I was never a particularly elfin child. Kinda tall, a bit clumsy during adolescence, always a slightly bigger kid. As a child, I thought of myself and strong and sturdy. I would rather pick up another kid than be picked up, I would rather be the base of the pyramid than the top.
My body and I had a bit of a spat during adolescence. For various reasons I didn’t approve of all the Girl bits. I didn’t want the physical changes and I ABSOLUTELY REJECTED the social package that followed along. The result of this was a William-Gibson-character-style divorce from my body. I wasn’t the meat, the meat wasn’t me. I set about learning to ignore every single characteristic of my body, all of its features and feelings. I got rather good at it.
Years later, when I came out and subsequently found things I actually wanted to do with my body, it was like meeting a stranger. I am a geek, so I set about reading a lot of books. I read a lot of gender theory. I read a lot of porn written by women. I read a lot about sexual violence. I read books on dance and self-defense. I took classes on women’s history and psychology and literature — I wanted to date women, after all, so I tried to learn something about them as quickly as possible.
If any of you reading this knew me from age 13-25, I hope this clears up a few things. Also, I apologize.
I wasn’t terribly comfortable with my body after spending so long not on speaking terms. But I wanted to do things to other women with that body. My body and I, we reached an accommodation. I would return to the sense of body-self I’d had before adolescence — I would think of myself not as “sexy” or “attractive” but as strong.
There was a young woman who had a game of throwing herself backwards across my lap.
(Dear Sigrid Age Twenty-One: Next time [name redacted] throws herself backwards across your lap, would you for fuck’s sake just KISS HER already? Please?)
But the point was, I could catch her. I could catch her, and hold her there while she told me how her class had gone.
(Dear everyone reading this: If you ever intend to flirt with me, take this above anecdote as a measure of how dense I am.)
My point is, strength. I liked being strong. I liked holding women.
A couple years later I started going to the Y and working out. And I loved it. I completely loved it. I liked lifting weights. I could measure the strength as it increased, I could see the numbers mark my success.
Weight lifting, or weight training, has its own, perfect, obsessive reward system built it. To be successful, all you have to do is lift a little more than you did last week. One more repetition. Five more pounds. A little deeper in the squat, a little straighter in the press. Weight training is full of keeping records, it’s terrifically quantifiable. Goals are easy to make and achieve.
Moreover, weight training is not about how you look, it’s about what you can do. When I was a young and newly-sexual butch dyke, my entire visual presentation revolved around “please don’t look at me, and if you do look at me, please don’t see me, see this other thing instead.” I loved being able to do military presses and squats, to feel the power and strength in my body. I could be successful at this physical thing and still look like, well, me. And this physical thing — strength — was a thing that the girls I wanted to touch liked.
I took a few years off from working out, from going to the Y, from weight training. But I’ve been back at it for a couple years now. I love it as much as ever. I love the measurement of it all. I love adding those teeny 2.5 pound plates to the bar to eke out one more gain. I like the calluses on my hands, I like the occasional weird bruise from a bar. I like altering and changing my body, what it can do.
What I can do. I like what I can do.
There is no way I am ever going to look like what my culture says I am supposed to look like. For one thing, to weight what I am “supposed” to weigh I would have to lose two hundred pounds. And then keep it off in some non-damaging way.
Uh-uh. Ain’t happening.
But I can curl my daughter when she balances on my palms. I can pick a kid up with one arm and swing them around. I can do things, lift and carry things. I can use my body in ways that please me. I am strong.
I am strong, and getting stronger every week. The numbers, they are not a lie.
I love that.