I arrived at our staff meeting like any other staff meeting. It was a little loud, and hyper-masculine, like you might expect in a weight room environment.
“Typical personal training staff meeting,” I told myself. I haven’t been a part of every gym, but toxic masculinity seems to be part of the ones I have been involved in. This meeting however, I was thrown off because in front of each seat was a bag with a name on it and inside the bags were clothes. Uniforms.
“No shit,” I said to myself. I became a personal trainer so that I could feel free to express myself and for those who know me I like to dance around the gym while lifting and I shop in the women’s section of most athletic stores for my workout clothes. I pulled out my shorts and I was shocked. My heart was literally pulled out of my chest and it began to pound on the floor. There was no way I could wear these shorts and feel like myself. I was thinking about quitting.
Everyone had minor fitting problems with the clothes, which is normal. But no one had identity problems with the clothes — at least insofar as it was expressed… except for me.
Now if there is one thing that I know I must do in this world in order to maintain my sobriety from heroin, it’s to be open and to be honest and to stand up for myself. So, I did. Even though I believed deep in my heart that I would be fired. But to be fired was honestly better than leaving behind my queer identity and donning shorts that swung loose and hung down to my knees.
“I can’t wear these; I need the women’s clothes.” I spoke up and continued, “There is no way I can wear these and feel like myself and the reason people hire me as a personal trainer is because I’m me and express it in my character and attire.” My face grew hot after I said this because I’m only just getting used to standing up for myself and I thought I’d be fired. I was very surprised at what happened next.
The meeting went on and I felt I wasn’t heard. Then the meeting ended, and I still felt like I wasn’t heard. Then I went home and contemplated never coming back to the gym. I tried on the clothes and threw them on the floor. I wanted to cry. Why did they want me to be dressed like a gym boy when I’m not, I’m me? I’m a person, I’m they, I’m them, not always a he!
The next day I decided to show up for work in my non-uniform clothes and the reaction I got was something worth sharing. My boss came up to me and did not scorn me. Rather he said, “I’m sorry the clothes did not fit you.”
Now the significance in this was tremendous. “I’m sorry the clothes did not fit you.” He didn’t say, “I’m sorry YOU didn’t like the clothes, but you have to wear them.” In saying, “I’m sorry the clothes didn’t fit you” he took my fault out of the equation. It was the manufacture of the clothes fault and now since he approached it this way, there was a solution within reach.
As sexual identity becomes more prevalent in the workplace this type of interaction is becoming more common. It’s imperative that we approach people with empathy, and we don’t make it their fault when they don’t fit into our box. I urge you to go forth and use this in your everyday life so each individual is empowered to express their real and true and authentic self.
My Best Gay Self is a column by author, speaker, fitness coach and LGBTQ addiction and wellness advocate, Mark Turnipseed. He is also the Owner and CEO of Integrity Endurance, a network of personal trainers with the goal of fighting the opioid crisis through fitness. Visit www.markaturnipseed.com to learn more/contact or to find his book "My Suicide Race: Surviving the trauma of addiction, recovery and coming out."