After a brief break due to Hurricane Sandy, Thanksgiving, Donna’s birthday, Hanukkah, my birthday, Christmas, and New Years, I waddled back to the gym. This is the obligatory January gym post.
The very first time I went to the gym I felt like Moby Dick. I was one big whale of a butch flailing around. Donna had basically told me to get my middle-aged gut to a gym and get in shape. She was worried about me because my Dad died young (43), and I take after my Dad (homely looking). Donna doesn’t often ask me to do things that will make me appear more butch so I didn’t want to refuse her. I hoped that going to the gym would help me close the schism between my head and my body. That working out would make my body feel less alien. That it would cast out the demon of dysphoria.
My Dad didn’t play sports, didn’t use power tools, didn’t own a car. I am not a macho butch or a manly butch or even a gentleman butch. I am a nerdy Jewish boy butch. I am a pudgy wuss. I am just like my Dad.
The second time I went to the gym I had an introductory free session with a personal trainer. It was painful. I was beet red after 5 minutes. I was out of breath. I was a 5-foot-4-inch 175 pound weakling. I returned hoping I could work out in peace and quiet without a trainer without making a total fool of myself. I bought some gym shorts. After a couple of months of lifting weights and using the elliptical, I started to look a little more like Charlie the Tuna. This was a big improvement. I was still ridiculous, I wasn’t svelte, but there was hope.
I don’t think it has anything to do with being butch or trans*, but I am happiest in the water. I am ecstatic in the ocean. I love to swim. I’d swim in a pool for exercise, but I haven’t found a swimsuit I can tolerate wearing in public. Even the thought of wearing my black racerback Speedo makes me cringe. Dysphoria is insidious. It transforms pleasurable activities into a slog though miles of muddy swampland.
I can handle gym shorts and a t-shirt, so long as I avoid the full length mirrors. When I work out, I look at myself from the shoulders up. I look at my form and not at my body. I tell myself that I am only competing against myself. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is lifting. Concentrate on the on the movement and the feel of my muscles contracting not on the size of the dumbbells or the number of plates on the bar. I remind myself that I feel good and I look better when I am working out regularly. I hold my breath every time I walk into the women’s locker room, hoping no one tries to stop me.
My personal weight lifting goal is to feel like Flipper, the bottlenose dolphin who effortlessly jumps up in the air and then dives down into the water. Who laughs and swims and is friends with Sandy and Bud. If I worked out more, I could be as graceful as Flipper. Therein lies the problem. My roles models are fish. Male fish (technically marine mammals).