Girl Among Boys
“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.