Athletic, Kinda

“It sounds like you may be into athletic guys, too,” my therapist said a few weeks ago, as we talked about my attraction to men.

Over Therapy Portal, I gave her my signature skeptical look:

“Okay, let me explain,” she said. “You’re very athletic. You jog, you play tennis, so I wonder if you’d be looking for the same in someone else.”

After my therapist asked me this, I spent the next few weeks reflecting on my relationship with athleticism. I came to realize that what she said about my own penchant for exercise rung true. Every day I either jog or play tennis, and I like going on a lot of walks on a daily basis to break up all the time I spend staring at my computer. Still, I hesitate to embrace the label of someone who enjoys athletics.

I feel some fear embracing my athleticism because of how queer men often glorify exercise and fitness, which produces shame and exclusion. I know several queer men who act as if hiking, going to the gym, and walking their dogs constitute a three-dimensional personality, and I have observed so much body shaming, femmephobia, and ableism enacted by fellow queer men. I suspect that queer men who glorify athleticism and fitness do so to gain proximity to masculinity and whiteness, such that they want to manifest society’s glorification of manliness through the physical presentation of their bodies. As someone who loves my feminine characteristics, I would hate to perpetuate femmephobic and harmful societal norms, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  

On a more psychological level, I also reflect on the precariousness of exercise as a tool for self-punishment or self-avoidance over self-love. As someone who dealt with anorexia several years ago, I recall using exercise as a way to chisel down my body, to repress myself and my emotions instead of directing my energy to dismantling systems of oppression. I also know people who exercise to avoid self-reflection though that’s probably not me because I’m literally publicly self-reflecting on the internet with this post lol meta, who go on hikes in the mountains or jogs in the woods instead of exploring their internal landscapes, their difficult and nuanced emotions. The potential pitfalls of exercise sometimes feel immense: how much exercise? Exercise for what reason (e.g., aesthetics)? Is exercise replacing some other tool to bolster one’s health, like self-reflection, or can they co-exist?

This is my favorite athletic accessory, my pink tennis bag! I would wear more pink athletic gear but all the black workout clothes I own from high school still fit and I can’t psychologically justify the cost of purchasing more clothes yet. Anyway, how you like that (i.e., my amazing pink tennis bag).

I do love working out though. For me, exercise matters not because of how it will make me look but how it makes me feel. I cherish the feeling of my feet hitting the pavement to the beat of BlackPink’s “How You Like That,” the notion that I can provide for myself some sense of pure physical pleasure, whether that’s the chemical dopamine or the internal sense of autonomy that accompanies uninhibited movement. I like sprinting across asphalt to return a tennis ball, the tensing and loosening of my calves as I swing my arms and my racquet makes contact. Most of all, exercise gives me the energy to accomplish what matters to me in the rest of my life: the energy to be present for my friends and those I work with, to fight and resist white supremacy and patriarchy, and to advocate for compassion and social justice broadly.

I exercise because I love my body and I love myself. Men including my eventual next crush, Armadillo, an attractive man of color who will buy me novels and feed me Jeni’s ice cream can call me ugly and I literally would not care at all. Athleticism, for me, revolves around providing physical pleasure for myself, relishing in my autonomy and independence, and generating energy so I can pursue the meaningful change I want to help create in society. Fatphobic, ableist, and femmephobic standards of fitness in the queer male community can go drive themselves into a rainbow-colored ditch.

As for whether I’m into athletic guys, I’m still unsure. Though, I guess I wouldn’t mind a guy who can run fast because I do like being chased. On that perhaps unexpected note though is it really unexpected considering I literally wrote a post about wanting a guy to dominate me?, I’d love to hear any reactions to this post and how you navigate exercise! Until next post.

6 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

6 responses to “Athletic, Kinda

  1. I use running as a way to maintain my mental health, I love tennis but it’s hard to play around here esp at the moment (don’t talk to me about navigating our return to lockdown and what the hell we can do around sports!) but running keeps me fit, healthy, calm(er) and also socialised, as I manage to run with someone a couple of times a week. My husband used to run but gets shin splints at a certain point every time, but as a slow runner I actually prefer not to be with someone “athletic” who might try to drag me around and coach and boss me. He eats quite well and walks a lot (he used to walk more than I run per year when he was working outside the house) and I preferred him being there to cheer me through the finish line and look after my stuff than him running with me in a race then zooming off!

    Running is far too important to me to make it competitive. I use it as a way to reflect and have conversations with myself and others about things important to me and my psyche as well as incredibly silly things. And it links me into my community at a time of threatening isolation – just today I went out with one friend, ran into another who was looking for us but thought we had gone in a different direction, had a wave from my friend’s super-athletic speedy son as we went across a canal bridge and he went under it and saw another friend on another bridge. Perfect.

    • Yesss I love your various reasons for running, such as maintaining your mental wellbeing and as a form of social connection. Goes to show that if we are intentional with our actions we can engage in behaviors in a way that maximizes our psychological fortitude instead of tearing ourselves down. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, as always. (:

  2. I love this post so much. Definitely a lot of nuances with what’s expected in terms of physicality/athleticism (especially for men, and I think especially so for queer men!), and I definitely relate to the relationship between disordered eating and use of exercise to further “control” (and punish, at least on my end) my body. Your post really made me consider why I’ve gone from someone “athletic” to someone who doesn’t really enjoy regimented exercise (and also thinking about the connection with previous romantic and familial relationships).

    Something that was brought up to me recently was the idea of “joyful movement” over mandatory “exercise”, where instead of thinking “I have to do this amount of exercise today”, there’s a focus on “I want to do this because I love my body and this movement brings me joy” (which I think is what you allude to in your post about loving to run! I sadly cannot relate to this meditative feeling while running). So I’ve really been trying to reformulate my thinking about exercise being something that I have to do (like sweating a certain amount for it to count, having to feel a certain amount of soreness for it to be productive, etc) into being more positive (how much am I enjoying this? Is it also giving me mental health benefits? Am I enjoying nature? Am I valuing how strong I am or how I can move my body?) and channeling movement into more fun ways like roller skating, short yoga sessions, kayaking, and walks to get my mail. If anything, the pandemic is really forcing me to try and look at things more positively and be kinder to myself!

    • PS: I love your tennis bag! I really don’t enjoy the competitive part of tennis but love being able to have a good rally with someone. It’s been years since I picked up a racquet!

      • Yessss I so appreciate all of this compassionate reframing in regard to exercise. As someone who used to have an eating disorder so many of these concerns ring true to me related to the stifling or unkind nature of regimented exercise. A lot of the questions you pose are how I assess my exercise now, such as if I’m enjoying it, how it affects my mood, does this give me energy in an affirming way, etc. It’s also interesting considering what we’ve both written on our blogs about exercise as a form of trauma and/or exercise and joyful movement as a way to recover and heal from trauma. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reading and comment as always. (:

  3. Apologies… I’m late.

    I would start to sweat if you were my therapist and you gave me that skeptical look. Nothing can escape you.

    A friend of mine used to call the gay jocks that spend their lives in the gym worshiping their own bodies (and others) “Muscle Marys”.

    I was never athletic although I did play squash. It was the only sport I did reasonably well at. I think if I can find a way to be more consistent at exercising, I would be happier (and healthier). I’m surprised how lazy I can be sometimes.

    p.s. you like to be chased… hmm.

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