The summer before my high school senior year, I knew that getting in training miles was critical to fall success. My old pair of adidas Italias were already worn out from a full season of running, but back then no one seemed concerned that kids might hurt themselves training in less-than-adequate or worn out shoes. So I did my best with what I had.
I also actually owned very little running gear. The one pair of shorts I’d kept from cross country season were getting frayed at the edges. So I visited a local department store to find something else to wear while running. My mind was full of ideas but my wallet was not full of money. So I chose a pair of plain white shorts with a drawstring in the waist.
That afternoon, I tossed on the shorts, paired them with a white running tee shirt I’d owned for several years, and headed out the door for a four-mile run.
About half a mile into the run, I glanced down at my outfit and realized it looked like I was running around in my underwear. I’d worn a jockstrap underneath the shorts, but the shorts themselves looked all the world like an extended pair of boxer briefs. Those were not even popular at the time.
I was already chagrined by my appearnce by the time I reached a house where a group of pre-teenagers was playing wiffleball in the front yard. One of them called out, “Are you a boy or a girl?”
With my long blondish-brown hair trailing behind me, the nature of my gender probably was not all that clear to anyone that saw me. I flushed with embarrassment at the notion that they thought I might be a girl. But one almost couldn’t blame them. Women’s running gear was so unflattering in those days it made even the most attractive girls look androgynous.
Yet the appearance of my own androgyny was disconcerting. There was very little tolerance for boys who looked or acted like girls in the 1970s. The descriptive terms typically used for homosexual men were far from complimentary.
Thus the competition to exude machismo in every circumstance was real and often demonstrated. As distance runners, we’d learned to defend the “toughness” of our sport against comments from football players trundling into the locker room during two-a-day workouts in the August heat.
It helped somewhat that the cross country team went 9-1 the previous year while the football team went 1-9. If you can’t be outright macho, the lesson seemed to say, at least have the power to endure.
All these thoughts went through my head as I ran in my Underwear Outfitthat day . I’m sure I drew other looks about town as the run continued. Yet at some point, as the running itself seeped into my soul, I simply ceased caring what I looked like. I was running. Fast.
These days things have changed in how people dress or view themselves in terms of gender and sexual identity. Androgyny is no longer a threat to rational people. Athletes of all genders traipse around in onesie skinsuits with little to hide.
There was a time, you may recall, when only women wore swimcaps. If you don’t recall that era, that’s only proof how much fashions and gender identity has changed in the last forty years.
Swimmers and cyclists shave their legs. It doesn’t make them gay or straight any more than wearing a swimcap affects someone’s sexuality. Body hair is a fetish for some people while others it is an offense. Again, that doesn’t dictate a person’s sexuality, or even their gender. Sexuality and gender identity should take a backseat to performance. The same might be said for transgender people in the military. It’s all about what you can do, not what people want to define for you.
While riding last night I glanced down at my skintight shorts and shaved legs and thought back to that day when the wiffleball kids could not tell whether I was a boy or a girl. I’ve come to realize with time that is their problem, not mine.
And I kept on riding. Every person’s main priority in life is to endure.