Carving Out Space In The Gym For My Genderqueer Self

Designed by Yazmin Butcher.
I discovered an amazing new activity during isolation times: working out. I dug my partner’s dusty weights from the bowels of the hall closet and started high-kneeing around the apartment every other day.
Yes, I’d heard of this pastime before. I knew, theoretically, that everyone had deltoids, for example, and that those deltoids should probably be moved around once in a while. I just didn’t think this concept applied to me. I prefer yoga to gym life. (I’m a Taurus, I need exercise that lets me have a little judgment-free nap in the middle of it. I walk a lot, too.) Also, most gyms are too steeped in binary toxicity for my non-binary ass to feel happy or comfortable there, and the messaging around fitness too exclusive. Beyond that, the idea of "fitness" always felt preachy, moral, like a means to somebody else's end — a way to mould myself into a product. Overall, at odds with my feminism.
But during quarantine, with my yoga studio closed, being forced to exercise at home made me really tune in to what my body needed. Like probably most people, I was feeling a lot of anxiety, and had excess energy from being cooped up so much. For me, this anxiety can manifest as anger, and it gets unpleasant. I also have chronic pain in my neck and shoulders from hunching over a laptop in a posture quite unlike that which most homo sapiens are built to exhibit. So I started lifting weights for the first time ever (stronger muscles = less joint pain), and running; and I started to see exercise as a treatment, not a prescription to be suffered through. Now, as gyms open back up across Canada, I’m actually considering going. I live in New Brunswick, where there are only six active cases in the province. The gym doesn’t look like such a wild idea.
Still, I have reservations.
Fitness culture is dominated by that vapid, protein powder-fuelled rush to get swole for no reason and unhealthy pressure to lose weight. Sad protein bars reign. At the gym, the uglier parts of the gender binary are in full force: men go to bulk up, women go to get smaller. Of course this doesn’t apply to all men and women, and bulking up or slimming down can be perfectly fine; plenty of people have a healthy relationship with working out. I don’t, though. I’ve felt left out of fitness since I was a kid — I was clumsy and dainty and particular and hated getting dirty, or having dodgeballs lobbed at my bespectacled face.

Somewhere along the line, I clearly failed to separate the toxicity of gyms from the idea of exercise in general.

Growing up labelled as a girl, I was, frankly, fat phobic, and felt compelled to lose weight. I felt the machines and weights were too dominated by grunting men to learn how to use them: getting strong, somehow, was not for me. Exercise was a set of deliberate acts I needed to perfect in order to sculpt and shave all of the fat off of particular parts of my body. I had internalized the message that I had to try to erase myself to be worthy. Overall, the gym was a depressing place, especially for a closeted gender non-conforming cheese eater.
Somewhere along the line, I clearly failed to separate the toxicity of gyms from the idea of exercise in general. I used to yearn to hit people who yapped about the joys of vigorous exercise over the head with a frying pan. But now, I’m clearly one of those assholes, because exercise provides me the support I need.
Yes, I was able to make these body discoveries due to extended period of peace and quiet of these past few months, but it’s also thanks mostly to fat, non-binary, and trans icons that I’ve been able to develop a healthier attitude toward my body and working out — see Lizzo, Lindy West, Janelle Monáe, Jonathan Van Ness, and Ruby Rose. 
Even before quarantine and its accompanying revelations, coming out as enby led to my ability to accept my body as it is, and the idea that it’s allowed to have substance. It took a true realization of my identity for the body posi lessons I’ve learned to start to apply not just to others around me, but to me personally. Understanding the fact that there is no blueprint for how a non-binary body “should” look drove home the point that there is no way any body should look. That thought has set me free. I finally realize I have every right to build muscle, and to eat cookies when I want to. I don’t want to get smaller. I want to gain a little if anything. I think my fat is cute. I’d like to keep it and get stronger at the same time.
When I do go to the gym, I will take this newfound power of mine with me and lift some weights. Away from the Muscle Milk guzzlers.

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