Movement Patterns: Alignment & Efficiency in the Fitness Industry

Connected: “Is This Thing On?” by Erin Brown

Strength, coercion, and questions about the baseline. (Content warning throughout; topics run the gamut.)

By Jen Sinkler, with art and research from Gladys Carrillo


Spoiler alert: She gives up, in the end. Still feels like a heartbreak beginning.  

I can’t seem to figure out how to communicate with you. I’ve tried many ways. We are at an impasse. I didn’t want that to be true.

You don’t want to be told what (not) to do.
You certainly don’t want me telling you (not to).
Or anyone else.

You’re used to deciding. For everyone.
This is (still) not a conversation.


seashells and sharks.png

I’ve been thinking a lot about the sea lately. Seashells, in particular. How they offer delicate shelter and protection for their inhabitants, yet remain open and porous. There is no keeping what’s outside that way, really. Not to mention, the rising acidity of the world’s oceans has made forming a buffer to begin with increasingly difficult for marine life, as the vast astringent liquid of their environment eats away at what protection is already in place. 

In Florida, my four-year-old niece, Avery, and I examine beached treasures, selectively adding them to our shared bucket. “Mouthy!” she exclaims, holding another pen shell clam up to her lips, opening and closing it until she gets the laugh she knows is coming.

My dad sees shapes in shells and rocks, continuing to snap and send photos of them even after all of us but my mother return north. Birds, often: eagles, cardinals, vultures, seagulls; also turtles, palm trees, gorillas, rhinos, famous sculptures, and characters from Fraggle Rock. I am compiling a book of them.

What we can envision becomes what is possible. What is possible depends on how closely we pay attention.

One of my grandmothers, my father’s mother, used to call out, “Yoohoooo!” as she poked her head through the back door. Let you know she was coming.

“not trying to sound discouraging, but the overwhelming majority of fitness professionals, esp white men, do not give one single fuck.”
-Antonio Valladares

I can’t say my own take is much farther off, at least operationally.

“I don’t think they’ll read it,” she said.

I think you will, though, and the thought makes my palms sweat.

I’ve noticed that people who say, “You’ve got to draw the line somewhere” are ones whose dominant groups are used to choosing for everyone.  

Lines are versatile, though. They can serve as dividers or signify bureaucratic overload, yes, but others serve as paths, opportunities, possibilities.

My very favorite are through lines.

I sense one here.


Erin Brown, Introduction
adapted from Seattle Ignited Womxn speech, February 2019):

 We can foster the kind of community that lends itself to honest connection and real growth. How do we do that? Expectations.

We are going to have high and clear expectations of ourselves, with the goal of fostering connection and growth.

I have six. If I missed something important, lemme know.

1) I hope we stretch ourselves. If you’re usually a talker, listen. Usually a listener? Talk. Got a burning question (that is not Googleable and relates to expertise and not identity)? Ask. Really want to connect with someone? Introduce yourself. Show up in ways that stretch yourself so you have every opportunity to learn and grow today.

2) Assume positive intent, so we can both give and accept critique. This concept, which I’m familiar with through Maya Winters, holds space for positive intentions. The agreement is, you will let them know if what they are saying is harmful. This assumes we are here for similar reasons.

Someone says something — maybe they use the word “crazy.” You know better? Tell them. You receive the feedback? THANK THEM.

Dr. Leslie Doyle, who was the director of multicultural affairs and my advisor at Nebraska Wesleyan University when I was there, held me to the fire during the activism I did in college. Know better, do better. I wouldn’t be who I am today without her. Forever grateful. Let’s try on skipping to grateful.

Imagine a man interrupts you. What would that be like? Picture it: You give him feedback.

Hypothetical response: “Thank you! I’m going to be more mindful of that.”


3) Consider new ideas. And allow the places you feel discomfort to give you more information about yourself.

4) Share as honestly as makes sense for you today. Vulnerability isn’t something you have to perform. It’s OK to be private. It’s OK to pick your moments to share. It’s OK to say the most real thing. Check in and do what makes sense for you today.

5) Ask for what you need. Break? Quiet? Clarification? More resources? Water? We will help. OMG, WOMXN WILL HELP. But, we don’t often ask for it. Step farther. Ask for the specific support you need and give the specific support requested (or find who can).

6) Learn something today that you want to share? Do it. It’s the whole point. And cite where it came from. It’s simple: ‘Shirin [Eskandani, keynote speaker] said this, it made me think of this, and now I’m here, which is great.’ It makes you look smarter. We all rise together when we are honest about how we did so. Otherwise the people who create movements are buried by them.

