I liked being an athlete. I always felt comfortable in athletic gear - and still do. On the field, there are specific rules to follow, structured chaos, and the ebb and flow of organized team work. It's also somewhere I could let my Alpha Female Flag fly free.
I hadn't thought about it before but the goal of this writing project was to randomly choose a photo from a large pile and write whatever comes out. And here it is.
During sports, I could be aggressive, bossy, and tough without anyone thinking I was "weird." I wasn't very skilled at soccer. I had no fancy footwork techniques and was often stuck as fullback or sweeper since I can kick with both my left and right foot. I think I scored one goal in all of high school.
But I was fast. And I wasn't afraid to run straight toward an opponent until they backed away from the ball. That's how I'd often get the ball - through speed, stamina, and aggression.
Sounds about right.
A puny little runt from birth, this is how I've always survived. Whatever skills I lack, I'd find a way to make up for them. Biochemistry was challenging for me in grad school so I relied on memorizing skills to compensate. Can barely eat and work? Start a blog and become an activist!
I guess that part of me has always existed. That determined self that ran so hard at the opposing team that the time Megan came to visit with her Bellevue High team to watch the game, she heard girls say they were "scared of me."
I knew I should have felt shame about that but instead I felt proud.
Even as a teenager, I innately understood that it was either fear or be feared.
I chose be feared.
That theme came up again at a job in New York City where I ran a very busy and demanding culinary program. I admit, I was a bit snappy then. I'm probably still snappy but I have more patience now, probably due to having the biochemistry of an eighty five year old (and that is not an exaggeration).
At some point, someone told me that staff members were afraid of me. I asked a friend who was a therapist for advice on how to handle it and she just said, "that means you're doing your job."
I wonder if people would have said that about me if I was a man.
I'm sure some of it was overcompensating for the fact that I was often not taken seriously since I was small and looked so young. Whatever it is, that fierceness I had on the soccer field has carried me through a lot of challenging experiences.
It led me to travel around the world by myself. Move to New York City without a job.
It keeps me alive today.
It was only after seeing the photos of the disabled people being arrested while fighting against the ACA repeal that I finally understood what that fierceness was.
Determination to stay alive in a body that wouldn't have made it in any other era.
I'm sure now that past colleagues understood that whatever "scary" vibe I gave off at the job was my passion and protectiveness of my cooking program and the kitchen I managed. They know that if something dangerous had happened during that time, I would have done everything in my power to protect them.
It's a shame that a woman who acts fierce at work is called a bitch. And when a man acts that way, he's called a strong leader.
When I see small girls being fierce, I'm careful to never, ever admonish them for their aggression. Instead, I encourage them to channel it in a productive manner. If they are being too aggressive in cooking class, I give them a leadership role and ask them to help the other students. I also did that with the boys! I can't think of one instance where they didn't understand that being a leader meant using that aggressiveness to protect, and not annoy other students or disrupt class. It works like a charm every time.
Until I moved to New York City, I felt ashamed of my aggressive, fierce nature. It's not exactly encouraged in the Pacific Northwest!
It was one of the main reasons I loved living out east and stayed there so long! My personality was so suited to the city. I could holler at a taxi that nearly ran me over and nobody even glanced up. It was expected there, encouraged, and indeed necessary for survival.
When I moved to California, I envisioned this chill, laid-back lifestyle. I remember biking to yoga class in another neighborhood shortly before they found the ovarian masses. I picked up Thai food on the way back (oh Gd, Thai food....) on the back of my bike. THIS is how I want to live now, I remember thinking. This is healthy, fun, relaxing instead of being edgy and primed to yell at someone for grabbing my ass on the subway.
Didn't last long.
Now, I understand why that fierceness lives inside me along with the genetic mutation for lots of cancer. Without it, I'm dead.
It keeps me alive. It, thankfully. And as of last month, it helped keep other people alive too.
Something I will always, always be proud of.
One of my biggest sources of shame ended up being one of my greatest assets.
Isn't that how it often works?
That's why I'm determined to bare my soul to the Internet now. Whatever I felt shame about, I'm taking a huge spotlight and shining it right on top of it. HERE IT IS WORLD. LOOK, JUDGE, LAUGH, SNICKER. I DON'T CARE.
Of course, no one ends up laughing. Or snickering. If anything, they celebrate it! Which I'm still getting used to even after all this time!
If sharing my story helps even one person feel less shame about whatever attribute or characteristic they have deemed "odd," awesome. I'm totally cool being that person running through the streets yelling "be yourself peeps! Be your awesome, weird, true and authentic selves, wahoooo!"
And now, when someone talks down to me, or worse, talks directly to my breasts, or otherwise underestimates my intelligence, my fierceness, my intense determination, I won't be pissed.
I'll think to myself, go ahead underestimate me. Just like those dudes in DC keep underestimating all of us.
I see now. To be underestimated is one of my greatest assets. :)
PHOTO #3. This post is part of a series celebrating my life before I lost four organs to three cancers in 2014. It is an “online memorial” honoring the person I was, in the hopes that I can make peace with the disabled person I’ve become. Every day for 30 days until my birthday, I will challenge myself to write a post inspired by the photo I’m sharing. I will not plan the topic or write ahead of time. I will merely look at the photo and write whatever it inspires. Thanks for reading! #julesfor30 #happyrebirth