Gender dysphoria has plagued many moments of my life. In fact, some of my earliest memories remain stark in my mind as moments of feeling lost in my body. Being at the golf store with my dad, and having a ravenous obsession with the sweater vests. There was something about the sharp argyle patterns, and crisp cuff lines. I couldn’t tell you how my parents responded to my want for the purple and grey one I got my grubby little hands on…but I do know it never made it home with me. I couldn’t have been much older than 6 or 7, but if I close my eyes and imagine the smell of fresh leather and the sound of people testing out clubs in the range area, I am brought back to that store. I can feel the 80% cotton and 20% cashmere in my fists, imagining how it would show off my arms without hugging my petite frame.
However disappointing my sweater vest memory is, it was one of the first moments of clarity I had about my identity. Maybe that vest didn’t hang in my closet, but it hung in my mind as a siren for what was yet to come.
I have been an athlete my entire life. Growing up I was a multi-sport athlete through every season. Winter was hockey and volleyball, Spring included track and field and rowing. Summer featured more track and field, occasionally soccer, and ball hockey. Finally, Fall brought about cross country, and basketball. On top of it all, fitness is a passion that has always ignited my deepest sense of self.
I began my own training around age 9. While the drive has remained the same, the goal has weathered many gender-fluid storms. As a child, I loved the attention of having ‘unbelievable’ strength…especially when it showed the ‘boys’ who was boss! What was so wonderful about this time was that societal pressures, and peer-level interrogations, hadn’t forced me to evaluate my beauty, yet. Instead, all that mattered was doing the most pushups, planking longer, and running the fastest. It was a simple time.
However, puberty wreaked havoc on my gender-fluid being. Suddenly, I was painfully aware that my breasts had been replaced by strong pectoral muscles. I remember foolishly thinking that my back side would have to make up for that, to maintain any kind of desirability. During these years, I tortured my mind into conforming to female beauty standards. I was worried about being too ‘bulky’, not having breasts, and not having curves. I would stand in the mirror, flaunting skin-tight dresses, skinny jeans, and leggings knowing that the aesthetic appearance of my body was ‘to standard’. However, witnessing my body in feminine clothing made me want to crawl out of my skin. Suddenly, the goal was no longer obvious. This was the fantastic beginning of a complex, heartbreaking, and liberating fitness journey.
The transition to ‘men’s’ clothing came gradually. It started with looser fitting jackets; then shirts. Finally, the button-downs began to appear, as well as straight-cut pants. My muscular arms and broad chest started to look ‘at home’. The goal changed, quickly. I began to observe my male-identifying, athletic peers. The way their shoulders filled out the hem of a fitted t-shirt. The infamous ‘triangle’ shape in which your shoulders taper to a narrow waist. What I used to think was attractive for men became the desire for my own form. It wasn’t attraction…it was envy.
My workouts have become fixated on acquiring strength, and I’ve learned to appreciate the painful calluses that stubbornly rest on my inner palms and fingers. While the skin-tight dresses rarely surface anymore, I can tell you that they don’t fit the way they used to. But I’ll be damned if I don’t admit to feeling like a warrior in them. Miraculously, my gender-fluid soul has found appreciation in this strength as it embodies each of my identities in a different way (but more on this, later!).
I am on my way. My ‘men’s’ cut t-shirts are becoming less baggy. My ‘men’s’ cut jeans are pinching too much when I sit down. And I’m proud to tell you all that there is a navy-blue sweater vest hanging in my closet.
Bio: Hi! I’m Bret and I hail from Guelph, ON, where I completed my undergraduate degree in Philosophy. I am currently working towards an MA in Philosophy at Western University, and enjoy engaging in feminist theory, ethics, as well as gender and sexuality studies. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to be taught by both Sam and Tracy, and I am excited to joint the Fit is a Feminist Issue community! When my nose isn’t in a book, I can be found in coffee shops, at the gym, or taking on car repairs that are far beyond my capabilities.