Exercising While Trans
I just finished a forty mile bike ride with my boyfriend. He and I have been dating for almost a year and regularly cycling has become a big part of our relationship. I take all the unflattering and not so feminine aspects of it for granted now, but at one time this part of the sport very much concerned me. One might correctly ask, exactly what part of cycling is not feminine?
Well, there’s the part where I shoot snot out of my nose for one. There’s the getting really sweaty part. The helmet flattening my hair so it’s pasted down on my head. The unisex clothing and aero helmets and glasses. None of this is particularly feminine or flattering in my opinion. But who cares? I know for a fact there are a lot of women who care, but doing unflattering sports like cycling as a Transgender woman presents a whole other level of discomfort.
That discomfort has largely to do with how feminine I appear while doing my activity. First of all, I’m a tall woman. I’m 6’1 and have narrower hips than most cis women and broader shoulders. Actually, at my age most women would kill for my figure, but it still crosses my mind that my body could be more feminine. Take away my hair under my helmet and my eyes behind the sunglasses and I start feeling pretty androgynous. This isn’t the most comfortable place for someone who has worked very hard for years to appear as female as possible.
I don’t share my insecurities with my boyfriend. I don’t want him to even begin to think of me as anything other than his girlfriend. He did compliment my cycling kit today which certainly helps a lot. I make sure there’s some pink in my spandex along with a ponytail sticking out the back of my helmet. I even sometimes wear earrings, which I’m sure would seem ridiculous to a serious cyclist. I really don’t care what others think as long as they don’t think that I’m anything other than a woman cyclist.
This topic of exercising as a Transgender woman crossed my mind last night while watching the television series ´Inventing Anna.’ It’s a dramatic series based on the true story of a woman who convinced the wealthy and connected in New York that she was a German heiress. It’s not the plot that caught my eye but the character played by the famous Transgender actress, Laverne Cox. She plays a private fitness instructor with wealthy Park Avenue clients. In her role she’s often shown in form fitting workout clothes. She looks great, but I couldn’t help but notice that I was hyper aware of Laverne and how she was presented. Every movement and outfit and angle suddenly seemed like a potential danger zone to me. I found myself feeling anxious about her looking Trans while exercising.
First of all, she wears wigs. As I watched the show I noticed how she had to manage the wig. The little challenges it presents. I used to wear wigs before I was able to grow my own hair out so I know some of these concerns. A few areas of physical activity in the show made me hyper wig-conscious. The first were pool scenes. I could see her making sure the wig never got wet. You don’t want your wig getting wet in the pool because wigs don’t behave like real hair when wet. Other activities included tennis, yoga and gym workouts. There wasn’t one in which Laverne looked like she had a bead of sweat on her. I found myself feeling anxious and self conscious for her. I began to imagine myself in her role and how difficult it would be to let go of my insecurities enough to simply do my job.
Swimming presents a particularly intense challenge for a Transgender woman. Especially if she is pre-op. I was definitely more challenged before bottom surgery. I was constantly concerned about my ‘maleness’ showing. I even created a special garment so I could tuck more efficiently. It was very uncomfortable at first, but I grew more tolerant of it over time.There’s no question that swimming is much easier post surgery. I no longer have the tucking concern and don’t have to feel stressed when changing in the women’s locker room which is a topic unto itself.
Self consciousness is something that we all deal with from time to time and often exercising isn’t the most flattering of experiences. Some women look beautiful no matter what, and we’re all understandably jealous, but if you ask them you would probably learn that they have felt insecure about their appearance too. I don’t think any woman is immune to it. I’m learning to accept myself more every day and part of that is accepting that I may not always be able to appear coifed and polished. During those times I have learned to let go and accept that part of being a woman is letting go of my concern for what other people might think. That’s especially true for me during exercise.