the volume of his voice, I froze. He escorted my classmate and I to the principal’s office, and when it was my turn to explain what happened, I broke down. My classmate’s prank made me feel violated, it reminded me of my neighbor’s previous attempt to do the same. I expected justice, but my classmate only received a warning not to “play rough” with other students. I continued to see him in class, but I made sure to stay away from him. I was lucky he never bothered me again.

I never want to feel excluded and vulnerable as I did when I was a child in those three instances. I was fortunate enough to act on my instincts, but I knew I needed the proper training in case I were to deal with more sinister situations.  The type of training that built me physically as well as emotionally. I knew they had to form together. I wanted to be able, but more importantly I didn’t want to feel vulnerable.

I waited eight years before I finally acted upon this desire to become stronger. At eighteen, I started Muay Thai. What I learned through Muay Thai in all in its simplicity and brutality, is that my size, height, weight and gender, did not justify my vulnerability.

I learned that physicality matters: I have no say over others’ physicality, but I do have say over mine. Being responsible for my own physicality is the justice I was looking for.

Perhaps, the answer isn’t having others speak for me, but for me to speak for myself; physically. Muay Thai enabled me to express my physical self in the most clear, and honest way. I already had a voice, I just learned how to speak it louder and better.

That is the message I have for my students, that they too, can find their voice, speak their truth, as loudly and clearly as possible.

Katrina Velasquez