The Boys’ Club

It’s almost embarrassing to say it, because I had forgotten that I used to feel this way, but: I used to blame myself for having SSA. I thought, if only I’d hung out more with other guys and learned to be like them; if only I hadn’t quit the street hockey team, and soccer, and little league; if only I hadn’t faked sick on field day. If only I hadn’t been so scared all the time.

My main sports memories from when I was young are memories of complete and total confusion. What position am I? Who’s on my team again, which color are we? Are we offense or defense? WHAT IS A RIGHT WING? Do I have to step on the base before after I catch the ball (if I catch the ball), and what the hell do I do after that? HOW IS IT STILL ONLY THE SECOND INNING?

Go a little bit older and the confusion turns to shame. When I was ten, nobody knew the rules. When I was fifteen, everybody knew them, except me, and not only the rules but the terminology, and the stats of players I had never heard of, and breathtakingly convoluted plays that I had I pretend to understand, except why did I bother because they’d figure it out when I suddenly started running in the wrong direction?

The worst, though, was in high school, on field day. The thought of spending THREE HOURS in a state of constant terror, shame, and confusion, was too much for me, so I spent it in the sick room instead, up on the second floor, watching everyone having a good time and wondering what was wrong with me. What made it worse was that, to get out of it, I had had to tell Mr. Staedtler I was “sick” — Mr. Staedtler, who all the girls wanted to marry and all the boys wanted to be — and he knew.

I’m surprised, remembering it, how little shame I feel about it anymore. Not because it was shameful — rational or not, the things I felt at the thought of going out there would have felled a small horse — but because of how it used to make me wince, for years afterwards.

At the time I blamed myself for feeling that way, because I knew a real man wouldn’t have been scared. And at the same time I knew I was a coward, because the others hadn’t let their fear stop them. I never noticed that the two accusations contradicted each other. I envied them for not being scared, but at the same time I envied them for overcoming their fear.

Well, lies usually do contradict each other. I think I believed the lies until years later, the night I told my older brother Caleb about my SSA. I told him how I had envied him, growing up, watching him on the basketball court down the street and thinking how brave he must be to play with people he didn’t even know, how I could never feel comfortable enough around other guys to do that.

He surprised me by saying: The basketball court is the only place I do feel comfortable around other guys.

That was a new thought. That for some people sports weren’t terrifying, but just natural, the way music and coding are for me. That I wasn’t weaker or more cowardly than my brother, but just constructed differently. That “normal” guys had all the insecurities I had, but showed them in ways that I misunderstood. And that none of the above was my fault; more than that, that none of it was anything wrong.

As much time as I’ve spent working to get into the boys’ club, every once in a while I realize: I’m already there, and everyone inside is just like me. Only different.

12 Comments on “The Boys’ Club”

  1. David Wagner says:

    Great post. IMO, correlation betw OSA and liking sports/hanging w guys is very weak anyway. I always hated “P.E.” and school-based sports, and (w exception of 7th & 8th grade) preferred to chill w girls bc they were more intelligent & less gross. And I was never anything but straighter than sunshine. “Go know,” as they say. May Jesus bless and Mary keep. Keep on fighting and writing.

  2. JoAnna says:

    You know, it’s funny, I bet my husband felt exactly the same way you did in school… he would much rather have been playing computer games or chess than sports. Both his brothers were sports enthusiasts, so he was kind of the odd man out in his family.

  3. Dante says:

    Wow how did you get into my mind and live my life? Uncanny…except I didn’t have a Caleb.Oh and while I didn’t know the atheletes positions or stats I did know their score on the “How Hot is He?” chart and if their butts looked good in the uniform. Does that count for any sports trivia?

  4. Ron says:

    Neither my brother nor I were into sports when we were in school. I have SSA; he does not. And, Dante, it counts as “sports trivia” in my mind!

  5. Kristen says:

    Wow. I was telling my husband about finding your blog and the word I kept using to describe your writing and your witness is “courageous.” Sounds like you’ve already figured this out — but from what I can see you’ve got more courage than most men I’ve ever known.

  6. Justin says:

    Dante, you’re a hoot … you nailed it, I was exactly the same way with sports. I can still remember being in the outfield on the T-ball team catching flies — well, gnats. They were attracted by the bright lights. I couldn’t have cared less what was happening on the field even if I did understand it.

    Always picked last. Never had a clue. I remember playing soccer in high school (I played to get out of PE)– one of the few sports I sorta enjoyed, or didn’t hate as much, because everyone was pretty equal — the coach, my Latin teacher with whom I had a pretty good relationship, gave me the cool and privileged position of reporting the scores after each game. Took me years after I graduated before I realized he was distracting me from the fact he never put me in a real game.

    I think why I hate sports is because I’m just uncoordinated and I have a low tolerance for frustration (and low interest in overcoming it).

  7. Micah says:

    I always hated sports growing up and especially hated showering requirements. Also, in 4th grade, my parents asked me to choose and instrument to learn and I asked to play the violin. My father responded quickly, “that’s a girl’s instrument. How about the drums?”

    After I went to high school, a lot of people I knew from middle school asked if I was gay. They even told me outright that all my middle school classmates had thought that, and apparently talked about it behind my back for years. These students were surprised (perhaps dubious) when I told them that I was not gay, however uncomfortable I was with anything of a sexual nature.

    I wonder how many young men in high school, who otherwise would not suffer from SSA, are told by peers that they are “gay,” because of stereotypes, and begin to believe it and act accordingly, because, well, that’s what teenagers do, they try to conform to their peers’ expectations.

    I used to babysit a young man who is now living a “gay” lifestyle. He always had a flamboyant personality and a love of cooking and culture. I wonder if his teenage culture told him that he must be “gay.” Sometimes, I really do wonder how much of this is self-perpetuating stereotyping.

    I went to seminary and called home a few times a week. My mom spoke to me once and said, “you have to stop telling your dad that you love him before you hang up. He thinks you’re gay.” “I don’t care,” I responded, “I do love him, and he needs to know that.”

    The good news: he beats me to the “I love you” every time, now…and he tells my kids that all the time.

  8. Justin says:

    Thanks for your story, Micah. I remember in middle school my best friend and I were taunted as gay because we didn’t fit the mold. There was no truth to it, at the time (as far I as I could tell). Later I slowly developed SSA. I wonder if there is some truth to the idea that I unconsciously internalized the judgment of my peers.

  9. Mark says:

    Just thought you’d like to know that this topic came up at the Courage Conference this past weekend. Didn’t know if you are aware of it, but it’s a pretty good organization and you might find it helpful.

    1. Thanks, Mark. I’m aware of Courage and they’ve been a help in the past, although I haven’t been involved with them for several years.

  10. Laura says:

    David: thank you for aknowledging we’re more intelligent and less gross;) Micah: I do wonder too how much of an influence other people have in one’s self-perception. Steve: I hate sports too.

  11. Lacy says:

    What a refreshing perspective. Thank you, for sharing that. It reminds me of a quote I discovered .. “Be kinder than necessary to everyone you meet, for they are fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

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