Inside the boys’ club
Carla Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - June 20, 2014 - 12:00am

While most women ooze a palpable femininity that makes men want to take care of them, to buy them dinner and hold their hand, I ooze something else entirely. I’m not quite sure what it is but it involves taking care of myself, paying for my own dinner and almost no hand holding.

MANILA, Philippines - Let me preempt this pity party by first saying that I am not an unattractive woman. On the good days I may be lucky enough to garner maybe even two or three genuine compliments because I remembered to brush my hair or shave my legs. On the everyday, however, there is usually an uncombed, uncouthness that I have painstakingly cultivated over the years as a freak (in the Freaks and Geeks sense), from which I can never really stray too far, no matter how hard I try. Now where are we?

From the time I was a child until early adolescence I was painfully hideous. Yes, hideous. I say this with almost 10 years of braces under my belt (which did mostly nothing because I still always get food stuck in my teeth), the remaining vestiges of my puberty still wreaking havoc all over my face, and, of course, my ever-so-reliable (and I suppose now) trademark glasses which I’ve been unfashionably sporting since I was 12 — not the same pair, mind you, but the blindness. What I’m trying to say is, I am an expert at being awkward, still teeming with insecurities, and essentially, despite having grown up a tad in the past century, the 13 year-old girl I was and always will be. (Once, in college, I had a friend post a photo on Facebook that she ninja-ed from an old, hidden photo album in my house of me in my grade school days with the caption “Guess who?” and tagging all my friends. The comments that ensued were along the lines of “OMG who is that??” and “You should take that down, it’s mean.” This was before I even had Facebook so I only found out afterwards. It really is pretty funny.)

Anyone who’s ever been unattractive may realize that the invisibility that comes with it is a little lonely. Boohoo, I know. It was my own fault, I let my peers get the best of me when I was younger. If your classmates call you ugly, then you’re ugly, right? Ugly is harsh, but the reality of grade school is just that (in any case it sure as hell ain’t pretty). I learned quickly. I learned how to be defensive, to keep my head down after a fashion. But I wasn’t a pushover; it wasn’t really in my nature. I didn’t allow myself to be bullied. Sometimes my defensiveness turned into a sort of bullying of its own. I would retaliate if necessary, and I wouldn’t allow myself to be taken advantage of just because I wasn’t necessarily as “normal” as the other kids.

My ugliness had also given me a wealth of alone time, which I used to sharpen my wit and my tongue because all-girls schools don’t really allow for a lot of fistfights (although I had managed to get into a few of those as well). But mostly I kept my head down. If unprovoked, I was as harmless as a baby. By the time high school rolled around I became better adjusted and very slowly learned how to let genuine people in and made a few friends with the same interests. My loneliness had gotten the best of me. I also think that because the school was so small, everyone got tired of bullying and eventually came to the unwritten social contract of leaving each other alone.

But I was still ugly, and still insecure. Fortunately, I studied at an all-girl school run by nuns, which left little opportunity for me to interact with the opposite sex. There were the occasional school-sanctioned soirees (complete with parental chaperones), school fairs and the like, but I rarely participated. When I did have the opportunity to talk to a real, live boy, I flailed and failed, as I was wont to do in all social situations. I never really got around to learning the nuances of flirting; I was having a difficult enough time grasping the fundamentals of being normal. The few boys I did manage to talk to were really only talking to me in order to get to my exponentially hotter friends. And while I did like some of them, I didn’t really stand much of a chance so I sort of left it at that.

It was only in college that I really met boys. Like, a lot. Being a wee bit more mature, a little less ugly and better at hiding my social retardation, I broadened my interaction with boys like a science experiment.

As it turns out I like boys. Boys are awesome. Although thankful I wasn’t a lesbian (one of my best friends in high school totally turned out to be one), I suddenly realized liking boys was sort of a problem. Given my track record with boys (none), how on earth was I supposed to get one to like me back? It turns out I wouldn’t have to think about it because boys liked me too… as a friend.

This was the point in time when I finally ended up fulfilling the prophecy for which I was named, and for which I was born. (Literally my name, according to babynames.com means “manly,” or “free man.”) I became, quite easily and without much fuss: One of the Boys.

Because I had gotten real friends a little late in life (and to be fair-time is much shorter when you’re younger), I valued the idea of friendship immensely. I was thankful for whatever genuine friends I could get. When it comes to trusting people, I liked (and still like) to take my time. I have always been on the meaner side of nice: the sarcastic, defensive side, developed over the years to ward of the insincerity and platitudes often thrown around loosely by vapid, careless peers and in a way this helped me weed out true friends from false. By the time I had arrived at college, I was fully armed with a well-disguised functioning defensive mechanism I liked to call The Wall.

