The following article has nothing to do with weightlifting.
It’s a personal response of mine to a parent who emailed me concerning their child, who keeps bucking convention and dressing like the opposite gender – a la The Iron Samurai.
The concern wasn’t about the child’s gender-bending clothing style, but rather this parents own reactions to it. They want to be supportive, and are finding ways to do exactly that, but there is still the natural tendency to feel quite uncomfortable with it. This is something the parent was hoping I could help them shed some light on.
I was quite moved by this, and deeply impressed by their honesty and openness, as well as their genuine commitment to coming to terms with their own emotions, so that they can be the best parent they can be to their child.
I made sure to edit my response to keep everything totally anonymous – and to further that, I’ve made the parent and child “gender neutral” – which is rather funny, I suppose, given the topic!
But because the subject is one that many many of my readers have asked me about, I felt it was time to finally give a direct response, and “officially” open up a dialogue.
It is a sad fact that the sports world (the world I make my living in) is one of the most closed off to this kind of stuff.
Part of what I’ve always tried to do here is speak to those in the weightlifting world (and sports world broadly) who have, up until now, felt underserved, even disenchanted, by the status quo.
What follows is just my own response (with some adjustments to make sure that it makes sense as a standalone article), it does not include the parents email to me.
“It is good to carry some powdered rouge in one’s sleeve. It may happen that when one is sobering up or waking from sleep, a samurai’s complexion may be poor. At such a time it is good to take out and apply some powdered rouge.” – The Hagakure (The Book of the Samurai)
I’m so glad that you contacted me about this!
It took a lot of courage and sincerity to message me like you did.
Let me answer your questions as best as I can. While I’m not a therapist (btw, I’m quite flattered that your childs therapist liked my articles), I can certainly give you my perspective based upon my own experience.
I don’t like to air dirty laundry in public (when I speak of others in my articles, I only say the good things), but lets just say that there were important people in my life as a kid who made me feel like there was something wrong with me.
To add fuel to that fire, like you, I grew up VERY religious. BOTH of my Grandfathers were Southern Baptist preachers. And this was so heavy an influence on me that there was a period of my life where I wanted to grow up and be a preacher too.
(Who knows, maybe that plays into my tendency to function a lot like a weightlifting evangelist, LOL.)
Then at some point in my early 20’s I realized I didn’t believe in God and that made my hopes of following in the footsteps of my Grandfather a dashed-dream. Unless you are willing to be a charlatan, it’s rather hard to become a preacher when you don’t believe in God!
Thankfully, I had an equally large counterbalance.
My Mom is a professional artist. She wasn’t just ok with how I am, but she actively promoted it. This helped to offset the negative influences (some personal, some cultural) that were around me.
Thank You San Francisco
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” – Jim Morrison
It isn’t a small thing that my Mom was getting her MFA (Master of Fine Arts) at the San Francisco Art Institute while I was in middle school.
She used to take me out of school (a lot) to go with her so that I could help her in the studio to pull her prints (she’s a print maker, and her work is LARGE and can’t easily be handled by one person alone).
SF Art Institute is right in the heart of the part of San Francisco that makes more conservative people pee their pants.
It was mind-altering for me.
For the first time in my life, I looked around, and felt… normal.
Compared to them, I was downright drab and conservative!
A point that is still a joke between me and my Mom, was that she was actually disappointed that I WASN’T gay. As an artist, it would have been a badge of honor to have a gay son and here I went and became a weightlifting coach, and am decidedly only interested in women… sorry Mom.
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” ― Bruce Lee
When you say, “How do I de-program myself,” I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I often talk about my 20’s as my “detox” period. I was a religion addict, and I had to get clean.
There were many beliefs I had to shed in order to be ok in my own skin.
I don’t mean that as a form of disrespect to the upsides of religion, but there is a fine-line between religion and cult, and that line exists within each person who lives within these cultures.
(That is, it isn’t the organization that makes a person cultish, repressive, etc. – it’s the person themselves. Their own internalization of certain beliefs can play havoc if left unchecked.)
I am a firm believer that no one should be allowed to hide behind their “upbringing” or “culture” as an excuse for their own dumb-ass behavior towards others (or themselves). Allowing for that is how violent acts against minorities (and other “undesirables”) has been justified throughout all of time.
Unfortunately, telling someone that they have a choice about how to act… doesn’t mean that it’s an EASY choice!
Change Is Hard, Necessary Change Is Harder
“There are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!” ― Oscar Wilde
Whether we’re discussing fat loss, strength training, or the big changes in your life (physical, emotional)… getting to a good place usually requires a lot of work, and can be painful.
No matter how sure you are that your choice to go through with this change is right, there will be moments in the process where the pain of that change is overwhelming.
Change is harder than no-change, even when change is exactly what needs to happen.
