In today’s section of Competitors Profiles, we’d like to introduce you to Michael. He competed in our third bodybuilding competition in 2016 and placed Second in the Heavyweight category.
IATB: Tell us a little about yourself.
Michael: I’m 53, originally from Indiana but called Tucson home for more than 15 years before relocating to Seattle to work for Gender Odyssey in 2016. I transitioned at 36 in the late 90s after 20+ years in the lesbian community. I’m white, queer/bi, and happily partnered with an amazing queer cis person named Carolyn. I’ve been working professionally as a Trans and LGBTQ advocate for the better part of two decades, and have done a significant amount of writing, speaking, training, consulting, and media appearances on the subject. Equality Arizona honored me with their “Spirit of Activism” award in 2014. I also contributed the title essay for the FTM anthology “Manning Up” from Transgress Press.
In addition to all that, I’m also a singer with a wide range of experience, including being the lead vocalist in two classic rock bands back in Tucson. I’m a bit of a workaholic so I can’t say I have many hobbies other than singing, and I haven’t done much of that since I got to Seattle.
IATB: How did you get into bodybuilding?
Michael: It is because of TransFitCon, actually.
I’d been working out for about five years to lose weight and chase away the rapidly approaching Diabetes diagnosis. Then when I enrolled in grad school, I became eligible for surgery on the student health plan. I knew I needed to be in the best shape possible, so I hired a trainer with some of my student loan money. I lost weight and toned up well. But that was not bodybuilding per se, it was just about getting in shape for the first time in my life.
When the first conference happened, I was intrigued. I had never really considered bodybuilding for myself until I saw the Trans guys in the first contest. I thought, “I look at least as good now as the competitors who didn’t win, so why not at least give it a shot?” It took another year of watching the FitCon guys for me to take the leap, though.
IATB: What’s your diet plan and workout routine?
Michael: Depends on what day you ask me! The trainer I worked with a few years back was great at helping me learn the basics and practice good form. But since then I’ve been completely on my own figuring things out. I relied heavily on bodybuilding.com for workout programs and routines. One thing I did know is that it’s best to mix things up, so I never did the same workout more than a few times. I read copious amounts about body sculpting. I learned a lot along the way.
So, I did pretty well on the workout part and managed to avoid any serious injury. But the nutrition aspect is not something I could really immerse myself into. Food has, in fact, been a lifelong struggle for me. The reason I started working out initially was because I was borderline diabetic and I really needed to lose weight if I wanted to stay on this side of that border. Before I transitioned, I was well over 240lbs and had really low self-esteem and body image. In the last few years, I’ve managed to hover around the 200 mark or less. For the competition, I set by weight goal at 189. I’d been there before but it had been a while. I knew it was still a lot for a bodybuilder, but more important to me was that I knew it was a mark I could hit if I gave it some focus. This I did by drinking a lot of water, taking creatine and BCAAs,(Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplements) eating a lot of salads and protein, making myself get at least 7-8 hours of sleep (a rarity for me typically), and trying desperately to avoid sugars and simple carbs, especially late at night. A week out I was still a good 5 lbs away and afraid I wouldn’t make it. I hadn’t accounted for the weight I would gain due to the creatine and new muscle growth so I had to keep losing. But lo and behold, the morning I left for Atlanta, I weighed in at exactly 189.
Beyond that, I didn’t really have a nutrition plan. I hate to cook let alone plan a week’s worth of meals (another struggle I contribute to my gender dysphoria). I was definitely not interested in any of the more controversial stuff like dehydrating myself, etc. Again, I really wasn’t in the competition to win, only to conquer my own body shame/fear/dysphoria issues. I did not want to do anything that could potentially harm my health.
IATB: How did you hear about the FitCon competitions and why did you decide to compete?
Michael: I saw a posting on Facebook for the first conference. I’d not heard of FTM Fitness World or Neo L. Sandja before that. I was immediately interested as I had not seen anyone else addressing fitness in the Trans community. As I said before, however, I didn’t decide to compete until after the 2nd conference.
The other reason I decided to compete was that my new job as the conference director for Gender Odyssey was going to be fairly all-consuming throughout much of the year, and I needed a healthy distraction to get my butt out of the chair on a regular basis. I felt having a specific goal like the competition would be really helpful in the accountability department.
IATB: How do/did you prepare for the competition emotionally and mentally?
Michael: Wow, it was more of an emotional roller coaster than I anticipated, for a few reasons.
At 53, I have some physical challenges I didn’t have even a decade ago. I spent a lot of training time being frustrated and I spent a lot of emotional energy grieving the loss of all those self-loathing years that kept me from even trying, and grieving that I will never have the strength I would really like to have no matter how badly I want it, thanks to arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, spinal stenosis, and a back weakened by injury in the early 1980s. Still, I managed to impress the hell out of myself and my friends with what I was able to accomplish. I tried to focus on that, especially on the sleepless nights I laid writhing in pain questioning my mental health.
