Editor's Note: As I have been working toward changing the composition of my own body, the journey of others who have similar goals have stood out to me. One of the journeys I have been following via my social media feeds is that of Jess and Cole. These trans men are friends and workout partners. They have been helping each other weight train and transform their bodies together. Because I am a sucker for healthy masculinity and male friendship, I wanted to know more! They agreed to satisfy my curiosities about the ways in which their journeys are similar to and different than that of cis folks, how having each other to lean on has been helpful, and their vision for what the future of trans weight training looks like.
BR: How long have you been body building/weight lifting?
J: I started working out with a trainer in March once a week, but started taking it more seriously about a month ago. I am now working out about 5 to 6 times a week.
C: I have been working out on a steady basis since October 2017.
BR: What are your body building goals?
J: I don't consider myself a body builder. I started just wanting to shape my torso and loose weight after top surgery, but now I'm wanting to gain more muscle and strength. Not looking to compete but maybe just look cute in a tank top!
C: My goals are to be lean and cut. I don't have a set weight and as of right now and I don't have any plans to compete but that could change. I just have an aesthetic in my mind that I want to make reality.
BR: How have hormones affected your progress over time?
J: In the first year of hormones I lost weight without hitting the gym. Now 2.5 years later and working out, I can tell how much faster I can gain muscle compared to my last diet and workout attempts pre-t. When I lost weight without working out, I felt very shy about it when speaking with others about it since it is very unfair.
C: Hormones help some with metabolism IF you are eating correctly and working out. If you have a sedentary lifestyle and eat fast food everyday it will help you to gain as well. I had some issues for a while with not taking mine on time every week. In the last few months I made sure that I was more regular about it and my weight stopped fluctuating as much. Apparently it's very important for your body chemistry to make sure it's on time every time.
BR: How do your needs differ from those of cis-men, if at all?
J: The biggest need for working out as a trans man is having gym facilities where I can feel safe. I luckily found a gym that has locked stalls for changing, but still only shower there if I have a buddy come to the gym too.
Another need is allowing trans folk choose which locker room to use. I had an issue using the mens locker room when I first started T with a gym because my name and marker is female on my ID. I also did not pass as I do now. Check the gym's policies, and if they don't stand by them (as this gym had a nondiscrimination policy), go else where. Unfortunately for me, it took a long time for me to return to any gym after that.
C: As far as weightlifting and diet goes they have always been exactly the same. I am working to create a masculine physique so of course I would workout in the same manner as cis males. On the other hand there are certain areas that give you dysphoria that you might want to focus on more closely that a cis male wouldn't have.
BR: Was it hard to find a trainer who understands your needs?
J: I was lucky to find a trainer through Cole who was also trans. He was able to relate to my Post-Op needs and gave helpful tips to address physical limitations and concerns I had. With tech today, you can have a trainer in another city working with you and providing meal plans and workouts. However, I personally like having someone local that I can work out with, so my options are limited. I think a lot of trainers would be fine, I just feel more comfortable knowing that they are trans or have had trans clients before.
C: I actually got started in it because a trans person I know posted that they were going to start training people. I signed up and they were so motivating and accepting. Had I not started with them, I never would have stuck with it. They listened to my goals and helped me achieve them. I NEVER felt judged the way that most trans people do when they walk into a gym. Recently I moved to another trainer due mine relocating. Thankfully, he has worked with some other T people I know.
BR: What kind of resources have you found that pertain specifically to trans body building?
J: Facebook and Instagram have provided me with a few groups and accounts to follow specific to trans weightloss and bodybuilding support. There is also YouTube. A lot of these accounts are run by other trans guys who are providing motivation and support or trans male trainers.
C: There is an organization called International Association of Trans Bodybuilding (IATB) They have competitions and conferences. There are many different communities on social media as it pertains to trans body building. There are several guys I would consider friends and motivators across the US that I hope to meet one day.
BR: Who are your role models? Are there a lot of visible people to look up to?
