I lifted 335 pounds of metal off the floor today, all at once. Honestly it's not something I ever thought I'd do. And yet it's a milestone for me. It meant something: let me explain.
I started eating those blue shapechanging pills known as hormone replacement therapy about four years ago, and I did it because the alternative was setting myself on fire. That doesn't mean I did it without qualms. You see, I've always gravitated to heroines — Granny Weatherwax, Susan Sto Helit, Honor Harrington — but first one, the one that stuck with me, was Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion Dorthansdottir, the sheepfarmer's daughter. The farm girl who became a soldier; the soldier who became a knight; the knight who became a hero.
And the books I read shaped me. They left me with an idea, an idea I clung to so fiercely, even before I knew I was trans, back when I was deep in that egg and just convinced I was a feminist man: that women can be everything men can be. Better, even, if they put their minds to it.
But I also grew up in our world, drowning in everyday sexism. Like this droning buzz below the level of hearing, this constant litany: women are weaker, women are worse, women are less. And so there was this other thought too in the back of my head, this insidious idea, that all those heroines were just fantasies. That Reality is that women really are weaker and worse and less. I was afraid that I was in love with a lie.
Then I read Playing With The Boys and We Have Always Fought and How To Suppress Women's Writing and I understood all the ways that our society conspires to teach us this lie. I understood that we absolutely do not know what women would be capable of in a world that doesn't constantly try to press us back down.
But still. All the reading in the world wouldn't kill that insidious voice. Because the lies it told me scared me. I didn't particularly want them to be true. But I was afraid they were. And I looked at that handful of pills and I didn't want to become worse and weak and less.
But I swallowed that spiro anyways and slipped my old skin and shapechanged myself into a girl — which, by the way, is extremely cool and I strongly endorse.
But that voice it never quite went away. Ever that whisper. Ever "you need to be more afraid now, Samantha. If a man attacks you you won't be able to do anything about it. You need to be careful. You're fragile. They can break you so easily."
Back when I was a boy I fell off a cliff and then a boulder fell on me and I walked away with nothing more than some hard scrapes and bruises. Now I always heard that whisper: "even a strong woman is weaker than an average man."
You know what killed that voice? Reaching down and lifting three hundred fifteen pounds of metal off the floor. Hitting a heavy bag and seeing it move. Feeling the proof in my sinews and my bones. Because all the reading in the world doesn't weigh as much as the acid test of real life. Not when it comes to that voice.
So that's what sports mean to me. More than fitness, more than health, more than a pretty body. They helped me believe in myself. Helped me believe in women. Helped me believe that there can be heroines in this world.
This is what terfs want to steal from us, by the way.
Because even now, even at my gym in a deep blue city with the trans-inclusive signs on the locker room doors, even now I keep to myself. Even now I worry someone's going to point and shout and scream and there's going to be an "altercation" and I'm the one who's not going to be welcome there after.
And I'm lucky. There are too many trans people out there who aren't. Who don't have access to inclusive sports or inclusive gyms or changing rooms. And every day the forces of the right wing are moving, trying to roll back our rights even further.
And it's just my story. What sport means to me. Ask another twelve athletes, get another twelve answers: but sports mean something to us all. And if the terfs have their way we'll be shut out of sports entirely. Not just out of the Olympics, not just out of world championships: out of the everyday participation in sport and fitness, out of companionship, and competition, and triumph, and self-understanding.
Fuck that, is what I'm trying to say.