The other thing that caught me off-guard was reliving every painful moment of my experiences as a high school beauty pageant contestant. That’s another story for another time, but suffice it to say it was a bit of a bull-in-a-china-shop disaster. I came to view the fitness competition as my chance to redeem myself from something that I soon discovered still haunted me after 35 years. It made me even more determined to keep my commitment to myself and the competition, especially in the last few weeks.
Then there was the whole body hair removal experience. I had everything waxed except my chest, belly, and underarms, as I already knew I just could not bring myself to shave my legs. Even shaving my underarms for the first time in two decades was absolutely dysphoric. Had I thought about the body hair issue before I signed up for the competition, I might have backed out, and it was every bit as bad as I thought it would be.
I had a surprisingly difficult time even selecting my music for the competition. I wanted something appropriate yet personally meaningful. I ran through a gamut of emotions just imagining myself doing a routine to certain songs. I had to rule out a couple of them because I was afraid I would lose my composure and not be able to focus on posing. Ultimately, I chose “Put Your Lights On,” a Santana song I used to sing in my band in Tucson. Sadly, something happened during the competition and they weren’t able to play my song at all, so in the moment I had to pose to some headbanger song I’d never heard before. That was not in any way helpful to my headspace or my carefully-timed-to-the-music posing routine, but the show must go on, as they say.
Overall, I just had to give myself permission to feel whatever I was feeling in the moment. Sometimes I would get so upset over the tiniest negative thought that I couldn’t get out of my head and had to end my workout early. Other times I felt so strong and virile and manly I could move mountains.
IATB: Have you competed in the past in other competitions?
Michael: No, not bodybuilding anyway, and I doubt I will ever again. It was a one-time personal challenge for me. Very, very happy and proud to say I have done it, but I don’t have the interest, energy, money, or health to put into it again–not anytime soon anyway.
IATB: What do you think about the creation of IATB – The International Association of Bodybuilders?
Michael: I think it’s a fantastic idea — kinda wish I’d thought of it myself! Instead, I’ve tried to be supportive of the program in whatever ways I can including as a donor.
IATB: What are your expectations for IATB? What would you like to see happening?
Michael: I’d love to see lots of local and regional events that culminate into an overall international championship each year. I’m excited it’s starting in Seattle in conjunction with Gender Odyssey, and proud to have helped that happen.
In some ways, I’d like to see it become affiliated with some mainstream competition, but personally that would make it too intimidating as a Trans guy novice competitor. (Another reason I chose this particular year to compete was I felt like it was going to grow quickly and I wanted to participate when I still felt like I had a chance to compete without being completely embarrassed.)
Neo has a great thing here and I seriously hope he can make it work. We all need to support this effort. Neo is a hard worker with a clear vision, but he is still only one person with very limited resources. Collaboration is key.
As an aside, I’m curious to see how it works out for non-binary competitors.
IATB: How do you relate bodybuilding to your identity?
Michael: It’s been both a blessing and a curse, as I’ve previously discussed.
Seeing my muscles and masculine physique in the mirror and in photos is really affirming and healing, especially when I was all waxed and tanned for the competition. Other than six surgeries worth of scars and some pesky love handles, there’s absolutely no trace of that awkward, clumsy fat girl from high school remaining.
At the same time, that profound grief of opportunity lost still weighs heavily on my psyche. All those “what ifs” can really bum you out.
IATB: How far do you think we’ve come and how far do you think we have to go in the fitness industry for people of Trans experience?
Michael: I think progress pretty much reflects the mainstream—there are some folks already onboard and there are some who never will be. But the more we as Trans people continue to show up and speak up, the better it will get.
I feel masculine-identified trans people generally have an easier go of it than feminine-identified trans people in a gym/fitness center setting (as with most other places in society). We need many more safe places where we all can just focus on working out and/or competing instead of who might want to whoop our asses in the parking lot afterward.
IATB: We like to think of the IATB bodybuilders as ambassadors for the trans community because they show a different but important side of Trans visibility. Do you consider yourself an ambassador for the community? If so, how?
Michael: Until my dying breath. Trans advocacy is my life’s work and I plan to continue doing so in one way or another for as long as it is necessary—which I suspect won’t be coming any time soon.
IATB: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
Michael: Reaaally good question. Hopefully I’m still happy, healthy and working out. Hopefully I’m still living in a country that hasn’t been completely destroyed by fascists and that no one in my community has died because of it. Hopefully I will have finished actually writing the damn book I’ve been composing in my head for a decade. Hopefully I’ll be cheering on IATB competitors from all over the world at the international championship.
IATB: What are some tips you’d give to someone who wants to compete in IATB competition?
Michael: Don’t take the mental/emotional challenges lightly, regardless of how long ago you transitioned.
IATB: Any last word?
Michael: Oh I could go on and on, but I think I’ve given you enough, and it’s going on 4am. Let me know if you have any other questions!