J: This will be sappy but Cole is a huge role model for me. He has 3 kids who are active in sports and scouts, works a full-time job, a wife who works evenings into the morning, and goes to school full-time. Yet he finds time to hit the gym, meal prep, and get some serious results! So if he can make it happen, single ole me shouldn't have any excuses!
C: Most of my role models are just your cis not so average bodybuilders. Mason Caminiti is someone I have known for years in our local community. He inspires me a lot as a trans body builder. He has won competitions within the community, but I really admire that he competes against cis males and wins! On social media there are so many T guys to look up to. We keep each other accountable.
BR: What kinds of resources would you like to have available to you in the future?
J: It would be nice to have more gym spaces that were affordable that provided a safe and supportive workout environment for trans and queer identified people. The gym is intimidating enough without worrying about being outed or stared at, or worse having physical harm done to you. I tried working out pre-surgery and pre-t but the gym was too intimidating and scary a place for me, and I never stayed with it. I am privileged to have had surgery and can pass as male, which is a huge confidence boost.
C: More trans/ queer specific competitions locally. Maybe it would be something I could facilitate eventually. I would love for more people who are in this sport and trans or queer feel like they can be themselves and enjoy the sport as well. They shouldn't have to fit in the cis hetero normative box in order to compete.
BR: In what ways do you encounter toxic masculinity in the gym? Do you have any techniques you use to combat it?
J: To be honest I try not to interact or make contact with anyone at the gym. Because of that I tend to let others take as much space as they want, and I work around them. I will say that I see a lot of guys "teaching" girls on equipment and such. I feel so bad for the girls because the guys never look like they really know what they are doing.
C: HEADPHONES. They honestly make all the difference. For a while I worried that everyone was looking at me and judging me every time I stepped foot in the gym. The more I was there and the more time I spent in the locker room etc, the less I cared. I am there to work on me. I'm not there for any of them. It took some time and I still feel it occasionally but it's so much better now.
BR: If you could talk to the pre-transition version of yourself, knowing all that your body has accomplished, what would you say?
J: I would tell myself that you can be that boy you want to be and that you deserve to be that boy. Start small, don't be afraid to ask for someone to go with you, and keep with it.
C: Sounds like a cliche, but "it gets better" ... and consistency is key. For so many years I tried and failed to eat better and workout and then it just clicked. It became habitual and normal. You really have to want it bad enough and it will happen.
BR: What’s the most powerful impact that changing your body has had on your mindset?
J: I have so much more confidence because I can be present in spaces. I didn't realize how much energy and time I was spending on covering my body and trying to make my big self small. I now am working on emotional and relationship issues I have been ignoring for years. Sometimes I don't recognize the guy I see in my pictures now. He is happy and sporty with a different smile and look in his eyes, but I'm not mad about it.
C: I feel like I am getting closer to the image in my mind. I've always had a goal in mind. I feel like anything is possible when I stick to my meal plan and workouts. I carry myself differently now. I have more confidence.
BR: What has been the impact of having one another to lean on throughout this process?
J: For me, it has made the difference between doing the work and giving up. We are harder on ourselves than we are on each other, but it works because it allows us to forgive ourselves and get back on track when we slip. While I'm working out with Cole, he pushes me because I don't want to slow him down. Having someone else there helps push all of the distractions away so you can focus on the workout and not those around you.
C: The impact is that we are still here to talk to about this. We motivate, encourage, and hold each other accountable everyday. If we mess up on our meals we tell each other to make sure we are being honest about it. Lately we have both been getting up at 4:30 AM to gym together and if he wasn't there waiting on me, I would have gone back to bed several times.
BR: What else do you want people to know about trans weight lifting?
J: Consistency is everything. You will not see results if you don't show up and follow the plan.
C: We are just like anyone else and want to be treated as such. We are building the body we have in our head.
To follow Cole and Jess's body composition transformation, find them on Instagram @sithcole and @drum4ica.