What most people don’t realize is that everything in a gym is gendered. From the weight rooms to the yoga studios, shadowing each moving body is the invisible avatar of their ideals. These ghostly goals echo conceptions of the traditionally masculine and feminine. Svelte women in colorful spandex peer down from the walls at the rows of treadmills, while the weight room is plastered with images of bulging pectorals and gleaming muscles. The lightest weights are pink.
Fitness is my life, but neither idol speaks to me. I lift heavy, surprisingly so for my size. I train to change the parameters of my physique to better embody my gender identity. I want broader shoulders, to offset the feminine width of my hips. I want to carry muscle weight in my arms, not my butt or legs. It’s the illusion of masculinity, painted atop the bones of a woman, that sings to me.
At first sight, I’m uncategorizable. In still images I’m ambiguous, but biology perhaps outweighs presentation enough that most people lean female. In person, the physicality of my movements tips the scale toward male. I’m happy that way, but there’s nowhere it’s more problematic than in locker rooms. Cropped hair and baggy clothes that earn me odd glances on the floor are actively unsettling in a space where women make themselves vulnerable. There’s an understandable safety concern when a woman changing in a locker room thinks a man has just walked in. I get it. The reactions hurt, but I won’t pretend not to sympathize.
Over time, I’ve developed particular habits for entering. My face must be visible. Short of the defining ones, it’s my most feminine feature. I throw extra clothing on over my tank top to soften the ridges of muscles on my arms and shoulders. It feels strange to hide what I work so hard to hone, but I draw the line at causing actual alarm. Alarm implies the fear of violence -- and I not only understand, but I ultimately need to be concerned about violence against me as well.
I rarely take my headphones off. Not in the locker rooms, during my sets, not while walking in and out. If they wouldn’t electrocute me, I’d wear them right into the shower.
I don’t need to hear the whispers to know what people are saying. “Is that a boy or a girl?” “What is that?”
Tuning out is a decision that cuts both ways. I also don’t hear when people are impressed with how much weight I throw around. But that’s okay. To care about their approval would allow in the disapproval of others. I choose not to give anyone’s opinion of me merit. The gym is my temple, and I’m not there for nobody’s gaze but my own.
At the same time, I am proud of my physique. I’m strong and sleek and may never be as large as I want to be. I train enough clients to know that generally, women work out to be smaller and men train to get bigger. I buck the trend. My idols win bodybuilding awards. And they don’t care if some scrawny guy thinks they’re too muscular to be female.
As for me, I know that not everyone will like or accept me at first sight -- but damn if they aren’t going to remember me.