Moving Beyond Aesthetics:
A Jock’s Attempt to Queer the Fitness Industry
My masculinity has been forged within the gyms of Los Angeles. From setting foot in my first boxing gym as a questioning teenager to now stepping through the ropes as a trans* masculine athlete, my gender identity development has coincided with the growth of my muscles. This connection is something I have been conscious of for some time, but I never knew how this would eventually impact anything beyond myself. It wasn’t until I became more involved in the queer community that I realized I had skipped over most of the discomfort masculine of center individuals experience in gym settings. It took even longer for me to realize and acknowledge I was unwittingly participating in creating a hostile environment for non-normative individuals.
My own fitness story follows a fairly mainstream narrative:overweight teenager sheds weight in gym,becomes addicted to fitness and vows to help others achieve similar results . It was standard to the stories most personal trainers relay to their potential clients to demonstrate similar circumstances and possible outcomes of signing up for a training package. Four years after my own physical transformation and burgeoning career as an elite amateur boxer, I netted my first job as a personal trainer in a high end gym on Sunset Blvd. It was a gym where hopefuls go to be seen by those in the entertainment industry and normative aesthetics of beauty were heavily enforced. The motto “no pain, no gain” was the law of the land and the articles found within fitness magazines were held as gospel truths. I was taught to only speak of fat loss to women and muscle gain to men and coached to push clients to the end of their limits within the very first session. These beliefs, coupled with public lack of understanding of gender variant individuals, is the reason why so many queer people are turned off by training. It took me some time before I was able to break free from these gym standards.
Even my first involvement with assisting masculine of center fitness interests is tainted with this methodology of training. I was contacted by Cole B.Cole, the founder of Brown Boi Project, to create an exercise routine for the organization’s health guide entitled Freeing Ourselves. When I constructed the workout plan, my advice stemmed from my previous level of exercise education. It wasn’t until a few years later I was made wiser through a series of injuries, an apprenticeship under a knowledgeable strength coach, and becoming a brown boi myself. It was my participation in the brown boi leadership cohort which caused my gender identity to start having a larger effect on my training methods. If my identity disrupted binaries, why was I relying on normative standards of fitness? How was I going to dismantle the practices of my chosen industry in order to make it more accessible to those of my community?
To begin tackling this task, I examined two very important parts of my identity; being queer and being a boxer. While the queer portion can be credited with the utilization of a critical gaze of current fitness practices and the shift in my language from such things as fat loss and muscle gain to body recomposition, it is my experience as a boxer which leads me to a more radical notion of fitness; one which is primarily performance driven. A boxer earns his/her/their respect not from aesthetics, but through accomplishments. My beefier visage may not have looked as impressive as other competitors’ leaner muscles, but my ability to throw upwards to ninety punches in a two-minute round and my superior tactics led me to victory and thus acclaim within boxing circles. Furthermore, I used strength training and strength gains to enhance these boxing abilities, not to mirror an aesthetic I saw in the media. My confidence, both as an athlete and as a person, largely stems from my capabilities. If this worked in my circumstances, could I not apply the same principles to clients in non-athletic endeavors? Could not strength gains be used to enhance an individual’s everyday life? I put my theory to the test first with a small group of queer youth from the Long Beach Center and then a few masculine identified colleagues.Their results have completely altered my perceptions on being a trainer.
Every trainee shattered previously held perceptions of their own strength and expressed excitement in seeing their progress.Regardless of how they demonstrated their masculinity or their fitness goals, when asked the question “Do you want to be stronger?” the answer was always “Yes”. If we shift the focus away from aesthetics, we remove a powerful obstacle. With its removal, we can measure ourselves not by the numbers on the scale or the images in a magazine, but by the sudden ease of a movement once considered impossible. I believe this is the true meaning of training; to inspire ourselves with the possibilities of our own potential.
Witnessing those who I train continually improving has been one of the most inspiring things I have been privileged to be a part of. Watching their development has made me realize the manner in which I wish to contribute to my community. I once believed my only contribution would be through visibility in my sport, but I now wish to be a teacher. Instead of motivating others by my actions, I want guide them in finding inspiration in their own growth. I want to dismantle the barriers which have detoured others from realizing their potential strength. If we as a community celebrate our strength of mind and spirit, let us embrace the strength of our individual bodies as well.