During my time in college, I found my love for working out. There were times that going to the gym was the only thing that kept my head on straight. Needless to say, I developed quite the relationship with regular gym attendance. This all changed in the last 4-5 months.
A few months back, when I would go to the gym, I could no longer get in the zone. My playlists and preworkout could not wrangle my wandering thoughts. Some days, I would walk all the way to the campus gym just to leave after 15 minutes because of how uncomfortable I felt. This all started around the time that my gender dysphoria became noticeable.
Everything about the gym experience became a source of anxiety instead of an outlet to release anxiety, like it had been. When I would walk in and hand my ID to the person at the desk, I would wonder what they were thinking. My hair was different and I looked more feminine in person than on my ID. Then without fail, I would need to blow my nose when I got there. That meant that I needed to go the restroom to get tissue. Did I look too feminine to go in the men's bathroom? What would a guy think if I was in there? I also did not feel comfortable in there. It was like I was trespassing. Often times, I would dart in and out quickly.
Okay...now time to put some work in, right? Well what exercise do I do? I want to lift and do strength training, but I don't want to work out like before. I didn't want to look more masculine than I already felt, it would only make my dysphoria worse. That pretty much left me doing glute exercises. I'd spend my time on the hip flexor machines and such. On a good day, I would be able to go do squats. By that I mean, on a day when no one else was in the free weight section. There were days when a group of guys would be there lifting and I would go into full panic.
It sounds ridiculous, but it wasn't until I went to counseling that it made sense. The gym is that one place where most people become hyperaware of their body. We focus on how it feels and looks. The gym is also a highly gendered environment. Certain workouts or approaches of fitness are seen as masculine or feminine. (Also athletic wear also tends to fall into a binary.) So given that I had become increasingly uncomfortable about my body (how it felt, how it looked, and how others perceived it) it made sense that the gym was no longer a safe haven for me. Instead it felt like a place that I needed to avoid.
I hope to one day be able to enjoy going to the gym again.