By: T. Wise
Getting back into the gym flow is so mental. For the first few weeks of 2019, I have been telling myself to just get there, establish the habit, JUST GO, even if it is only for twenty minutes. So, I have been going for twenty minutes. Which is just about how long it takes for me to untangle my headphones, then I have to leave. My fingers are getting buff though.
Here is a riddle. Going to the gym regularly makes me feel invincible and invigorated, flexible and flex-on-them-able. I feel full of self-love and pride. And yet, once I fall off for just a couple days or even one week, which inevitably happens, it usually takes me weeks or months to get back in there.
My ability to get in my own way is fascinating- it gets existential. If I can block my own path, then that means there are multiple me’s. There is the me that wants to go forward and the me that is standing in the way. The moving me then has to engage the stuck me to clear the road, through fighting or coaxing that me, silencing or soothing that me, anything to get that me out of my way. By the time I do all that and untangle my headphones, I’m exhausted.
I was living in a body that made no sense to me and so I punished that body for being "wrong" by not taking care of it.
When I was eighteen I weighed 310 pounds, engaged in very little physical activity, and suffered from an eating disorder. I was living in a body that made no sense to me and so I punished that body for being "wrong" by not taking care of it.
Around twenty-one, I made a shift, prompted by an emergency gallbladder removal. The ER doctor told me my gallbladder was so filled with gallstones it was “like a sack of marbles.” I felt like there were other ways to communicate that information to me, but it stuck. I began going to the gym three times a week and being conscious of what I ate. I lost ninety pounds, and six years later, I transitioned. Now to most of the world, I read as a dude that is fluffy, but also kind of buff- a buffy dude.
Leading up to my top surgery two years ago, I became a major gym bunny because I was excited. Juiced by change, and probably by the testosterone settling into my system, the gym became my happy place during those months. I wanted to get as strong as possible to set myself up for a smooth recovery (and to impress my top surgeon with my voluptuous pecs, to give her good material to work with). Suddenly I was moving very quickly towards my surgery date, after years of just accepting a body that didn’t fit me. To go from acceptance to action requires recognition of your power and a deep trust in yourself.
Sometimes just making it to the next moment is victory, steadying ourselves so the storm leaves us drenched but not uprooted...
Ironically, after I had recovered from surgery and got the green light from my doctor to begin working out again, that trust had weakened. We sometimes wall ourselves in by stacking negative thoughts on top of one another.
The first brick I laid was, “What about the locker room? I won’t feel comfortable.”
The second brick was, “I will never be as strong as all those men rippling with muscle and grunting.”
The third was, “I am embarrassed that I have to start so small.”
And the fourth, the brick that is always within reach, almost comforting to hold even though it is heavy and hard- “What if I fail?”
Doubt is not as much about the future as it is very much a product of the present moment. When I doubt my own ability to change my patterns, to set fitness goals and meet them, to feel like I belong in the gym as much as anyone else, to be truly at home in my body- all this effectively erases how far I have already come. Doubt redacts the past and fogs the future, leaving us trapped in just this moment and just this feeling. But sometimes just making it to the next moment is victory, steadying ourselves so the storm leaves us drenched but not uprooted, and allows the next feeling, the next ‘now’, and the next day to come.
I managed to squeeze through those thoughts and made it to the gym about three months after my surgery. When I went to transfer my permanent locker from the women’s locker room to the men’s, the people in the office acted pretty normal. But then an older butch woman who worked there said to my face that she needed to discuss it with the men on her custodial staff. She said she needed to warn them that I would be in the men’s room, “because I still looked like a female.” Then she gathered the custodians right there, nodded her head towards me, and said: “She is going to use the men’s locker room now."
I never returned to that gym.
After that incident, it took me about six months to return to the gym at all. It was my first time walking into a gym flat-chested and fuzzy-faced. I saw the burly men doing pull-ups as easy as picking flowers. And they saw me.
I got to work on my headphone knot and a solid mile into my run finally got Cardi B in my ear to remind me of what is true and important. Panting and sweaty, Cardi and I proclaimed, “No more beefing I’m keeping to myself/ I’m my own competition I’m competing with myself.”
It was a whole new now.