Gay. The kind of gay that at 5 I was stealing my mother’s blue heels and strutting down imaginary runways around the house. The kind of gay that was more interested in learning how to French braid hair (a great skill to possess) than play roller hockey with the neighbors. I came into the world like a queer bomb of glitter and while I’d like to say it never relented, the journey to self-love was not an easy road. Years have been spent hating my body, doubting my abilities, and discrediting my hard work, all due to my sexual orientation. It didn’t matter the accomplishment, being gay was like the dark cloud ruining any positivity. Never, in those early years, did I think I would be working a traditional day-time job in construction, then coaching CrossFit at night. The craziest part, is never did I ever think that fitness and CrossFit would have been the catalyst for this passionate self-love and acceptance that I have come to demand from myself.
Before getting too far, I need to acknowledge my own privilege. I am a gay, white, cisgender male. The LGBTQ community is made up of incredible individuals, each having their own story, unique and special only to them. I hope that by sharing my story, I can propel others to find the beauty inside their own body, and to reject the voices that say, “you are not worth it” and “you will never achieve what you want in life.”
June 1st brings us Pride month. 30 days of unrelenting exposure of rainbows, parades, and for some of us, exposure to seemingly perfect bodies gyrating on parade floats. (I encourage all of you to read about the Stonewall Riots and how a revolution began with some fearless revolting, led by Marsha P. Johnson, a transgendered woman of color.) Many years in my life, Pride month did not amount to anything. I was not “out”, I was not proud in the least. Through this, I had a deep yearning for acceptance and love for the true person I was inside.
Like many people in the LGBTQ community, I got through life by internalizing my self-hate. This had different manifestations over the 21 years of being in the lonely “closet”. The largest battle that I still fight is acceptance of my body and love of its capabilities. I am not alone. The national eating disorder website notes that existing research shows that gay males are seven times more likely to report binging and 12 times as likely to report purging than their straight counterparts. Additionally, even though gay males are only thought to encompass 5% of the male population, 42% of males with eating disorders identify as gay. Be Proud, amiright? These facts are eye-opening. I am reminded of an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race when an utterly fabulous drag queen Shea Coulee shared her battle with bulimia, saying she never thought she could find support from other drag queens.
LGBTQ folks do not feel a part of mainstream straight culture. The issue with being disenfranchised, means that you are not connected and you do not feel any sense of belonging. You battle your own issues alone. Your identity? Hidden. Your issues? Hidden. Your self-doubt? Hidden. Shove it all down inside, be funny, perform, and live up to the expectations that others place on you. Are you feeling fat? Too queer? Too feminine? Being gay is like walking a tightrope. Be gay, but like, not too gay where you will get attacked on the street. Be gay but like, don’t shove it in my face and have PDA. Well, you can kind of see how this creates some issues with loving yourself and your body. You can be yourself, but only JUST so much. I’ll say it, I have issues with loving myself. Trust and believe, this will connect to fitness.
When you are rejected for who you are for years and years. You tend to stop trying to find people who do love you. It’s not an outrageous statement. You build walls to keep others away from who you are, to protect whatever is glimmer of light is left of your spirit. I built concrete iron-clad walls. Any sort of new hobby filled me with extreme anxiety. The potential for rejection was enough to keep me from even trying to be accepted. That is not a life. What happened to that little boy who walked miles in heels by age 5? I had become a shell of myself. Allowing my self-hate and doubt dictate my life path.
Then came fitness. Then came a different pathway for my emotions. Then came some big decisions that spurred bigger opportunities. Then came back, a hint of the little hair stylist who wasn’t aware of anyone else’s evaluations of him.
When you’re snatching or doing any Olympic lift, there’s no room for doubt. You can’t simultaneously pull well over body weight over your head if you don’t believe in yourself. You have to believe in yourself and your capabilities. And while sexual orientation seems so irrelevant in this endeavor, it’s for sure not.
As a gay person, walking into gyms used to terrify me. Comments about how LGBTQ individuals should behave in locker rooms, and seeing the machismo masculinity run rampant, was enough to keep me far away from weights. Yes. I could do a yoga class with 40-year-old moms, that was safe enough. The squat rack. Absolutely not.
Thankfully, over time, I was able to create cracks in the walls I had built. Showing up to CrossFit classes on a daily basis was my therapy. For an hour, I didn’t have time to think about how much I despised myself, or how worried I was that anybody would reject me for my identity. It didn’t matter if I was “too femme” while kettlebell swinging. What did matter was my form, my effort, the movement of the kettlebell. Over time, going to the squat rack got less scary, even though I was sharing it with a (gasp) straight person. I didn’t catch their straightness, and they didn’t catch my gayness. I was there with another human, with their own struggles in their mind, and we felt the weight on our shoulders. That is what we were focused on. We battled through our weight sets, and we became one in our shared experiences. Without speaking, we validated one another’s struggles, in the gym and out. These moments of shared suffering allowed us the opportunity to create a safe space. And while our struggles may manifest differently, whether it be drinking, eating disorders, gambling, I’d say that the underlying root causes seem to be universal.
Back in college, a friend introduced me to the word “metanoia”. Metanoia, a turning point in your life related to self-reflection or conversion. Thankfully, I don’t think you only get one per lifetime, we as people should always be learning and adapting. In the fitness world, usually you have that one coach that makes the biggest impact on your life. For me, all it took was my own coach, Paige Sousa, looking into my eyes when all I wanted to do was give up. She saw my struggle, both mentally and physically, and said, “You are worth it. Fight for yourself.” Shit. All the narratives I had told myself about not being worth it, about not being able to reconcile my identity with my fitness goals fell apart. In the past, I would feed my doubts and keep them alive like a damn Tamagotchi. In this one interaction, the iron clad walls came crashing down. My identity has not been an issue since this very moment. I had created these obstacles in my head because of past interactions. I was stopping myself. Not only did this impact my gym performance, I allowed these negative thoughts to permeate all aspects of my life and dictate my trajectory. Sabotaging relationships and friendships as soon as they were too real and holding my potential back.
I am now, a proud, 30-year-old gay man. I have an amazing life partner whom I adore. I am unapologetically queer. I live for drag queens. I love Disney. I gag for a kick-line in a musical. I also love lifting weights and helping others see their own potential. There is no reason that these are mutually exclusive. The narrative we tell ourselves holds us back. Stop that. Literally, stop. When I am a PROUD man, I allow others to be proud of their own lives. If I feel as if I have to live meekly, that stands as an example for others. You should never alter yourself for the acceptance or love of others, sorry Ariel. Society says conform, and if you’re different, don’t be.
What would our world look like if we lifted each other up and truly loved one another in community? Our job as fitness professionals isn’t just 3-2-1 GO. It is seeing the humanity in each other and meeting people for where they are and allowing them to feel whole in those moments. You are valid. You are worth my hour. You are important to me. I am PROUD this June to work in fitness and I pledge to cultivate a safe space for you to be unapologetically YOU. I will fight for you until you see it in yourself that you are worth the fight. You are worthy of love and most importantly, I love you.
- Douglas McCoy
Level 1 CrossFit Coach at CrossFit Moxie