I believe that every person in this room has the capacity for leadership. That every person in this room is needed as their own unique full selves. My expectations are high because I respect you.

If we want to do something real, we have to raise the bar for ourselves and one another. It would be a damn shame for this group to get together and do anything less that foster honest connection and growth, especially at a juncture where the stakes for so many folks are so high. We gotta get less fragile, more humble, and more honest.


“You can create the most enriching, rewarding community by using your voice.”
-Shirin Eskandani, Seattle Ignited Womxn, February 2019

Also by paying close attention to when and how.

And by listening first.

We can start anywhere, really. All the paths lead back onto themselves, looping into an endless knot of connectivity.

The fitness industry is full of bullies. Let’s start there. No different than any other, of course, but the focus on bodies — so often intimately linked to our ideas of worth — seems to magnify the control mechanisms of sexism, which I can speak to directly, and every other -ism, most of which I cannot.

I am interested in figuring out what we are really saying, and saying it more efficiently so that we may move more efficiently. My hope is to have a conversation about conversations. My goal is a direct telling of what I have experienced and what I can comprehend from where I’m at. My background is in fitness writing and magazine editing, with a heavy emphasis on lifting weights, and as a trainer who feels deeply invested in fostering and contributing to healthy gym culture and thriving strength-training spaces, both online and in person.

There will be plenty I miss.

For a long time, I did not understand myself in context. I was in and of the machine, whirring and whirling and striving to get to the next milestone, discovering at each that it was not enough. Or rather, I wasn’t.

That machine envelops each of us by design, turns us inward and afraid, and is not limited to the realm of fitness, naturally, but rather infiltrates every aspect of our ways of being and relating.

It spins comparisons and distractions and untruths, keeps us meek and siloed.

The power of collective story, on the other hand, alters everything there is to know about context and perspective, but you have to be able to stay still long enough to identify the patterns, repetitions, loops. You have to listen.

Who is speaking most often, and who is speaking out of turn?

(We all have. Me, too. You, too. Yoohoo.)

[artist:    Gladys Carrillo   ]

[artist: Gladys Carrillo]

It is important that we work to communicate as clearly about our values as we do about exercise cues.

We talk a lot about alignment, but we are not in alignment.

The multitudes of individual conversations will continue by necessity, and with increasing insistency, but much of the time, such interactions are wildly insulting, inefficient, and ineffective. The coaxing and wheedling it requires to elicit agreement to engage in even a chugging dialogue, the belly-up approach that is a tacit demand of the dominating, creates an inauthentic starting point after which matters that should not be up for debate are then faux debated.

Chicago-based trainer, writer, and athlete Elisabeth Akinwale says that recognizing each other’s humanity serves as the floor of any conversation. A baseline. We haven’t gotten to the floor yet, let alone off of it.

Personally, I’ve written or spoken on topics I’d prefer I hadn’t, been painfully, embarrassingly, cheerily naïve, woefully incomplete, or way off base or out of line. There were ways I was or am still adjacent, complicit, participatory, fragile, or reactionary. I am grateful to have a clearer concept of myself in context than I used to, and I’m aware there is always more, always better. I’m learning more all the time. I see myself, and I believe.

“To change anything, start everywhere.”

-To Change Everything

Exercise is learned efficiency, at its core. So, too, can we learn to be more efficient in communication and more healthful in community with each other.

We are not having a conversation, yet.

Meaning, it is not a fair exchange of ideas rooted in experience and education. It is you backing away, waving one hand behind you, hoping to grasp the doorknob. Soon as you find it, you’re gone.

These conversations that we are not having are a combination of heartbreaking and enraging and frustrating and repetitive. The predictability of your reactions to feedback about how your behavior impacts others, your obstinacy that you are not missing anything, is nearly complete.

The way denies, but never itself.

shells and flowers2.PNG

Deny, defend, deflect, disappear.

This behavior scales easily, applies broadly, repeats often. The events are intertwined, interwoven, looping.

I find that direct questions are far and away where the breakdown occurs most often. Who are you to ask me? I feel it in the shirking answers, the nonresponses, the unlinking of our accounts on social media. We have known each other for years. You were always prompt in your responses, until I asked.

But it’s all of us, so we have to ask each other. Me, too. You, too. Yoohoo.

Am I being unreasonable? I still ask myself, often. I still don’t think so.

I’m learning to speak more plainly. Efficiency dictates it.


“I spend a lot of time thinking about bodies and boundaries and how people seem hell-bent on ignoring those boundaries at all costs…

Why do we view the boundaries people create for themselves as challenges?”

-Roxane Gay, Hunger

Discrimination is bad for you. Devastatingly bad.

