If it weren’t for the scar on my shoulder, I’d probably forget that I ever did gymnastics.
It puzzles me still how I ended up enrolled in a gymnastics class at our local YMCA. Maybe I had watched Nadia too many times on TV because it was more likely you’d find me with my nose glued to the tube or buried in a book than exercising. Writing that makes it obvious why my parents wanted me to be active, yet why gymnastics, the epitome of “girly” sports?
No one ever called me a tomboy, but I certainly didn’t consider myself girly. When I crammed my pudgy body into a leotard, I felt ugly and sexless. The other girls in the class confidently wore cute outfits and were in control of their hair. They could imagine themselves walking the balance beam with ladylike grace. They probably envisioned themselves sticking their landings with winning, womanly, Mary Lou Retton smiles. Meanwhile, I prayed that I could somersault without falling over.
During one class, I waited in line for my turn to tumble. The princess in front of me turned to chat with the doll behind me. They were probably discussing make-up or boys or ponies or some such topic that got me tongue-tied. I tried to play it casual, though, and not seem too desperate to fit it with my gender. I hoped no one could read my doubting mind as I questioned my femininity before I even knew the word.
The girl ahead of me stopped talking when she caught sight of my shoulder. She had spotted the large birthmark near the right side of my neck. It was asymmetrical, bumpy and altogether hideous. While a shirt could conceal the unattractive brown mole, the leotard left it exposed for all to see.
“What’s that?” asked the princess.
“A birthmark,” I replied.
“Why do you have it?” inquired the doll.
Before I could answer, the princess responded with complete authority: “That means you were supposed to be a boy.”
My stomach cartwheeled. My secret fear had been both revealed and confirmed.
Years later, a plastic surgeon removed the birthmark and its potential to become cancerous. I now sport a silvery scar that’s easily hidden and much less noticeable. When I glance at the smooth, shiny skin in the mirror, my brain flips back to when I was in gymnastics. I recall how, when it came to being a proper girl, my routine was difficult but lacked the required technical content, with additional points deducted for faulty execution.