We are fitness professionals living in Los Angeles who happen to be engaged to each other and work together at the Phoenix Effect, a functional group exercise studio on Melrose. We believe fitness should be used to empower our community. Feel free to ask us a question and we’ll try to answer it! AskBandK@gmail.com
Q: Dear Beth & Kristin, what were your early experiences with fitness and how did being gay affect them?
Beth: As a kid, I enjoyed being active and playing outside with all my male friends. You couldn’t pay me enough to stay inside and play with Barbies. From day 1, fitness was something that made me different. I naturally gravitated to doing active things and hanging out with the boys. My mom, on multiple occasions, asked me if I wanted a sex change because I didn’t enjoy doing things gender norms said I “SHOULD” enjoy. I would often feel guilty and ashamed for wanting to go outside and play basketball with the neighborhood boys. Fitness made me feel like a subversive outsider. At one point, I prided myself on not going outside and just eating cereal and watching cartoons, because that was easier to explain to my parents than wanting to do “boy stuff.” Had I not joined a swim team at the age of 11, I would have likely given up my life’s passion early on because I was tired of feeling bad about myself for being different.
Competitive swimming changed my life. It taught me that it was good to be strong and powerful. What mattered in the water was how hard you worked, how you focused, how you learned and applied technique drills, and how much heart and soul you put into getting better every day. Gender only determined who you would swim against in meets. My coaches didn’t care about sexuality (Once upon a time there was a gay boy on our team. Someone said a homophobic comment, and the offender was asked by my coach to be a decent human being or get off the team); they cared about turning their athletes into respectful and hard working people. Swimming saved me from self-hatred and gave me a platform to make myself better every day.
What I hope we can accomplish with this column, is to help our community embrace and take care of our bodies so that we can help lift each other up, and not put each other down. Fitness can help us grow stronger every day as individuals and a community.
Kristin: I identified as a ballerina (AKA an athlete) before I ever identified as a lesbian—that is, since the age of 2. In middle school, however, I let my identity as a ballerina get taken from me: I was bullied relentlessly for being a “dyke” and, unwilling and unable to convey this experience to my parents (I didn’t know what my sexuality was yet), I fled from the situation and consequently stopped doing the one thing that I loved. In the meantime, throughout all the crushes I had on girls, I became increasingly aware of how NOT to be labeled as a “dyke” ever again, or even as a “tomboy,” for fear my secret would be revealed once again. This meant wearing skirts, heels, flat-ironing my hair, and even covering the walls of my bedroom with clippings of famous “hunks” from various teen magazines. I attended grades 6-12 at the school of which my mother was the Academic Dean, so everyone knew who I was, and there was no room to be anything less than “perfect” (AKA what others expected and hoped for me to be), e.g., a straight [A] student, first-chair flute player, senior editor-in-chief of the school paper, and winner of various academic awards. I even went so far as to have boyfriends and avoid my secret crushes at all costs. This hilariously (to me) meant not engaging in any varsity sports or spending any time in the weight room, because that’s where “they” could be found outside of class.
I finally came out, however, when I went to college, where no one from my past could find me. I started testing the waters by going to various LGBTQ events on campus and telling my hallmates that I liked girls. Everyone’s reactions were so positive (and by positive, I mean overwhelmingly neutral) that I realized I could be who I was without being bullied again. Unfortunately, however, since I had parted ways with any connection whatsoever with my body after the age of 12, I still didn’t feel empowered to go to the gym or try a sport, because I had already started to identify as “not-athletic-and-never-will-be.”
You can ask Beth—when she met me I was 24 and proud of my unhealthy lifestyle (beer every night, all night). I was intrigued by the fact she had gone to Tufts and had worked in microfinance on an international level (and was seriously really hot—still is!), only to become a trainer at a corporate gym less than a mile from my pizza-box-infested apartment. Meeting Beth changed my view on fitness (turns out it isn’t just for dumb jocks) as well as living as an empowered gay woman (just because we’re not “fabulous” and “flawless” gay men doesn’t mean we can’t feel, be, and look amazing). Shortly into our relationship (“shortly” even for stereotypically lesbian terms) Beth paid one of her co-workers, Steve, to train me, and he helped me discover that I’m actually capable of learning and growing and being strong, and that it doesn’t matter what other people think of me or my sexuality—what matters is what I alone think, and that putting time, care, and love into myself made and continues to make me feel, be, and look amazing. I learned that I deserve to be the best possible version of myself, and no one can ever take that away from me again. My daily devotion to fitness--that of others as well as my own—is my own way of paying it forward as well as loving and accepting and empowering myself.