Disclaimer: This is not a piece on how we should avoid cis-normative appearances. This is a piece working on the assumption that some people want to appear cis and some people don’t, and that everyone reserves the right to look, feel, and live however they want.
We’ve all been hammered over the head that obesity in America is at epidemic proportions for a whole slew of reasons. What isn’t talked about that often, however, is obesity in the transgender community. Those in the LGBT+/SAGA Community face the same stressors of everyday life, whether its bills, job-related (or being unemployed), health concerns, family matters, etc. But the stressors go further for our community when you combine having to live in a high-risk area such as what we’re experiencing in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee; dealing with family that is unaccepting or have shunned us; threats to our well-being such as being fired or treated unfairly at work or school; and countless other stressors. Since we’re only more recently gaining notice from the rest of the world that we are, in fact, real people and demand to be heard as equals, studies haven’t caught up with us to determine just how much extra strife we deal with and how obesity (and other eating disorders) have developed in our community.
It is clear, however, that the transgender community faces a unique set of challenges when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. While there are those who refuse to conform to a cis-normative appearance, there are still just as many that do strive for that level of presentation. Regardless if we’re Trans or cis we still tend to fall into the same trappings of filling our days with too much, so we’re grabbing fast food on the run. It is cheaper to eat junk food than a salad, by the time you get home you’re tired, so you order in, and so on. But trans folks have the added complication of dysphoria. While an alarming portion of the population has body image issues, trans women may develop bulimia or anorexia disorders in an attempt to shed weight and develop a “smaller/more feminine” appearance while trans men may resort to over-eating to bulk up.
“While everyone’s experience on HRT is different, most guys will report some level of appetite increase.”
Trans men will face a complicated battle once they start Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), since testosterone tends to make one more hungry. While everyone’s experience on HRT is different, most guys will report some level of appetite increase. If you don’t take steps early on to ensure that you’re feeding your body in a healthy way it is extremely easy to allow that increased appetite to take over and your gains become unhealthy. Initially seeing some mass gain may be encouraging since men have broader build,s so putting on a little extra ‘stock’ will help some trans guys develop a more ‘masculinized’ appearance. Some guys, however, may start to notice that the stockier you get the easier it is to conceal your chest.
Since trans men often have chest dysphoria (in an opposite way that trans women have chest dysphoria). Finding ways to cover and conceal our chest is a constant battle. We’re binding, wearing bulky clothes, or finding other creative ways to prevent people from seeing our chests. One ‘solution’ for some is to allow the weight gain to take over so that the belly overcomes the chest or that people assume the chest is just because you’re overweight. Aside from the standard health risks involved with being obese, trans men have the extra concern that being on testosterone brings such as an increased risk of high cholesterol, which then increases heart risks. Furthermore, obesity could result in delaying top surgery since one needs to be stable enough for major surgery and the more fit you are the better the surgeon can develop the chest.
“Both trans men and women have the concern of the dreaded locker room situation at a gym”
Besides the complication of testosterone increasing our appetites and, even sub-consciously, wanting our weight to increase, there’s the complication of finding a gym where we feel comfortable. Both trans men and women have the concern of the dreaded locker room situation at a gym, and with current anti-LGBT bills popping up across the country, this makes an already difficult situation far more dangerous. Even if we avoid the locker rooms by coming in dressed to work out and showering/changing when we’re back at home, we cannot feel comfortable in most gyms during our exercises. This intense social stress prevents a significant amount of trans people from joining and attending gyms assuming we can afford their fees in the first place. Instead of a gym, many people may opt to join a local sports team to get their physical and social needs met while cutting out the costs of membership fees. Once again, though, trans people face a difficult situation where most teams are separated by binary gender codes and may not be welcoming to a trans person who wishes to join the team of their gender.
In an extreme few instances there are some safe-havens, such as when Planet Fitness stood their ground pertaining to their “Judgment Free Zone” when a woman complained about a trans woman using the locker rooms and wound up having her own membership canceled. If you’re lucky enough to be in the Oakland, CA area you can visit the Perfect Sidekick, which is a gym that specifically caters to LGBT clients. Some trans men have reported it as being a safe place to feel good about yourself while working out.
For those not in a specific area or unable to afford gym memberships, there are other alternatives, whether it’s walking around the block, dusting off that old bicycle, or checking in with your local LGBT center to see if there are sports teams or others looking for exercise buddies. Healthy eating habits are primary when it comes to losing weight or maintaining a healthy lifestyle and there’s a slew of website resources for vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, Atkins, Weight Watchers, and the list goes on and on. While it’s incredibly easy to say and far more difficult to put into practice – the truth is, a healthy body will lend itself to a healthy mind and that is an important step towards getting your mind and body in alignment regardless of what path or options you take down the road.