It is a big part of why most people never change at all, even though they KNOW they need to. And this resistance is often compounded by the fact that the right change for you can fly in the face of convention, causing you to feel utterly alone – even helpless in the face of it.
“To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, day and night, to make you somebody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” – e.e. cummings
I don’t believe in following arbitrary rules – That’s a recipe for horrible unhappiness.
I believe in being true to yourself, following your heart, and going out of your way to allow others to do the same.
It’s always easiest to succumb to the forces of fear and the tyranny of inertia. (“Things have always been this way, how can it ever be any different?”)
To get to where you want (and need) to be in your life will take a kind of single-minded belief in yourself most people simply don’t have.
Your messaging me, and saying what you did, demonstrates that you have this. So that’s clearly off the table as a concern.
“Its hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” – Dolly Parton
Who knows why your child does what they do… it’s impossible to know at their age.
But what you can be assured of, is that the causes are beyond your control.
And, if your kid is anything like I was, then they KNOW this. And they are looking for someone who makes them feel like being themselves is always a good thing – something that makes them MORE loved.
The Romantic Power Of Glitter
“You have to do stuff that average people don’t understand because those are the only good things.” ― Andy Warhol
I realized at some point that I could split all women of the world up into 3 groups:
- Those who will never accept me as I am.
- Those who will tolerate and accept who I am, but secretly wish that I would change (or worse, that they can change me)
- Those who LOVE the way I am – it’s part of why they are attracted to me.
I made a point a long time ago to only be with women of the 3rd type – someone who wants to paint her nails with me, puts glitter on my face for fun, and loves that her man is truly unique.
It turns out, there are a lot of women out there who in this group.
You Are An Enigma: Embrace It
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” – John F. Kennedy
Every person on earth is an enigma… some of us just make our contrasts more pronounced.
I may have glitter on my eyes, but I’m still a man.
What any woman who has ever been with me knows is that I am, in many important ways, hyper-masculine.
I’m an alpha-wolf by nature. For all of my patience, gentleness, and jovial-ness … As a man, I am also highly protective, aggressive, even a touch controlling. (I’m a coach for a reason!)
I do my own thing in my own way, and that defines everything in my life from my career to my relationships.
I’ve often thought that part of why so many people can have a hard time with someone like myself (or your kid) is precisely because we act as a mirror that reminds them of their own inherent contrasts and contradictions.
The contrasts are so overblown and obvious with someone like me that there is no pretending they don’t exists – which is what most people do with themselves.
All of us have parts of our personality that our culture defines as feminine, and other parts that our culture defines as masculine.
We ALL do.
That’s just reality, and there is nothing wrong with it.
The problem is that a great many people DO see something wrong with it. Boys are boys and girls are girls, damn it!
Such a statement meaningless outside of the obvious points of sexual anatomy. Hell, even the line from Kindergarten cop, “Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina,” is only true in a broad statistical sense.
And because of this, their deep-set emotional beliefs are at odds with reality. This tension is naturally going to result in negative feelings, outbursts, and behavior toward the person who is creating such confusion for them.
(In my case, some of those “outbursts” by others have been violent. And that plays into my own natural distrust – in a very real way – of white males.)
These contradictions in a persons nature – exhibited outwardly via something as banal as their style of dress – are beyond our control. They can only be embraced.
I am who I am.
Your kid is who they are.
No matter what clothes are being worn, the person in them is who they are.
That cannot be affected by anyone on the outside no matter how hard they try.
The Transforming Power Of Acceptance
“Taking into account the public’s regrettable lack of taste, it is incumbent upon you not to fit in.” ― Janeane Garofalo
If there is one thing that we all have to struggle with, it’s learning to accept that there are things in life that are very far out of our control, and trying to control them does nothing but harm.
As the parent, you DO technically have control over what your child wears… but that control is superficial at best, as you clearly understand.
Someday, your kid will be a grown-ass adult and will do what comes naturally – we can only hope! No person should feel like they can’t just be themselves… And yet, that is precisely the situation most of us find ourselves in.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” ― Mark Twain
The things that helped me have always been when people who are important in my life truly embrace all that I am and see it as a positive, rather than just tolerate it.
That isn’t something that everyone is able to do right away.
This is an ACT that comes before you honestly know how to fully be “ok” with it.
Sometimes the brain needs time to process all this new and foreign information.
Any big change can be painful for lots of reasons, one of which is simply how different it all is from what you are used to.
And since this is truly something outside your control, your only real option is to first accept it, then overcome it.
There is power in the acceptance of the inevitable… a power that can open up worlds of possibility you never could have known existed.
But step one is coming to terms with it being truly beyond your control.
Your child is who they are, just as you are, just as I am, as we all are.
That’s a good thing.
Please keep me updated on all of this. And hopefully I can meet you in person at one of Tamara and my seminars at some point.