And so we cannot, in good faith, discuss health and fitness without discussing oppression.

In early 2018, journalist Gene Demby asked public health researcher Arlene Geronimus when her “weathering” hypothesis — which centers around the idea that Black women’s health deteriorates more rapidly as a result of cumulative exposure to socioeconomic disadvantage — started to gain more traction. She answered that it continued to be more back and forth than take and run, and also pointed out that more and more studies had confirmed the accuracy of the theory.

She begged off being a bummer while pointing out how much it had helped when two men in lab coats confirmed stress was corrosive to one’s physiological health. That, she said, “had more credibility in our society than talking about weathering and lived experience and racism.”

[artist: Gladys Carrillo]

[artist: Gladys Carrillo]

“I realize this must be really inconvenient for you and the people who come to your space to ‘get away.’ But I ask you to do me a huge favor and stop making this about you…

“We don’t all have the privilege of staying in our ‘happy’ place or to remain neutral.”

-Chrissy King, vice president of the Women’s Strength Coalition, in “Dear Fitness Professionals: You Cannot Help POC with Fitness and Wellness While Remaining Silent on Racism

Racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, xenophobia, religious discrimination, and other forms of oppression, both overt and covert, are insidious forces within fitness spaces, both live and virtual. Again, everyplace, but the diligent, ongoing work of ridding ourselves and our surroundings of such evils is imperative because of their inherent ties to health and well-being.  

Discrimination can literally be deadly, notes Dr. David Williams, professor of public health at Harvard University, in an article for NPR. He has spent years studying the topic in various settings, and research indicates that rather than being limited to larger incidences, day-to-day indignities also add up to huge health pitfalls, including heart disease and low-birth-weight babies.

“[E]very society, every culture, every community has in groups and out groups. And if there are some groups that you have been taught — just subtly, as you were raised — to think of negatively, you will treat that person differently when you encounter someone from that group, without any negative intention on your part, even if you possess egalitarian beliefs,” writes Michel Martin in “Racism is Literally Bad For Your Health.”

“[T]he first step to addressing it is to acknowledge: ‘It could be me.’”

Methods of studying the effects of different types of discrimination are constantly in progress, but the list of corresponding consequences is dire and growing, and includes:

•    Cardiovascular disease
•    Cancer
•    Diabetes
•    Poor birth outcomes
•    Depression
•    Anxiety disorders
•    Greater psychological distress
•    Other mental disorders
•    Eating disorders
•    Asthma
•    High blood pressure
•    Higher cortisol levels
•    Poorer overall health
•    Death

The effects are myriad, as are types of trauma, from everyday to acute discriminatory events. Trauma can also be vicarious: witnessing someone who looks like you being on the receiving end of something can have an effect, as can the intergenerational effects passed down through familial lines.

It’s micro to macro, and even reporting on one’s own discrimination can be emotionally costly. And, when more of one’s identities are those often on the receiving end of discrimination, negative health implications can increase accordingly.

“When we stamp down trauma, it doesn’t disappear. It festers. It turns into a toxin that poisons our entire energetic body. It poisons our spirit. We have to shine a light on darkness for it to be revealed.”

-Rebekah Borucki, author of You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life, in conversation with Sonja Herbert, founder of Black Girl Pilates

“In relation to sport-related physical activity, this review found the lack of inclusive and comfortable environments to be the primary barrier to participation for transgender people. This review also found transgender people had a mostly negative experience in competitive sports because of the restrictions the sport’s policy placed on them. The majority of transgender competitive sport policies that were reviewed were not evidence based.”

“Currently, there is no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals (or male individuals) have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition (e.g. cross-sex hormones, gender-confirming surgery) and, therefore, competitive sport policies that place restrictions on transgender people need to be considered and potentially revised.”

Sport and Transgender People: A Systematic Review of the Literature Relating to Sport Participation and Competitive Sport Policies,” Journal of Sports Medicine, April 2017
-Bethany Alice Jones, PhD, Jon Arcelus, PhD, Walter Pierre Bouman, MD, PhD, Emma Haycraft, PhD

“Policies that promote human rights can not only buttress the foundations of a civil society, but they can also make for a healthier one,” Gilbert Gee, professor in the Fielding school’s Department of Community Health Sciences, is quoted as saying in the UCLA Newsroom article “Discrimination Can Be Harmful to Your Mental Health.

“The Words We Use Matter”

Only let’s get beyond trainers’ use of the word “assessment” this time, shall we?


