Long-promised post about being a woman who trains (part I)
I’ve mentioned multiple times now that I have more to say about what it’s like to be a woman who trains. Well, more to say on what it’s like to be me, a person who trains who happens to be a woman. I want to preface my comments (which I also promised would probably offend across the board) by saying that I have been blessed with a solid group of teachers, friends, training partners, and even acquaintances and strangers who have supported my grappling in myriad ways without regard (do I need to pay royalties to Matt “No Regard” Arroyo when I say that?) for my gender. In some ways, my trip was easier because I’m a woman. For one thing, I’m less likely to be viewed as a dojo stormer; since there are fewer women who compete, I rarely if ever rolled with anyone on my journey whom I later faced at a tourney, which might have been awkward. But then again, competitors also figure out a way to compete against each other and remain friends. (Have I mentioned my girl crush on Emily Kwok, Ricardo Almeida brown belt, for instance? She and I have competed and yet I want to hang out with her and learn how she braids her hair.)
I also realize that this is only my experience and that I have to own the creation of that experience. But that being said, with at least some of it, I don’t think I’m alone, and in some ways, being a woman who trains is more difficult than being a man who trains. We’ve already covered the femininity stuff, at least in part. (I continue to hear from people about that, by the way, and everyone who contacts me says they can relate either because they have experienced what I did or because they know women who have.) Another aspect of that, though, is that there are some guys who won’t train with me, and the only reason is that I’m a woman. I have been refused for religious reasons, because it would make wives or girlfriends uneasy, and because of a belief that neither partner would benefit from training together.
There is also the reason that no one who uses it will own up to, but that has become more of an issue as I have improved: some guys do not want to run the risk of having to tap to a chick. Note that these guys always have some other, gender-neutral excuse, like, “I’m sitting this one out,” or “I’m done for the night.” Those are usually valid excuses. But if I’m the only person you use them on—and I can’t tell you how many guys have used that excuse with me only to hop right back onto the mat IN FRONT OF MY FACE when one of the penised students wants to roll—then I can only surmise that something girly is going on.
Okay. In some ways I can see the validity of these excuses, except for not wanting to tap to me, of course. (Not a very good demonstration of leaving your ego at the door, is it?) I must admit I don’t know much about the religious laws governing this sort of thing, so in the absence of solid information, I enjoy assuming that the reasons are consistent with much else that I assume about organized religion, which is to say, that the reasons are designed to discriminate against women while simultaneously trying to convince them that it is for their own good. (In other words, I’m not the most objective person when it comes to people saying they won’t roll with me for religious reasons.) What happens in a romantic relationship is none of my business, and frankly, if you don’t know what you’re watching when you watch grappling, you might think you see some positions that came straight out of the Joy of Sex. My experience of BJJ has been anything but sexual, but I will admit that I giggled for a solid year when people talked about “mounting” each other. So I can see how there could be some discomfort there. Guys who don’t believe they will get anything out of rolling with me may be right, especially if there is a large size difference. And maybe I should be flattered by the guys who don’t want to tap to a chick. Look at me, all threateny! BOO, bitches!
But even if I assume that all of those people who won’t roll with me have my best interests at heart—which they generally don’t (no offense, but come on. Do you expect me to believe people are protecting me from myself, even if you assume that they need to?) their refusals still end up making me look and feel OTHER. I don’t have to do a single thing to have people casting aspersions on me. I just have to be a woman. Just by being me, I have the capacity to render a man unclean, break up a relationship, or emasculate somebody. I am wicked powerful because I need a sports bra. No matter that women are supposed to be equals by now, that I’m absolutely NOT interested in someone else’s boyfriend or husband and have never acted inappropriately on the mat or otherwise toward a man who is in a committed relationship (and that if someone else’s boyfriend or husband is interested in me, then that’s a problem between him and her), and that these big guys have no qualms about rolling with more advanced men who are smaller than they are. It’s different. I am different.
I know, I know. Women and men are different. And to complicate matters further, sometimes I want the distinction to be honored. But I want it to be honored on MY terms.
So there’s more. I have plenty to say. But I’ll do it in installments.