Tuesday, July 23, 2013

To all boys who get teased for doing a "girls" sport...



I received a note from a concerned mother who's son is being bullied for doing gymnastics. The other kids are saying, "Gymnastics is for girls" or "You're gay because you do gymnastics". Firstly, let's make something very clear: girls and gay people are both awesome so it's not an insult in the first place. And secondly, the last time I checked, males didn't grow a vagina or become attracted to men because they set foot in a gymnastics gym. In fact, I'm about 100% sure that wanting a sex re-assignment surgery or loving someone of the same sex are determined well before you breathe your first breath of Earth's magnificent air.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

I want to see a world where every boy can proudly do gymnastics and not be teased for it. *pretend I'm waving my finger in the air and moving my head in small circles like a good ole' drag queen when you read this part* It's uncalled for and unnecessary and it gets right on up under my skin. Roar. Uh huh. I said it.

The following is advice I have for that young man and for every young man who wants to participate in gymnastics or a publicly perceived "feminine" sport. We're here. We love our sport. Get over it.

________________________


I remember when I was a young boy, I always felt a bit of pressure to do other sports and activities, but gymnastics was always my passion. It was difficult sometimes - often I would get teased that I did a "girls" sport. But I realized that I couldn't control the other kids. They were just lacking confidence in themselves because they hadn't found the "thing" that they loved to do. That is why it was important for me to be confident in my path and to dedicate myself to my dream, regardless of whether I had the approval of everyone around me or not. By me continuing to do gymnastics despite the teasing and comments, I was actually showing everyone around me what it truly meant to be committed. I quickly realized that I could only control my own thoughts, my own actions and my own work ethic. It was ME chasing my goals, not anyone else. Sadly, I had NO control over the thoughts or opinions of others.

I got called all the names in the book: Pussy, Fag, Homo, Wimp, Girl, Fairy, Loser…the list goes on and on and on. Of course, it hurt because these people who said these words didn't even know me at all. They didn't understand my desire for greatness in my sport. And surely they didn't understand what it meant to be focused or to have found a passion for something. They teased me because they were still looking for what resonated within themselves. They wanted to try and take me off course from my dream so that I would be more at their level of uncertainty.

When I showed no waiver or weakness and just continued on pursuing my dream, they eventually gave up on trying to bring me down. They realized that it was impossible to break something that had such a convincing strength at the core. They wanted me to be vulnerable, but I never showed it to them. Sure, I cried about it at night and I was sometimes afraid to go to school, but when the teasing would start, I never openly fought back. I tried my best to ignore them and to spend time with the friends whom I knew valued my dream - many of whom are still my friends today. My friends would sometimes stand up for me because that's what friends do. Instead of adding fuel to the fire and getting upset and frustrated in front of the bully, I would use their taunting as fuel for myself. "I'll show them", I'd think. I would also try to feel a sense of compassion for them because they needed to bring me down in order to feel better about themselves.

I assure you, this teasing passes. Soon, what you choose to do will not matter to them anymore. They eventually move on. Hopefully at that point they have been inspired by your integrity and relentless pursuit of your dream and have found one of their own. But if not, they will learn that there is no amount of energy or name calling that can break a person who truly believes in their own potential.

Doing gymnastics as a boy doesn't make you a girl. It doesn't make you gay. It doesn't make you a wimp or a pansy or a freak. What it does is it makes you resilient. It gives you an incredible physical foundation. It makes you knowledgable. It makes you accountable. It makes you strong and fit. It makes you flexible and agile. It gives you a foundation that no other sport in this world can give you.

To me, being a real man has nothing to do with how masculine you are on the outside. Being a real man is about being kind, compassionate, caring, generous, driven and courageous. It's about taking good care of yourself, your family, your friends and your extended community. It's about being a leader and doing the hard stuff even when you don't want to. It's about respecting and encouraging the dreams of those around you - regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. Being a real man has nothing to do with the sport you love to participate in. It has everything to do with the way you build up your fellow person and help them succeed. And gymnastics is a sport that can help implement these values into your life at an early age.

Keep on your course. Do what you love. You are who you are. You like what you like. Be proud of it and stand firmly in it.

And if all else fails, challenge them to a push up contest. Guaranteed you'll win every time…

15 comments:

Steve Arkell said...