What’s in a pronoun? Why gender-fair language matters,” Annals of Surgery, December 2017
-Chelsea A. Harris, MD, Natale Biencowe, MBBS, and Dana A. Telem, MD

“Implicit biases can manifest in many ways, from decisions regarding who should be on an expert panel to the posture we assume when speaking with a colleague, but one of the most powerful ways implicit bias can act is through language…

“Taken together, these results lend credence to the conclusion that gendered language is not benign. Language bias has real and measurable consequences for individuals and society.

We’ve been talking about your use of the word “girls” for years. At least since 2012. When you use it while presenting, again and still in 2017, you correct yourself to “women” for my benefit and call out to me in the crowd, laughing, asking if that’s better.

Not really. I thought we would be farther by now.

‘Girls’ Gone Wrong”: Isn’t It Harmless, Though?

Not Child’s Play

“[T]he traditional binary definition of gender roles and more limited way of looking at our possibilities of constructing different types of identities still have a great influence on the maintenance of boundaries between what is regarded as normal and deviant when it comes to gender and the body.”

Gendered Spaces: The Gym Culture and the Construction of Gender,” Young, September 1996
-Thomas Johansson, PhD

It’s gym, like g-y-m not J-i-m’: Exploring the role of place in the gendering of physical activity,” Social Science & Medicine, January 2018
-Stephanie E. Coen, PhD, Mark W. Rosenberg, PhD, and Joyce Davidson, PhD

“One type of micro-aggression was refusal or reluctance to share equipment or space, at times resulting in women abandoning activities or spaces…

“In a second form of micro-aggression, women perceived that men seeking access to equipment approached women prior to approaching men in the same space. This resulted in some women feeling pressured to complete their exercises quickly…

“A third form of micro-aggression occurred when men offered unsolicited advice or critique to women, effectively demoting women’s status in the gym…

“Finally, some women cited sexualized gazes and interactions as intruding upon their workouts and mobilities within the gym.”

Some men, too, reported altering their behavior to align more closely with gender ideals, refraining from certain types of exercise they were interested in because they might be interpreted as feminine.

Better Gyms

River Cook, gender nonbinary gym-goer in Minneapolis: “[Y]our bathrooms are not gendered, your barbells are not gendered, your workouts are not gendered. That’s a baseline that every gym could meet, and it doesn’t just make things better for a population of trans people or genderqueer people…you literally make it better for everyone.”

[excerpted from interview with trainer Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake]

A note: Though gender is increasingly accepted as a fluid conception, dichotomous terms can help illustrate the problems and common narratives people of different genders face.

So, while duality is included here, as comedian Cameron Esposito puts it, “You don’t have to take it with you.”

(In other words, gender is a pretender.)

(There are also a wide range of chromosomal combinations [and other measurable attributes] that make sex largely just as much of a façade, decision, or performance.)


Instagram, October 8

ig story.png

“A q for you (maybe): If you are in the fitness industry and have broached conversations (particularly with but not limited to) men or provided feedback about their behavior in some way, how have those conversations gone? How have they accepted this feedback and did you see a change in behavior? Thank u for sharing.”

The answer, overwhelmingly, was NOT WELL, NOT WELL AT ALL.

So, the terms are that we are aligning around values.


Erin Brown:
“You’ve been told to look at certain of your language and behaviors because they hurt or demean others. And you seem upset about that. That’s what you’re upset about.”

Aim to see yourself and others in context.


Erin Brown:
“Don’t talk when it’s not your turn to talk. Don’t presume that you know more about my life than I do or my experience than I do. Don’t lend expertise to situations where you have none at all. Consider if opening your mouth will add anything to a conversation. Consider the impacts of your actions, including touch, specifically touch. Consider the context of a consensual sexual relationship and the context of casual. When you touch people, how do they respond? Move according to respect. That’s for everybody, but I need men to work on that with me.”

Jen Sinkler:
“What else?”

Erin Brown:
“Believe that people could be having a wildly different experience in the same room than you.”

Jen Sinkler:

Erin Brown:
“Believe that when you speak up it has an impact on other people who look like you.”

Jen Sinkler:
“Or when you don’t.”

Erin Brown:
“Take threats and violence and bigotry and jokes about those things as seriously as you would if you thought they might harm someone that you love. And these things achieve a really great level of decency that would allow people to coexist. They are not things that deserve a parade.”

Jen Sinkler:
“So stop expecting one.”

Anger is not the same as hatred. Your common mistaking of the two is time-consuming and derailing.

“anger. is often grief that has been silent for too long.”
-Nayyirah Waheed

The points of breakdown are easier to see on a broader scale because we have more access to the bigger picture.

You = they = we.