Wading through the endless options presented in college, it was a very useful thing to have. It made me extra careful, but careless as well. And while I wasn’t “pretty” in a very regular sense, I was getting better at being presentable (and, again, had a wealth of eligible all girls school classmates), which made me sort of an acceptable excuse for a friend. With my prickly personality, I mean, how could you not?

And while the boys I liked still didn’t like me back there was really too much going on for me to think about it to dwell on why. I kind of just accepted it, the way I kind of just accept anything else, really. In any case, I was busy. There were a lot of fun, random things to do, and I wanted to do all of it. I was also busy slowly accepting who I was (aka super weird) and trying to make myself, er, socially digestible in some way, and the fact that I had all these new friends (mostly boys) who didn’t seem to mind how weird I was kind of glazed over the fact that I was not a viable romantic partner.

While most women ooze a palpable femininity that makes men want to take care of them, to buy them dinner and hold their hand, I ooze something else entirely. I’m not quite sure what it is but it involves taking care of myself, paying for my own dinner and almost no hand holding. My good friend Clark once told me I was the only girl he knew that he could body slam without hesitation, to which I replied “You don’t stand a chance”. Having The Wall helped cushion the blow of being grossly unfeminine and by this point in time I was learning how to deal with the reality of who I was, so it was okay.

Thanks (and also no thanks) to The Wall I became the ultimate bro. To be fair, I’ve always been down for anything. I drink like a fish. I drive like a maniac. I have absolutely no respect for my mortality. While I had always been a secret rascal, I lacked friends to do rascally things with (girls can be such a bore). Now I had a whole slew of crazy, ridiculous, idiotic guy friends to enable my youth and stupidity, and I loved every minute of it. I was privy to all the stupid shit girlfriends were not allowed to see. I was taken to pubs for late night football games, to spontaneous out-of-town adventures with no planned itineraries, to smoke sessions in the school parking lot, to skate sessions in whatever village we could sneak into, to crazy all-nighter hotel parties, to strip clubs, to bars, to drinking sessions where all we do is goof off and be bums, and to other things that I probably shouldn’t talk about here.

Having accepted the fact that I am basically a sexless entity to men also helped demolish any gender roles that existed between the opposite sex and me. It eliminated attraction and took away whatever social censor I had that dictated what I shouldn’t say/do in front of them. There was a candor to our conversations and we were able to talk about literally anything: sex, relationships, religion, politics, society, philosophy, you name it. It was freeing. There was no need to worry that saying or doing the wrong thing that might make me less attractive, because I already wasn’t, anyway. No need to pretend to be demure, girly and sweet when I was, in fact, not. Basically we cut out the bullshit and were left with whatever raw, fundamental humanity we actually were and I liked it. It felt like the truth.

 The thing about being One of the Boys, however, is once the boys vouch for you and introduce you to their friends as such, soon enough everyone treats you as One of the Boys. This means that they will burp, fart, swear, say filthy things, send me disgusting photos, and do other gross boy stuff in my presence. There is no filter. Some of these gross boy things I have, over time, picked up (to my mother’s utmost shame and my personal humiliation). The downside to being One of the Boys, though, is that whatever little femininity I had possessed in the first place had basically disappeared and left me a little confused about who I was as a woman, while at the same time leaving me so comfortable with who I am as a person.

Now that I’m older (and no longer residing in the careless, irresponsible, total douchebag stage of my yesteryear), I realize how lucky I am to have been allowed into the mysterious world of men. A world that most women have never and most likely will never be accepted into. It is in this world that I’ve made the best friends I will ever have, and met some of the most amazing people I will ever meet. These are the friends that I know I can count on when I’m in trouble, who are there for me through thick and thin, and most importantly, whom I can call when I’m too drunk to drive home. They are the ones who accepted me at my most insecure, stomached me at my ugliest and helped me become my truest, weirdest self without judgment, for which I am eternally grateful. Because of them I am always able to hold my own among men (and anyone, for that matter), unfazed by whatever shit they throw at me because, well, I’m kind of used to it.

While I may be doomed to be “one of the boys” until the end of time, it is both a blessing and a curse that few are burdened with, and I am happy to carry it. I still struggle daily trying to salvage whatever of my femininity I can (and to be fair I’ve been putting my foot down more and more when it comes to the gross stuff), I do think I’m better off without those telling, fairer sex qualities that women are wont to indulge, throwing gossip, drama and fussiness out the window all in favor of beer drinking. Being One of the Boys is something that’s a part of me now, and that no matter how hard I try, I am just such an ultimate homie it’s impossible to break free. So I just stopped trying. And while being in the bro zone is not necessarily the best place to be in your late 20s (but who am I kidding, I never go out on dates), I’ve made some wonderful friends, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

BOYS BUT I FRIENDS ONE ONE OF THE BOYS REALLY SCHOOL STILL TIME WHILE I
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