Outstanding!

John said...

That is great Kyle. This should be posted somewhere in schools.

Rod Garossino said...

Brilliantly said, Kyle. As a male figure skater, I had the identical experience. This is a very important message that could make a big difference to many young men. Thank you!

Chantel Preston said...

This is brilliant! Not only am a coachin wag but I have two boys in competitive MAG and they have already had such comments made to them. I am going to post this in their room - my youngest son Ryley who you met is a huge fan of yours - thank you so much!

Georgette said...

Thank you for showing the flip side to what many women in male-dominated sports experience... for example, I train Brazilian jiu jitsu. It was wonderful to see it from a corollary perspective. :)

Carrie Dennis said...

Thanks Kyle well said! My son is 9 yrs old and has been a cheerleader for 2 years.The only male on the team I might add. He has been teased and trips to his school to straighten things out have been made.Luckily the principal has been very supportive and my son still continues to do what he loves.Good to hear strong voices!!!!

Anonymous said...

In reality, the females are doing a Male's sport.
Historically Gymnastics was exclusively for men, WAG was added in later. In fact I don't think there was WAG at Worlds untill the 50s - and then they were just using re-adjusted men's Parallel Bars for the Uneven Bars!

Kyle Shewfelt said...

Thanks for joining in on the conversation everyone. Really love the great feedback and additional perspective provided. Obviously I'm not the only one who feels strongly about this and that's awesome to know!

Anonymous said...

Excellent! Thank you very much for this Kyle. As an MAG coach and former gymnast myself I really appreciate the stance you have taken, and how you've addressed it.

Anonymous said...

For many years I have considered you as an inspiration to me after having major reconstructive knee surgery. I am not a guy, nor have I participated in gymnastics in a competitive capacity. What I have done is realized how hard you have worked to be at the top of your sport, represent our country in the Olympics, and recover from what would have been a devasting injury, and continue to pursue goals in new pursuits and be an awesome representative for young athletes for inspiration to reach higher towards their goals. Kyle, you are an awesome athlete, keep up the good work! Usually people who "tease" are actually jealous.

peter yeh said...

Some 40+ yrs ago, I was doing High School Gymnastics but our coach moved on to teach somewhere else. We never did get a replacement so, I went across the gym to learn how to coach...Women's Gymnastics... the raised eyebrows and comments were interesting. Fast forward to 2013... still coaching and still enjoying! Steady the course when you find something you enjoy - you never know where it will take you.

Kylie Degeling said...

This is such a wonderful blog article, Kyle. My son, Jordan, is a 10-year-old competitive MAG athlete who is also a dancer, and is also the only boy on a gymnaestrada performance team. He has put up with plenty of teasing for his choices.

Thankfully, he long ago embraced who he is, and the passion he feels for artistic sports. So at a young age he has had no problems letting cruel comments fly right off his back.

This week, he has been living his personal dream which would have been impossible without his gymnastics and dancing - training at the National Circus School in Montreal at their summer intensive! He will no doubt be even more fired up to train in gymnastics and dancing when he returns so that he can go back for more circus arts next year :)

Thanks for being such a phenomenal role model to boys and I know my son looks forward to competing and seeing you again at your Gym Fest in Calgary next year! Having you personally put a medal around his neck was one of the highlights of this last competitive season :) It's wonderful that you're still inspiring boys throughout Canada.

Karl Stubsjoen said...

I was going to post this on my site but you used the v-word a bit distastefully and in my in necessarily. Great topic though.

Anita H said...

my son is a 7 yr old gymnast and has been for 2 years now. His school and his friends think it is awesome and they invite him to bring in his awards and pictures after competition to share. I know this will probably not always be the case. I have printed off your address and we have talked to him about it and the occasional comment that has been made about Gymnastics being a girls sport. now he just challenges them to a one handed push up contest.

Jessica Tudos said...

As a female gymnast, '84 Olympian, and mom of a young boy, I never thought too much about gender in gymnastics (or other girlie activities) - until now. Just posted a portion of your article (and a link to the whole piece - hope that's ok!) on my blog at www.jessicatudos.com. Thanks for articulating your POV so well - you made me think differently! As I get ready to launch my gymnastics-themed kids book Kika the Upside Down Girl, having your perspective will help me reach out and hopefully inspire girls AND boys!