You’re in powerful positions
Shaping thought
With your silence.

street lights and flowers.png

Are the only options crickets or cacophony?

The idea of sorting things out, finishing them up, is a flawed way of thinking to begin with. All we can do is learn more and keep going. And then repeat.

Yesterday I opened a book of Celtic meditations to a page with a picture of an endless knot, continually turning back on itself and forming a six-pointed star in the middle. Spending a few minutes following the lines and the loops, I started to get a sense of the patterns and rhythms of the thing. Small swirls nestled within larger ones, line swooping edge and periodically careening back through the center.

Its inherent cooperation held my attention.

Complex, cooperative systems. That’s us!

Cooperation is critical, but who is cooperating, and who is coerced? Where are the concessions coming from, and who is making them? What is no longer up for compromise, and never should have been to begin with?

I’ll never forget the way she looked at me said, “I didn’t know we were this bad.” Sunken spots under the eyes. Even the seasoned. The “we” in question in that moment was white cisgender women.

It is us a lot.

“The work starts with yourself,” says racial justice educator Catrice M. Jackson, author of White Spaces, Missing Faces, among other books.

She says, too, that when she hears the truth, she knows it. I feel the same, and so I know she is telling it when she announces that if we’d arrived at her workshop with an us-versus-the-bad-guys attitude, picturing tidy sides, we were about to get our worlds turned upside down.

It starts with yourself, says social justice educator Tee Williams, EdD, too, whose doctoral thesis was on understanding internalized oppression. 

Yoohoo. You who? You, too.




There is much criticism of a shame-based approach, and rightly so. We have enough shame, experts say. Shame further feeds abusive patterns, leads to further entrenchment and inaction.

Shawnese Givens, New York– and Pennsylvania-based marriage and family therapist, points me to a chapter in the book Psychology of Shame, which covers aspects of the complicated interplay between violence and shame. Victims of violence are at greater risk of devaluing themselves, yes, and increased shame can also be a predisposing factor in experiencing mood and anxiety symptoms.

But from the other side, too, the side of the perpetrator, shame looks to play a role “as a result of the shame-prone individuals’ maladaptive efforts to manage this unpleasant emotion through anger.” This association between shame proneness and anger arousal runs from childhood to adulthood. Without nonviolent coping skills, violence (both physical and psychological) can serve as a reaction to threats to self-esteem, a compensatory effort to avoid this elevated awareness of shame. This creates a loop of offense and re-offense.           

Shame begets more shame. Shame is not an access point. We know better.

When I see, though, the fervent denial of the very existence of the problems, I understand why shame might be wielded that way. Sometimes a forked tongue seems like the only way to burst a bubble.




Last year, I saw a sexual harassment e-course geared toward men make its way around the fitness industry. In one of the ads was the line “Protect your reputation.” In other words, WIIFM, which stands for “What’s in it for me?” Marketing. We are trying anything, and it’s taking everything. 

I feel uneasy.

I’ve been a lot thinking about the inherent command issued in the title of Dr. Kate Manne’s book: Down, Girl.

What it feels like to me, though, is “heel.” There is the threat of being downed, of course, but so long as we comply, we appear cooperative.

Maybe what Manne gave up was trying to recruit to the cause. Our coaxing and coddling, too, is part of the problem.

Compromise isn’t necessary when it’s not your joke, not your word, not your body, not your identity. It’s simply not your call. 

I’ve begun interrupting the prequel about him being a good guy, because yes yes we know. That he is, we are, not bad guys. Look at all the good.



“To be in possession of The Lion’s Share is to have the larger part of something, more than anyone else involved. This phrase [originates] from Aesop’s fables. One story tells of a lion and three other animals, all hunting together, who catch and kill a stag for their supper. The meal was divided into four equal parts but, just as the animals are about to tuck in, the lion stops them. He insists the first portion is for him as he is king of the jungle and therefore their ruler. He then claims a second portion for himself on the basis he is the strongest of them all and finally a third because of his infinite courage. The lion then allows the other three animals to share the last portion between them but warns them only to touch it if they dare.”

-Albert Jack, Red Herrings and White Elephants: The Origins of the Phrases We Use Every Day

(Sound familiar?)

Twenty-plus women, in all. Unsolicited nude photos and lewd videos. Of himself, their coach.

That was two Decembers ago. Two of the three fitness institutions he held coaching certificates through issued lifetime bans. One created a policy just to be able to do so. The third’s response, first via email, was that yes, they have a coach by that same name in their database, but his certification had expired, so as far as they are concerned, the matter is settled.

Wait wait. You can do better. You have to do better.

No response.

