A Purely Physical First Impression: The Female Coxswain
It’s often said that people change a lot when they come to college. But the majority of people do not change so drastically that they start to cross-dress. Have you ever had someone look at you and wonder if you were a guy or a girl? I had this wonderful experience during my first week of college.
I decided to try out for the men’s rowing team … but I had absolutely no desire to actually row. Instead, I wanted to be a coxswain. (Hold the laughter at the name please). For those who don’t know, the coxswain is the person who sits at the back of the boat, steers and encourages the rowers (read: yells constantly). However, the coxswain is also the only one who faces forward. The job is much easier said than done, especially the steering straight part. On the men’s team, the coxswain can be male or female, though the rowers must all be males. Besides my own desire to participate in a collegiate sport, my cousin Jessica was a coxswain for the men’s rowing team at Boston College and since she loved it, I was inspired to give coxing a try.
However, before I could officially join the team or get in a boat, I had to get a physical. So during that first week of school, instead of looking for the buildings I would have class in, I went in search of the hospital on campus.
“Is there a medical center on campus?” I asked myself. We have a medical center? Where the heck was it? I hadn’t exactly seen students walking around in scrubs nearby. Luckily my roommate knew. So on the Saturday designated for physicals, I got up early at 7 a.m. (how was I to know that that would soon be sleeping in?!) and sluggishly made my way to the Student Health Center.
Still half asleep, I took a seat in the soon-to-be crowded waiting room, after checking in with the receptionist. After half an hour, other athletes fell asleep in their chairs or talked noisily together. I sat patiently and waited, hoping they would soon call my name.
“Emma SEEMANN,” called one of the doctors, horribly butchering my last name so that several snickers escaped from my peers’ mouths before they could stop themselves. I indignantly got up and followed the doctor back to the examination room, while chiding myself for hoping he’d pronounce my last name correctly.
Once in the examination room, the doctor began to ask me questions. When was my birthday? Do I exercise regularly? Can I touch my toes? He then said, “What sport are you trying out for?” I happily responded, “Men’s rowing.” There was a long silence. The doctor gave me a funny look, tilting his head. “Pardon?” he asked.
“Men’s rowing,” I repeated. Realizing he was looking at me as though I were a guy dressed as a girl, I hurriedly explained that I was hoping to be a coxswain for the team, not a male rower. I couldn’t believe he thought I cross-dressed. I’m not a girly-girl, but I’m certainly no tomboy!
The doctor, slightly embarrassed for his confusion, signed my form and told me to give my chart to the lady at the end of the hall who would clear me. I thanked him and then handed my folder to the lady there. “Men’s rowing?!” she asked, looking at me in extreme confusion as if there had been a mistake on my folder.
Yes, men’s rowing. No, I’m not a cross-dresser. Yes, I am a girl, I politely explained. Apparently the faculty was unaware that women could be coxswains on the men’s team. “I’m going to go ahead and put ‘coxswain’ on the front of your folder to save you a lot of grief,” the lady said with a smile. I was grateful, as I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the awkward and uncertain looks I was bound to receive if I ever needed to go back to the hospital.
For the rest of the year, whenever people asked me what team I was on, I always said I was the coxswain for the men’s rowing team, and that the men’s coxswains could be girls. Now, instead of those bizarre stares, the usual response is applause for having a position that requires me to tell guys what to do!