Why I Will Never Be a Powerlifter as a Trans Woman

I’ve recently gotten back into weightlifting and I love it! Before I transitioned I was into lifting and loved how it made me feel. But after transition, I stopped completely for almost two years because I was dysphoric about my muscularity and wanted to lose muscle mass. Now that I’ve been on HRT for almost 21 months and I have lost a little mass I am comfortable going back to the gym and lifting heavy, albeit with different aesthetic and training goals because I know that my current hormone levels will prevent me from gaining too much mass too quickly.

One thing that has inspired me is other women who lift weights, specifically powerlifting women. These are strong af women lifting heavy ass weight. They aren’t scared of their muscularity. They are proud of it. They love being strong and physically capable. It seems like such a great, supportive community.

I’m a very competitive person. I love challenging myself and striving to be the “best”. But I will never be a competitive powerlifter. I will never go to meets and compete in my weight class. Why? Because I’m trans. Because I would be accused of having an “unfair advantage” because of my past. Because people still describe me as “biologically male”.

There was recently a trans woman who won a women’s weight lifting competition  and, omg, don’t read the comments. Pretty much all cis people thought it was “unfair” for her to compete against cis women. And that’s exactly why I will never compete. Even though the medication I take keeps my testosterone levels incredibly low, lower than your average cis woman, which would prevent me from having good recovery or being able to grow muscle quickly. The problem is I have retained a lot of the muscle I put on before I transitioned when my body was pumped with testosterone. And although male and female muscle is equally strong pound for pound and there are cis women out there who are just as tall as me with the same bone structure I would always be afraid of cis people taking away my hard work and claiming unfairness even though theoretically I would not have any clear advantage that could not also be had by a cis woman who was a genetic outlier.

For every physical trait that trans women have that may be considered an “advantage” – be sure that there are cis women who, through natural variation, also have that same trait. Cis women who compete athletically don’t all have to have the same exact genetics or physical traits to compete or for it to be “fair”. Some cis women have naturally high T levels. Some cis women have a lot of type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers. Some cis women have long arms and legs. It’s all within the distribution for traits that occurs naturally within a varied population. And that wouldn’t prevent them from competing. But lord forbid that I ever want to compete in a sport.

So in reality now that I have transitioned I am faced with a catch-22. It would be grossly unfair for me to compete against cis males because of their higher testosterone levels. It’d be like a natural male competing against males who all used high levels of steroids. But most would also think it’s unfair for me to compete against cis women. So I can’t have it either way. I am left with no options except competing against other trans women. But that’s not a thing.

And that’s why I will never be a powerlifter.

Setback

I have a history of dislocating my right shoulder. I’ve dislocated it three times in the past. The first time I needed the doctors to put it in for me but the second and third times I put it in myself. The second time I had to use a sling for a week or two. The third time was not very traumatic and it popped back in quickly – I was mildly sore for a few days after but I restricted its use and it went back to normal

Today, I dislocated it again – attempting to learn how to do the turkish get-up with a kettlebell. It wasn’t very traumatic and popped back in easily. But it still hurts a little with certain movements. My range of motion is still pretty good. But I am definitely going to stop everything involving the shoulders until it heals.  At least a couple weeks.

Which makes me frustrated with myself. I should have known better. Frustrated that I didn’t go slower in doing shoulder work knowing that I have a history of dislocation. Frustrated that I didn’t know my own limits. Frustrated that right when I’m trying to get back into the swing of things I injure myself. I ordered some therabands to do some basic physio exercises with my shoulder – the same things I was originally ordered to do by a physio when I first dislocated it real bad back in college. For those interested, here is a good free resource for shoulder dislocation rehab that my physio recommended way back when.

I already focus mainly on the legs and glutes anyway so I will just continue to do that as well as some more cardio.

But oh well – it gives me a good excuse to really focus on my diet anyway. If I can’t see gains in the gym at least I can strive for making strives with my waistline. I’ve lost about in inch from my waist already in the past couple weeks while staying at relatively the same weight.

My philosophy when it comes to diet and nutrition is maximal adherence. While it might be “optimal” nutritionally to do a lot of at-home cooking to make the healthiest and most delicious food with the best fresh ingredients – anything that involves a lot of prep work is not going to be something I can stick to for weeks at a time, day in, day out. For me it’s gotta be super easy with prep work lasting mere minutes with 2-4 ingredients or preferably just popping it in the microwave or eating it out of the fridge/pantry. Or just making a protein shake.