I call their headquarters again months later, following up. Yes, there is a coach by that name in the database, she says, but the account is expired. Are there any notes about a lifetime ban, I ask? Any plans to implement one? How do we know this is him, she asks. We don’t want to ruin this poor guy’s life.

We don’t know, I say, but you can find out. You should find out, because the coach in question claims he’s one of yours. I recount the story of the initial conversation to her (which was not mine), stress this is where things broke down last time.

Let me transfer you, she says. I repeat the story. More than twenty women! Surely you do not wish for your organization to be associated with this person? Surely you want to instate some sort of policy safeguarding against his re-upping with you? I will call you back, she says. You will, personally? Yes.

She didn’t. I’m still calling.


Persnickety is a pretty word with two meanings. One of them pays homage to attention to detail. 

Womxn complaining loudly.

But what are we complaining about, specifically?

You never came back to that Facebook thread and you didn’t respond to the email, so maybe you don’t know the answer to your question about if Dr. Tee has a self-guided option for his foundations of social justice course. I know you’re busy. (He does.)

What would make you feel more culpable?

Do you know how time-consuming this is? Why aren’t you doing it? 

Erin Brown:
“On some level, when we expect more from men, we are overestimating how much they care about their impact on others. Not enough to Google something.” 

I don’t know where to begin, except stop before you start.


I asked him if he realized that he is essentially making light of the trauma of others when he jokingly uses the word “triggered.”

“I never thought about that,” he said. “Thank you.”

A different him copied and pasted the definition of “triggered” from and said, “Is this more correct?”

That definition says men who come home from war have legit triggers but otherwise it’s something feminazis say.

No, really.



With laughter and anguish, really.

What I would like to do is move more efficiently.

Oftentimes if and when men do arrive, it is through the entry point of protecting their property.

See the tacit agreement of silence or the vocal support from men about USA Powerlifting’s current disallowment of trans athletes in competition:

“My wife, my daughter, my girlfriend.”

In his book Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? Heath Fogg Davis, PhD, director of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Temple University, writes the following:

“On closer inspection, the protection of female athletes via paternalistic policies is not as ‘rational’ as it may seem. Such policies are ‘overbroad’ because they do not account for the substantial intrasexual variation in musculature, bone density, lung capacity, stature, and endocrinology that exists within the categories of people we call male and female.”

And much more than that.

When the news broke that USA Powerlifting had decided to ignore International Olympic Committee guidelines and block trans athletes from competition, I reached out to three well-respected men in the industry I’d hoped would speak up. Or that I’d pretended might.

One had misinformation about the effects of hormone therapy on testosterone levels in transgender women, one had very little information and focused instead on testosterone supplementation in transgender men (not to dismiss the experience of transmasculine people, but largely, the furor has occurred over trans women), and while the third was informed and acknowledged that there is no published research that directly supports the idea that transgender women have a competitive advantage, he still suggested a different category of medals be given to transgender individuals.


Exclusion or othering.

Trans women are women. Women who, especially in conjunction with other factors such as being a racial minority, are the most targeted group in the world. Oftentimes with fatal consequences. It is difficult to overstate the impact of cultural bias on trans women, particularly trans women of color: Anti-trans stigma and sentiment leads to their dehumanization and erasure, which is compounded by the effects of both racism and sexism.

The Canadian Powerlifting Union, on the other hand, simply takes people at their word:

“Individuals…should be able to participate in the gender with which they identify and not be subject to requirements for disclosure of personal information beyond those required of cisgender athletes. Nor should there be any requirement for hormonal therapy or surgery.”

Oh, Canada.

It’s about harm reduction.

It’s also about liberation.



Optional (For Men)

In the same organization, there was, too, a rule that women were required to wear a t-shirt under their lifting singlet during the deadlift. Not men. By a number of accounts, the explanation was literally fear of boobs.

“This was a rule implemented many years ago due to some of the women not wearing appropriate undergarments.”

There are so many stories in powerlifting. In every corner of fitness. Let’s tell more of them.

Not Agreeing to Disagree

There are conflicting understandings of what a “safe space” is, writes Diana Ali, assistant director of policy research and advocacy at NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

One person may use the term pejoratively, to indicate a space where people with different ideas can get away from those who would disagree with them.

Another may also use it to mean a gathering of like-minded people, but with positive connotations about the possibility that historically marginalized people are able to gather for giving and receiving necessary support.

Yet another may round up people from diverse backgrounds into one spot with the goal of facilitating difficult conversations.

In part because of this range and confusion, and in part because no space truly functions as safe for target groups, Kristi Clemons, Title IX coordinator and clery act compliance officer at Dartmouth College, and Brian Arao, associate dean of students and chief of staff at University of California, introduced a new term in their book, The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections From Social Justice Educators.

