Athletically Disinclined: My Counterpoint

Athletically Disinclined: My Counterpoint

by Gabrielle Korn

I have a question. Who decided that sports – competitive, complicated, labor-intensive, rules-driven – are fun?

I don’t watch sports on TV. I never even know what sports season we’re in. In high school, the closest I came to failing a class (besides Calculus) was earning a D in Physical Education for “forgetting” my gym clothes for weeks at a time (I still think a D is worth not having to run around outside on frozen grass at 8 am). In college, when I would go to the gym with a group of gay lady friends, I’d work out alone on the elliptical machine, while they flexed their baby butch muscles playing basketball. I had less than zero desire to join them.

But I wanted to want to play. I didn’t want to be the friend who refused to break a sweat throwing a ball around. Now I’m confronting exactly what it is about sports that I find so off-putting, so antithetical to fun.

©Linda Stein: Linda Stein demonstrates “wearable” sculptures

Clearly, feminism is several steps ahead of me on this one: as the very existence of this edition of On The Issues Magazine indicates, sports are extremely important to girls and women, and the women’s movement has made enormous strides in placing us alongside men and boys in the athletic world. So if feminism has opened the door to this world, why don’t I want to walk through it?

While talking to a sporty friend about this question, she expressed the opinion that an interest in sports is due primarily to one’s nature – it seems to her that some people are just born liking sports and some people are not. I wonder if people who dislike sports have other things in common, if everyone in this category that I’m imagining is united by a broader personality trait – introversion, perhaps.

But that seems too simple.

I can’t speak on behalf of the sports-indifferent people of the world. But for me, I think it comes down to the way I view my body. When I think “competition,” the last tool I think to use is my body. I don’t want other people to pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of my physicality, and for that to affect my perceived success at an endeavor. It’s not how I navigate the world – as a recovering shy person, I’ve spent a lot of my life trying not to draw attention to myself physically. So to have my physical actions be the center of an activity feels completely counterintuitive and potentially embarrassing.

Trying It On

Recently, I went to Linda Stein’s art gallery in Manhattan for a workshop on gender identities. Up until that point, I had managed to avoid putting on one of her beautiful, wearable warrior sculptures, though I’ve been there several times and watched other people do so. This time, before I could protest, a Wonder Woman suit of armor was placed on me and I was guided to a mirror. Holding my breath, I quickly gave myself a once-over. There were my arms poking out, there were my brown boots; there was my face turning its usual shade of please-don’t-look-at-me-pink. Otherwise, I was transformed – the shape of my body and its limitations were eradicated by this enormous warrior’s figure, and I could be anything underneath it.

©Linda Stein: Various people “try on” Linda Stein’s art

I couldn’t look in the mirror for more than a few seconds before I began to feel uncomfortable. I felt better once our group returned to sitting in a circle, processing our feelings, with my words to represent me. I didn’t want to rely on my body to speak for me – I don’t trust it enough. And maybe that’s why I can’t have fun playing sports. Perhaps if I could forge a stronger connection between my internal landscape and my physical presence, I would think it was exciting to be on a team of women, collaborating and competing to get a ball through a hoop.

Realistically, that might never happen. And I’ll probably never want to watch strangers throwing a ball to each other on TV either. But I’m learning that that doesn’t mean I have to alienate myself. Recently, I’ve been trying to be as supportive as possible to the many people in my life who do enjoy sports, and I think I’m making progress. During the Super Bowl, I sat on the couch next to my girlfriend while she watched the game – and I watched Battlestar Gallactica on my laptop with my headphones on. It might not sound like much, but after a lifetime of rolling my eyes about watching football, it’s a start.

Gabrielle Korn is the Editorial Assistant of On The Issues Magazine. She is an activist and a writer. A former Feminist Press intern, she is currently a coordinator at the Lesbian Herstory Archives and an organizer of the New York City Dyke March.