Gender Rolls: An Academic How-to-Skate Guide for Girls by Lexi Castiglione

skateboard upside down with focus on one of the wheels, stickers on bottom

1: Go to the skate park.

The moment you arrive at the edge of the skate park, squinting through the late afternoon sun at its unforgiving façade for the first time, it will be clear that there is a prestigious fraternity here. Newcomers are not entertained. This notion will dawn on you gracelessly when the Tony Hawk decal on your deck beckons the wheezing laughter of a pod of high schoolers near the stairs. Before you can even get your board on the ground, someone will comment on the helmet strapped to your head as well.

Reputable sources can tell you that girls occupy a feeble 16.6 percent of the skateboarding hierarchy. But these sources do not acknowledge the dichotomy of this small demographic, which becomes evident to you rather quickly.

The 16 percent majority of those girls will always be sans skateboard, those who the boys look at with saliva-sticky jowls, only identifiable in the skater hierarchy because of the physical space they occupy at the edges of all the quarter pipes. (These girls will later become known to you as “ramp tramps,” and it will take years for the nasty name to disappear from your vocabulary.) The remaining .6 percent is represented by you alone, gathering courage and speed with feet at awkward angles on the board, pushing sweaty hair back beneath the helmet. You are six-tenths of a girl on wheels. The only helmet in the park. You are just now learning to add decimals in your 6th grade math class, but still, this equation doesn’t seem to sum up fair.

The dissection of the boys at the park, however, is far simpler. They too have only two poles: those who mercifully ignore you, and those that deliver loud helmet jokes and toss pebbles in the path of your wheels until you flee misty-eyed from the park on foot.

In the alleyway on your route home, you take the helmet off and hurl it at the buckled pavement, fracturing it in two. Your head will feel nude without it. No visor to hide the mangled shame in your brow. Tear and sweat droplets to be seen by the world.

But the utter loneliness is what makes you feel most naked.

2: No hands.

Two summers and three springs later, your mother will accuse you of being a masochist, something you have to ask her to define. When she does, laugh it off so that she doesn’t grow suspicious. You are groaning when you move, hobbling while you walk. It doesn’t look good.

Falling has become unavoidable at this point. The street that runs beside your house is not so kind to you, and the secluded patch of concrete behind the Dollar General is even worse. But they are the only places you can ride in solitude. Recently, you have learned to stop protecting yourself when the board bucks you off. At first, it will begin as a courtesy to your wrists, which you imagine splintering like plywood underneath the full impact of your weight. Of all possible debauched skating injuries, three out of four times it’s the wrists, hands, or arms that are demolished. For the female cruiser who learns not to land on her hands, however, areas of compromised safety are most commonly the head, elbows, and knees. Eventually, though, you begin to pray for the collisions. Your body will become an altar of burst blood vessels.

When you’re in your bedroom at home after school on rainy days, you do not watch the television. You instead wonder if anyone will ever want to touch you. If the bloated pyramid shape of your body will ever deflate into a girl someone will long to hold in their arms, skin begging for familiarity. The definition of intimacy evades you. But when the sun shines, you think not of the people who will never hold you. You kick and push and ride the street beside your house and willingly eject from the board as if disfigurement were the goal.

By the time you are officially a teenager, you will learn to care less about the dullness of your knees. They will look more angular like the other girls’ when crusted in a cap of diamond-cut scabs, peeking out from beneath your desk in the 8th grade homeroom line up. You will get to know well the burst-grape gray of tortured elbows and find the wreckage charming.

Somewhere between afternoons of practice, you will somehow stumble across the sweet spot of skating: the success in all your failures. Sitting on the curb, shoulders and hips all a mess, you will realize how the reward system works, unlocked through turbulence and contrite hindsight. Though initially it will drain you of your spirit, you eventually find that the breathlessness and pain bring you euphoria. The flight from the board leaves your fear austere, your courage unadorned—every nerve exposed. And then the sudden impact with the blacktop—that intimate touch you have been missing, that unadulterated caress, aggressive in its eagerness—that is what leaves you wanting more. You drag yourself back onto seaman’s legs, climb aboard, and sail again into danger.

3: Wear the shirt.

Your first paycheck from your afterschool job will leave you in your room one night, staring into a laptop screen featuring the same online checkout page you’ve been scrutinizing for days. The “confirm order” button has been taunting you. But you grit your teeth long enough that you convince yourself you don’t care; two weeks later when your peach tie-dye Stussy shirt comes in the mail, wear it to school as if you have just dug it from the forgotten pits of some old clothing stash because you’d had no other clean options.

Somehow, it takes until the middle of second period Tech for Marcus Voorhees to start throwing pieces of eraser from the desk behind you. You will be able to feel them bounce off your back and then hear them dance along the floor, but the tech teacher will not once look up from his desktop. Keep your eyes forward. Assuming it will get a more satisfying reaction, he and the boy next to him will start whispering, “Poser, poser, poser, poser.”

Slide your forearms off the table and rest your palms on the edge so that your dark, tar-capped elbows point back at them like turrets. You will find the boys come to a stalemate rather quickly. From nearly indistinguishable whispers you will grab the words “really?” and “I don’t think so.” The smile on your face will be so sweet it cramps your cheeks like Lemonheads.

The older boys tell the younger ones that you just have to get up and try again. Get up and try again. It’s all about falling off, over and over again, and relishing the concrete sting enough to want to fall off some more. Maybe a scholar who’s never touched a board in his life calls it “vigor.” Your mom calls it piss and vinegar. Eventually, you’ll come to learn it colloquially as “doing whatever the fuck I want.”