The term is “brave spaces.”

This word swap intentionally acknowledges the inherent challenge of engaging in conversations about heavy topics, and also expresses the expectation of participation, dialogue, and resolution.


“[W]e believe that agreeing to disagree in a conversation about social justice not only stymies learning for all participants, it can also serve to reinforce systems of oppression by providing an opportunity for agent group members to exercise their privilege to opt out of a conversation that makes them uncomfortable.”

“[I]t is our view that the agent group impulse to classify challenges to one’s power and privilege as actions that detract from a sense of safety is, in itself, a manifestation of dominance.”

Controversy with civility, a term drawn from the social change model of leadership development, is ‘a value whereby different views are expected and honored with a group commitment to understand the sources of disagreement and to work cooperatively toward common solutions.’”

The five ground rules for brave spaces are: controversy with civility, ownership over intentions and impact, choice, respect, and an agreement not to intentionally inflict harm on one another.

Can we agree to this?

In order for us to move faster together, each of us needs to own the responsibility of our education so we can come in at some sort of clip. A running start, or a falling one, depending.

Erin Brown:
“I’m not ever going to put someone else in the position to walk me through my own learning because I refuse to be accountable to it.” 

I see our jobs as facilitating better access to people’s own power, helping to equip them with skills they can use to create more agency over their physical vessels in some tangible way.

How can each of us more fully consider the health of the whole?

Open up.

Listen hard.

Change readily.

Consider who you’re listening to.

Consider if they are telling their own story.

Examine your leaders. Are they pointing to others? (Hat tip Erin Brown, again, for that association with good leadership.)

Point to your teachers.

Point out to your teachers ways they need to grow.

Feedback. Feedback. Feedback.


“We keep each other honest, we keep each other good with our feedback, our intolerance of meanness and falsehood, our demands that the people we are with listen, respect, respond — as we are allowed to, if we are free and valued ourselves.”

-Rebecca Solnit, Call Them By Their True Names

Comedians Hannah Gadsby and Cameron Esposito both make mention of feedback in their standup routines “Nanette” and “Rape Jokes,” accordingly, in brilliant, incisive ways.

We must learn to receive feedback. Take into consideration, think and listen deeply. Read widely. Shit-check yourself often. Keep moving. Keep it moving.

Adaptability is critical, as is alignment. Form follows function. Are you supporting the health of the whole? Where are there imbalances?

We are in need of a form adjustment.


Hi! Long time no talk. First of all, thank you for the shoutout! I appreciate that, as I’m just getting back into posting.

I hope the rest of this message lands as I intend it, which is simply to open a conversation about what our accountability is in the fitness industry for recommending sources that are harmful. That when sexist or racist or homophobic or transphobic or fatphobic or ableist or ageist (or, or, or) comments or content surface in our immediate group, we say that isn’t OK. That we work to rid our own language and content and comments of such things. That we do not promote sources known to feed into such things.

I was about to repost your link when I thought, let’s see. And one of the recommendations in there is that "fat shaming works."

That’s a deeply disturbing message to promote. (I just did an interview with a therapist and a PhD about how shame is a highly destructive tactic that is never OK. Happy to share with you, if you are interested.)

So, for me, that means I can’t share this link, because someone who gets it from me might click it and read the following:

“I don’t know if we’re just talking about fat people here, but scorn and ridicule carries a lot of weight with it in terms of getting someone to change their life. There are times to coddle someone: during the loss of a loved one or a break up or things of that nature. But people make choices to become obese or to allow their health to deteriorate. And more often than not, coddling isn’t what they need. They’ve been doing enough of that on their own.”

“It might not feel good to speak to someone you care about in such a way, but your motives and intentions behind it matter the most. So tell that fatty you love to get off the couch.”

That is the advice. I would feel culpable for that reading experience if I sent people there. And I think that’s fair. I think we should put ourselves on the hook that way. It gets tricky immediately but...yeah. The alternative is to tell “that fatty” something. You know?

I also understand that you have a long relationship with [name of publication redacted], and I can’t begin to imagine the complexity here. Is this a topic you would consider broaching with them?

Actually, let me back up. How is any of this striking you? What are your thoughts?

As always, thank you for your time. Hope you are so well.


I’m glad we’re on the same page, but I want to address again my question about whether you are willing to bring this to [name of publication redacted]. Because like it or not, you are attached to this because of your participation in and amplification of this article.

Specifically, I’m at a point where I feel accountable for every single thing my name is attached to, and it feels like a responsibility to speak up when I see things that are causing harm. Regardless, but most especially when I am granting access in some way to a place that is causing that harm.

