Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Monkey on Your Back That Defines You

I could list a hundred reasons why I like working out enough to make it to the gym pretty nearly everyday, but let's be honest: The most pressing thing that gets me there day after day is vanity. Just a few extra pounds and my ass goes from that high-up defined arch that I like to a jiggly mass of womanliness — or so it seems to me. And if I neglect my muscles long enough I cease to look like a powerful block of bulldagger and start to look like a wee wisp of baby butch.

The other thing that spurs my gym addiction is a sense of accomplishment: Every day, I set goals that I can meet without depending on anyone but myself. If only the rest of life were so easy and gave such immediate satisfaction! The overarching goals of lean, mean fitness and big, defined muscles in my upper body — bulking where no woman dares to bulk — have given me purpose for the last decade.

Then I started injecting myself with testosterone, and the trapeziums that I haven't been able to work out much thanks to a nagging shoulder injury are piling up like snow drifts on my shoulders. The abs I never bothered to work too hard — knowing they'd always be hidden behind a soft belly that I'd have to become a full-time aerobics instructor to pare off — are peaking out in two faint but thrilling lines.

This is good news. But I find myself wondering: What will I do if vanity doesn't drive me to the gym everyday? Will I still work out? And who would I be without my fitness addiction?

In my own mind at least, I'm someone who has to work and work and work to make any progress at all toward my life goals, so I've begun to see the work itself as progress. I'm not one for inspirational aphorisms, but one that struck a chord with me went something like: Success is getting knocked down 18 times and getting up 19.

Testosterone is like instant goal attainment when it comes to physique. Or at least it seems that way initially: I imagine that if I ever get to a point where I'm passing as a man, I will start thinking about how short a man I am, and how my hands are too small and I wish I didn't have to limit myself to European-cut shirts and a shoe size small enough not to be available everywhere. Who knows, maybe I'll become a meathead with a Napoleon complex to compensate. Right now, I know I should just enjoy the goal-in-a-syringe thing that I've got going on.

But it's this kind of seemingly unimportant, and maybe even a little wonderful, shifts that signal just how much rests on the gender identity each of us queers has built — and that, in my case, I feel like I've built with no small amount of elbow grease. Who are we, after all, if not our habits and the familiar tracks of self-criticism playing in our heads?

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