The first magical skill I learned was how to change a flat tire on a bicycle. I was twenty years-old and had recently obtained my first queer haircut. Loitering on the lawn of the college bike collective, I watched as groups of two to three intimidating-looking dykes hovered around upside down bicycles holding wrenches and greasy rags. I was desperate to pick up some mechanical skills to bolster my baby butch ego, but the shame of not even knowing where to start forced me to keep on walking.
I spent the following summer learning bike mechanics from a local nonprofit in my hometown. By the end of the summer, I was teaching five and six year-olds how to change flat tires and gaining confidence in addressing shifting and braking issues. I returned to school that fall feeling hopeful that I had learned enough to get my hands greasy without fear of humiliation. I quickly realized that my limited knowledge made me one of the most skilled volunteers at the collective. Within a few months, I was in a leadership role, sharing what information I had with other sheepish, wide-eyed young queers.
Changing a flat tire on a bike is not actually a magical skill at all. In fact, with guidance, most people can learn how to do it in less than an hour. I call it a magical skill, because it is one of the many once mysterious abilities that I previously believed only special, not-me people could possess. Other magical skills I have acquired include changing a flat tire on a car, driving stick shift (thanks to my brilliant femme partner), riding my bike with clipless pedals, and lifting weights.
As a personal trainer, I prioritize clients who have bodies, identities, and experiences that have historically made exercise and movement spaces inaccessible to them. Many of my clients feel uncomfortable in a traditional gym setting, and the single most common reason they share is: “I don’t know how to use the equipment, and I don’t want to look stupid.” They walk into the gym and see giant men with impressive muscles grunting as they push and pull hunks of metal through space. But, these men downing their muscle milk in between sets, do not have any magical abilities. They just occupy bodies (mostly cisgender, thin, and able-bodied) that white supremacy and patriarchy have deemed deserving of this space. They were not born knowing how to lift weights, but they have been granted access and information by other men who look like them.
In my baby queer bike collective days, we were all so nervous to admit what we did not know because of the harmful narratives we had absorbed about our own value and abilities. One concrete step we can take towards challenging dominant power structures is recognizing that our own self doubt is so often internalized oppression, and it does not belong to us. For this reason, I view personal training as a political project. When I support trans people, queer people, fat people, disabled people, and People of Color in gaining skills to exercise and take up space at the gym, it is a form of resistance against a society that tries to tell us what we can and cannot do.
Asher Lerman Freeman is a Philadelphia-based community organizer and youth worker turned personal trainer. They are a white nonbinary trans person dedicated to smashing fatphobic, cisnormative, ableist, and racist myths about our health and bodies.
You can reach Asher on instagram @nonnormativebodyclub or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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