The first thing that hit me was the smell: the pungent mixture of stale sweat, old equipment lockers, and floor mats mixing into a sickly aroma that immediately took me back to High School. I could feel the sting of those red rubber balls as some huge kid hurled them at me over and over again; the stitch in my side as the instructor yelled at me for two more laps. I could feel my flesh crawl as I passed the locker room, sensing the steam and masculinity pouring forth.
This is my own personal hell.
I haven’t been in a Gym since my last PE class in High School, and with good reason: that was the one place where the rules of the playground extended into the classroom. The bullying that I normally suffered from between classes was entirely foregrounded in PE, where it was even school-sanctioned in certain ways: the huge, tough, mean kids were often rewarded for being such in PE, while people like me (who normally do pretty well in school) are reminded that if you don’t look like and act like a man, you’ll never be one. PE is one of the sorting social mechanisms in school that galvanizes cliques and establishes how one feels about their own gender. It’s a pretty brutal experience, even for people who are athletically inclined.
For this first time since I started going to PSU, I’m taking a class that meets in the campus rec room, a building I’ve intentionally avoided all this time because of what it stands for in my mind. But I decided to sign up for a yoga class this term, and found myself (yet again) wandering around in a building, lost, while huge, muscular kids ran past to the equipment room, or the showers, or what-have-you.
It was almost enough to make me drop the class. Almost.