Saturday, January 21, 2012

Confessions of a Wimpy Kid

When I finished school three years ago, I was delighted to discover that the real world offers (most) nights and weekends off. In my new spare time, I decided to try something I have assiduously avoided most of my life: exercise.

I decided to fight a deep inner sense of wimpiness, face my fears, get my ass into a gym on a regular basis, and see what happens. Three years into this thing, I think I've found a new hobby. I can't believe I'm writing the following words but I have grown to love exercising. I honestly look forward to getting up at 4:45 to go to the gym.

This is sort of silly but also sort of profound.

Think with me back to the dreaded days of sixth grade PE. I was the wimpy kid--yeah, that wimpy kid: always the last one reluctantly picked by the football team captains, always the one tripping over his own feet during the basketball drills, always the one the bully would yell "faggot" at when the coach wasn't around. That sucked, but for me that wasn't the worst.

For me, the absolute worst days of PE were weight training days. I remember the day I was unable to bench press the standard steel barbell--just the standard barbell with no weights at all. I was profoundly ashamed of myself and felt utterly humiliated in front of my male peers. From that moment on, I consciously did everything in my power to avoid the embarrassment of the gym--or anything athletic, really--for most of the next two decades of my life.

In my head I've always been the wimpy kid. Five years of the Exodus mindjob certainly didn't help anything, as exgay ministers often played into the (thankfully dying) cultural stereotypes of gay guys being "girly men", gays being attracted to men only because they feel unmanly themselves, all gay guys wanting to be hairdressers, blah blah blah. You know the drill. Suffice it to say I've struggled with feeling insufficiently masculine most of my life.

Against that emotional background, it was a pretty significant moment for me the day I was first able to bench press not only the steel barbell but the barbell with 45lb plates on each side. At a superfluous ego level, that moment certainly felt good. But at a deeper level, it helped shatter some pretty powerful negative self definitions I had.

Now hear me out. I want to be clear that I think the American cultural equation of masculinity with athelic ability is bogus. I'm not trying to say that I think lifting weights makes someone masculine.

I'm not exactly sure how to define masculinity, but I know it is NOT picking up heavy things and putting them down again, NOT hurling an object a long distance, and NOT moving quickly from one place to another. I think masculinity rightly defined probably has zero dependence whatsoever on physical motion.

But masculinity rightly defined probably has something to do with acting in spite of one's fears. And in that sense, getting over my deep-seated fear of the gym--my fear of failing at anything remotely athletic--has been something of a masculinity boost for me.

And much to my surprise, I've found that for much of my life I've foolishly avoided an activity I actually really enjoy.


Over the past few yeas, I have grown kinda fond of the soft metallic sound of 45lb plates clanking together. From a scientific perspective, it's kinda amazing to observe how the human body gradually adapts and increases in strength over time. From an emotional perspective, it's been kinda cool to watch the smaller nickle, dime, and quarter plates gradually accumulate on each side of a barbell until one day I can replace them all with another 45. Those days always feel like notable milestones to me.

I had several such milestones 2011: the first day I inclined pressed with two 45s on each side of the barbell, the first day I shrugged with three 45s on each side, the day I first leg pressed with four 45s on each side. Those are always fun moments for the gym rat in me, but they have been interesting to me in a psychological sense as well. In every case, I find myself capable of doing something I had always thought was impossible for me, something I feared even trying before.

And this wimpy kid thinks that's cool :-)


D.J. Free! said...

I am so incredibly jealous. I HATE getting up to go to the gym in the morning. I do it in the evening. The advantage: I don't feel wiped all day long. The disadvantage: by the time I get to the gym, I feel pretty wiped, so my workout probably doesn't get the umph it needs. Also, I HATE weight-lifting. For me, it hasn't a thing to do with a lack of manliness, and everything to do with just not feeling like doing's just extra work to me. But good job on all your gains, friend! Sadly, I've had nothing but losses the past few years :(

Joe Moderate said...

DJ, we should definitely work out together :-)

I started out going to the gym in the evening but just couldn't get it to work out for me: either I would go right after to work when the gym was wall-to-wall people (and you had to wait in line for anything) or I would go later in the evening (and then end up all awake and alert and unable to go to sleep). For some reason this made going in the morning make more sense. I dunno.

D.J. Free! said...

Yeah, I think it all has to do with weather working out is energy restorative or energy depleting for you. For me, it's depleting. For you it seems to be restorative, so it's always best to go in the AM for those folks. Regardless of the economy of my own energy, however, it's ALL WORK! BLECH!