By lunch, when your brother’s football friend smirks down at you and asks in that familiar fashion, “What are you, Tony Hawk Pro Skater?” you’ll find that all you do is squeeze the lemon juice smile and keep your mouth shut.

For years, your silence acts as your armor. Blueblooded boarders will become blue-balled boys the moment you get tits and an ass. They will suddenly forget about stripping you of your pride and instead focus on stripping you of your jeans, as if they haven’t been harassing you for years already. But still, even when one of them cozies up to you at some party five years later, you will find him asking you, his beer breath creeping up from beneath your snarled hair, “Do you, like, wear that shirt for attention? ‘Cause Tomboys are kinda hot.”

And, with no words at all, you will show him the whiskey-colored pit stains and the pinot noir blood specks along the collar. And you will walk away before he gets the chance.

4: Bruise inventory.

Vanity will strike around age sixteen. A floor-length mirror will find its way into the crevice between your dresser and your bed. Stand before it naked each night prior to bedtime, taking inventory of injuries.

Feel the textured map of your skin: mountain ranges of clotted blood on elbows, knees, shoulders, palms; swamps of bruises on shins and thighs, hips and ribs. There will be something satisfying in pressing a finger into the purple pools. Allow yourself the fulfillment. Be a cartographer of your own fear. This will always feel like one part reward, one part punishment.

No one has seen you this way before. Nudity always occurs with careless boys in the dark of neglect; it is touching, not feeling. No other person has yet taken the time to explore you in the way you do yourself. Maybe no one ever will. This part of you has become so serenely private that you do not know if you would ever want to share it with someone else. They will see the flawed beauty in you, the nearly imperceivable perfections. They might like the dimpling of your thighs, or maybe how your lashes sleep on your cheeks. But they will not get to know the ugliest parts of you. The parts that resemble failure you will cherish for your own.

Every night before you go to sleep, you feel and discover, and remind yourself that you are not the salt of the earth. You are simply the stones. Your breath will lie low like fog in the shallow valley of your lungs as your hands hike and hike.

5: Bomb the hill.

Do it because the boy you’re sleeping with said it was impossible. On a July morning, you will find yourself standing at the top of the asphalt fun slide that is West 14th Street. Your intention is to plummet down toward the plateau at the bottom, which will either brake you or break your teeth. At first, you wondered why it is called “bombing.” Now, looking at the flat hump at the bottom, your body indeed feels like an explosive. Pulsing and ticking, you see the bottom and can only imagine yourself detonating into gory shrapnel along the crosswalk.

Yet for once, you feel every bit the textbook definition of who you should be—respiration deepening, heart galloping, hot thumping blood fleeing the stomach to nest in the muscles, trembling fire seeping from the adrenal medulla. The very neurons of your skin are building sandbags around themselves in preparation. It will all hurt. Knowing this is half the battle. The visceral terror is what makes you feel most alienated from yourself, a tourist in your own body. But it’s always difficult leaving home.To bomb the hill and take the ride—that is the vacation.

Allow the fear to undress you until you are unrecognizable, but a body upon a board. Do not think. Force your back foot from the ground. Do not ease into the descent. Dive. Wait for speed to pick up and leave your stomach behind. It’s just excess baggage now.

They say the only way to conquer a fear is to face it, and they also say that humans go their entire lives without being able to truly look into their own face. But when you are reeling down that hill for the first of many times, leaving ground more each moment you gain speed, you will find the truth: sometimes, the face of fear is your own, and it is all you can see as you blow blindly past cars and mailboxes on your way to rock bottom.

It will happen before and after you know it, because you’ve known it all along.The vessel beneath your feet will begin to take you for excess baggage, too. It will writhe and rear beneath you. You are no longer wanted, and part of you no longer wants this, either. Let the fall feel like a termination of sorts. Falling is finality, the end of fear. This is the easy part. This, you have done before.

Fling yourself into it headlong. In the fleeting moment you are airborne, take stock of the things you love most about your skull: every single one of your teeth, starting with the first and ending with the twenty-eighth. Years ago your mother dished out child support dollars for braces. When they were removed, the orthodontist gave you a mouthguard to wear in times of potential dental peril to protect your pretty new mug, and now all you can think of is how the sight of that rubber retainer lying discarded on your dresser will make you laugh hysterically later tonight when you’re sitting in bed toothless. Hold a funeral service for your smile as you fall, and mourn the loss of your helmet while you’re at it.

You will be so occupied with frantic thoughts of headgear and mouth guards that you’ll hardly notice you’re still alive after the solid bounce of hip, shoulder, and cheek on the ground. Breath will come back in a gasp, like you’ve just been tumbled ashore by a menacing wave. Above you, the sky will be bluer than any beautiful bruise you’ve had to date. Beneath you, a little pool of red fills the craters in the road’s complexion. Your right cheek has been grated like mozzarella by the barbed road. Your lips are a mangled mess of skin, diced by teeth. Something about the blood is as savory as sunshine. You think about how the brackets of your braces used to chew angrily at the inside of your lips.

Despite losing pieces of yourself to the concrete, every beating bit of you feels whole. Sitting in the street with scrapes sanded into your smile, you watch without care as your board reaches the bottom of the hill and continues to roll onward into traffic. Everything about this feels like getting braces off: barren, but beautiful, with a healthy dose of facial agony as well.

It takes a moment before you are able to get up. As you walk down the rest of 14th Street, you relish the way your anguished skin wraps itself around your battered meat and knotted bones, almost like a hug. You need not wear anything else.


Lexi-CastiglioneLexi Castiglione is a nonfiction writer based in upstate New York. A graduate of Wells College, she became the two-time recipient of the Rose Hill Prize for Nonfiction during her undergraduate career, and most recently served as associate editor at The Sonder Review.



STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Alexander Vollmer

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