This means spending more money too since for me maximal adherence means buying frozen grilled chicken rather than raw chicken breast because when I’m lazy, which is all the time, I can just pop a fillet in the microwave and, bam, 21g of lean protein for a mere 110 calories. Or making eggs in the microwave instead of the stovetop. You get the point. Maximal adherence means less binging, less cheating, less straying from my plan. I’m also one of those people who can eat the same thing everyday and not get bored.

Another tenant of my current diet routine is to eat the foods that are easiest to determine the calories with minimal estimation. A consequence of this is that I tend to eat only food that comes prepackaged with a calorie estimate. I know there can be a 20% variance but I severely doubt my ability to e.g. make a chili from scratch and accurately track my calories each meal. I trust what’s on the package way more than my own ability to estimate foods. I just don’t have the time or energy for that. So I try to strike a balance between “clean” and “mildly clean” eating. It’s not the perfect diet. But it’s not horrible either. And it’s really really easy to follow. For me at least.

My fitness and nutrition regime – April 2017

Right now my goal is to lose body fat (BF%) while either keeping my muscle mass the same or slightly growing it. At 5’10 my current weight is ~173 lbs and BF% ~25%. My waist at its widest is around 38 inches.

I am going to attempt to eat relatively low carb high protein 6 days a week and have a “cheat-day” on Saturday. I’m shooting for at least 150g of protein a day. My maintenance is probably around ~2500kcal and I’m cutting at around 1800kcal. On the cheat day I don’t count calories. Otherwise I’m counting with My Fitness Pal and strictly weighing everything out. No guessing. No estimating. If I can’t weigh it or calculate precisely, I don’t eat it (except on cheat day).

I’m lifting weights probably 4 times a week with a primary focus on legs and glutes. I squat pretty much every time I go to the gym. I’m still discovering my maxes. So far my PR for squat in my new hormonal configuration is 170. It’s hard to gain on a cut though. I’m hoping the carb cycling will help with gains and bring me closer to a recomp than a true cut.

I’m also spending a lot of time doing low intensity cardio on my at-home exercise bike. I have also recently discovered kettlebell swings and have incorporated them into my workout days. I’m contemplating doing a light set of 25lbs kettlebell swings daily for metabolism and recomp purposes but not sure if that would interfere with my recovery. I’ve seen different opinions about daily kettlebell swings depending on your goals and fitness level.

I would love to lose about 20 lbs of fat from my stomach area, increase my legs and glutes in size, and lower my BF% to reveal abs better. I have no idea what my body will look like once this mini-transformation is over. But I’m excited. I will be posting before and after pictures once I am happy with my progress, probably in like 3 months.

My aspirations for being a personal trainer are pushing me harder to get in the best shape of my life – who would want to work with a personal trainer who cannot even transform themselves? If you cannot even transform yourself where all decisions are 100% in your control – how can you expect others to want you to transform them as well? The probably is I have no guarantee my methods are going to work. Hopefully I will be able to adjust as needed as I progress. I will keep this blog updated.

New Beginnings

I’ve been blogging about philosophy, psychology, and gender for a long time and I figured it was time for me to start a health and fitness blog. The reason I am creating a whole new blog for this is that it can be difficult to talk about these things in modern day America. There is a tremendous amount of collective social anxiety surrounding health, obesity, and fitness. There is so much information out there, much of it garbage, that it can be difficult to sort through the BS and find reliable facts and science relating to something so incredibly complex as human health. There is also increasing awareness of the dangers and negatives of diet culture and how that impacts people, especially women and young girls.

With all the intense pressure of the diet culture, talking about weight, health, and fitness can be socially touchy. Many people don’t want to discuss uncomfortable truths and face the reality of their decisions and lifestyle.

But I believe firmly that while it is pointless to be insensitive and cruel the growing rates of obesity necessitate an evidence-based approach to tackling our nation’s health problems. I believe that there are too many half-truths and oversimplications out there. For example, calories: do they matter? Should we count them? Is “calories in, calories out” true? Everyone seems to have their own opinion. This blog will hopefully sort fact from faction as well as grapple with the tough philosophical problems these issues raise such as: what does it mean to live a good life? Is being healthy an essential part of the good life?

In addition to covering the science and philosophy of fitness, this blog will also be a diary of my own fitness journey as I work to achieve my own fitness and body composition goals.