Weight Lifting and Being a Queer Woman

Posted: June 26, 2014 in Sexuality
Tags: , , , ,

This is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile, though I’ve been struggling with how to phrase this.

Often these days when I am working out, trying to build muscle, and being thrilled when I see more muscle on me, I also feel a liberation in that in being queer.

This comes mainly from not giving a fuck if men find me attractive. Because as women, there is a pretty strong message that being muscular is not attractive. Not to mention that muscular gets conflated with looking like a man. Most weight lifting advice aimed at women that I’ve seen spends a good deal of time dealing with the issue of bulking and how women are physiologically incapable of building bulky muscle like that. Which isn’t actually true, relying on a very narrow view of sex and gender and failing to recognize that many folks fall out of the “norm” for their sex/gender in various ways- some they may not even be aware of. Including the fact that hormone levels, which most of this “women can’t get bulky” stuff relies on, vary vastly among cis gendered women, and you don’t even really know where you fall in the normative spectrum with that unless you’ve had those tested which most folks haven’t.

But I’m getting a little off track, my point is, even when advocating weight lifting, there is still this common fear for women of getting too bulky. Because building muscle and being strong does cause one to veer off traditional gender norms a bit for women. And we are often told that men find muscles on women gross and/or intimidating. Men are supposed to be stronger and protect women, and women fail if we are stronger and don’t make them feel needed- How I Met Your Mother addresses this once with Robin when Ted comments on how it’s nice to feel needed and Robin never made him feel that way because she could take care of things herself.

Now obviously these are generalities and stereotypes, and plenty of men do find women with muscle, who are strong and capable very attractive, it’s just not really the dominate message in our culture. So there is a sense of relief that I don’t have to think about or worry about that.

Because being queer, there is a lot more acceptance of breaking gender norms. Because queer sexualities are already viewed as somewhat gender deviant. And it seems much more normal among queer women than straight women to break other gender norms and social roles- androgynous looks are well accepted typically with many queer women choosing to wear men’s clothing.

For me, I’m pretty much on the femme side of things, yet still I feel that I can go a bit more masculine in small ways and still potentially be attractive to other women rather than feeling I have to be totally girly. In fact, with a slight issue of femme invisibility butching my look up a little I feel like I’m probably more inclined to be read as gay/queer and more likely then to attract attention from other queer women.

And I think building muscle goes into this.

Which is odd in a way because there is no guarantee of such things. When I was dating my ex I was not working out due to health issues and whenever I mentioned missing it and wanting to be well enough to work out, she would say things discouraging it. I didn’t need to workout. She worked out, and also wore almost exclusively men’s clothing, but she clearly was attracted to me being more girly and being “softer”- not hard and muscled.  So it’s very clear to me that queer women can find muscles a turn off just as much add straight men.

Which leave me just finding it very hard to explain why I feel this way. Because there is a contradiction there, yet I still feel like I have more freedom, in a way, to break gender norms as a queer woman than I did when I identified as straight, or even bi, when I still thought about being attractive to men.

  1. Gingerzingi says:

    Just found your blog and am really enjoying it! This is a very thoughtful post. It’s making me think about how – queer or straight – gender roles are so pervasive. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

    I guess I still care about how I look to men (straight cis woman here) but at the same time, my age and fatness already preclude being considered attractive to most of them. So in a way, it kind of doesn’t matter whether I have muscle or not – I’m already out of the game. But I can still observe how having the “right” kind of looks privileges women in this world.

    However, I don’t think of my lack of conventional attractiveness in such a negative way. I love having muscle! Every time I read about how women can get fit without getting bulky, I think “But I’m not afraid of that! What’s wrong with bulking up?” I’ll never forget Linda Hamilton in T2 – that was the first time I realized women could get muscles, and I thought it was fabulous! And the female marine in Aliens 2, who did pullups with the men – omg I had such a girl crush on her! I remember at the time my boyfriend thought she was freakish, and I thought she was fabulous 🙂

    I always believed women were just afraid of looking like the professional body builders, who got that way through extreme work and massive steroid use, but no, in fact they’re afraid of the tiniest bicep ripple. It’s a huge deal to some women to seem small and weak. I don’t want to be judgey, but that’s weird to me. I admire strength, confidence, ability – of all sorts – in people regardless of sex. Always happy to run into another women who feels the same…

    • ebay313 says:

      Thanks for the comment! I’ve always love building muscle too, and have had similar reactions to the attempts to ease the assume fear I will have as a woman about being bulky. Any potential fear has always been external, whereas personally I love the way I look with some muscle (though I actually have no desire to look “ripped”- I don’t want visible abs, I’d be happy to always have a little fat covering them.)

      It is odd I guess that it’s easier (though at times still difficult) for me imagine men being attracted to me being fat, than with a lot of muscle. I guess because I’ve had plenty of men who do find my attractive, many of whom though have made disparaging remarks about getting bulky or manly. So maybe that just comes down to different experiences with the two? hmm…

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