Could you help me understand at what point you feel it’s your responsibility to do the same? You’re highly respected in the industry and have a chance to set a precedent with regard to culpability, especially among men.

I hope this does not come off as patronizing or bossy, but I can’t get it out of my head that leaders lead. And I want more of that from the men in the industry. (And not just men, but there is a particular lack of accountability goin’ on there.) I know we can do better if we work in concert.

I look forward to hearing your answer about approaching [name of publication redacted] and using your influence to effect broader change.


p.s. I want to be really clear I’m not throwing stones, or saying “just men!” It’s all of us, and who we are pointing to and what we are allowing.

“Mostly, conversations are dismissed, and I’ve felt ignored, like I should have kept my mouth shut in the first place.

Conversations are also turned around into, ‘This is normal, don’t make a big deal about this.’ Mansplaining occurs. The only time I found men receptive to my feedback was when I was managing a gym and had a team of trainers I was in charge of directly,” she writes.

Approach doesn’t seem to matter.  

“[M]any if not most of us at the current historical juncture are likely to be capable of channeling misogynistic social forces on occasion, regardless of sincere egalitarian beliefs and feminist commitments.”

-Kate Manne, PhD, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

This isn’t a callout, and these aren’t flames. Only a question: (Where are you?)

Do you not feel late?

If I seem upset, it’s because I’m upset.

I understand that is a luxury not afforded all.

Those are the luxuries.

We are at odds. I don’t know what else to say. 

Am I being unreasonable?

Faster, faster, though, I’m witnessing people make new. Heartening.

Erin Brown: “Some folks actually aren’t welcome when their ideas are harmful to the community.”

We are not the same. We have a lot in common: a desire for recognition, autonomy, and agency over our own lives. Credence to the decisions we make for ourselves, respect for our right to choose for ourselves.

If you’ve received feedback, consider that it is not about you, but rather the role you are playing right then. The consequences.

It is a request, a plea. Please listen. With urgency. With much more urgency. The ask is that you take seriously your role in the equation. Your reaction, or lack thereof, matters.

Address imbalances.
Improve alignment.
Move intentionally.
Accumulate volume.
Emphasize teamwork.
Value community.  

These don’t feel like radical ideas. I don’t know how to temper the thought that everyone gets to decide for themself. Why would I want to?

You ask what resources, and I marvel that you don’t realize how obvious it is who you aren’t following (yet). You don’t even have to reach to find them.

Again, this isn’t a roast, a callout, a damning.

It is an acknowledgment of the current environment and an urgent call to action. Mistakes will be made. Listening is an action.

“I have been doing these practices my whole life, but with mental health, sometimes it goes on the back burner and I have to tend to the other things first. And the body’s the last.

“So, getting back into it, let me do it the way that I know how to do it. I am listening to you, and I am here and I am present, but don’t criticize me because I’m not meeting that cardio rep in Pilates when you’re doing the hundred.

“I am trying. And I know that you don’t understand that it’s going to look different, but that’s your fault. I am here, and I showed up, and I take up space, and I’m not apologizing for it anymore. And I find myself constantly apologizing for it.”

-Brianne Key, massage and sound therapist,
Lincoln Calling, 1:19:30  

“This is a grossly overlooked issue, especially for those in any form of trauma recovery where their body is holding EVERYTHING,” she adds later.



I read a book about persuasion recently. It was wonderful, but the punchline was grim: Coercion may be necessary when two parties cannot agree to a starting premise.

Yet more specifically, the elements of persuasion do not apply if one party does not view the other party as an equal.

“Start by seeking power, not authority. The workers who perform the labor have power; the bosses who tell them what to do have authority.”

-To Change Everything

Something tells me coercion is not an option, though, not really. Coercion breeds entrenchment and resentment. It doesn’t work in any direction.

For years, I’ve witnessed the way you interact with each other, mocking, belittling, and shouting each other down over exactly what to eat (and what to never eat), exactly when and which types of exercise to do, and the precise way one must perform a squat or kettlebell clean in order for the world not to burn.

You are comfortable in coercion, so long as you are the one doing the coercing.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot: your general reactions to being told what (not) to do, even when it is less about you than the effect your behavior is having on someone else. Why can’t that be the point?

Anymore and evermore.

What are the dealbreakers?

Synopsis of 257 Comments

You, mainly. Asking for empirical evidence that you should stop making sexist, racist, and homophobic jokes. (Your gay friend said it was fine!)

Are given a preponderance of the evidence you request. (Almost unbelievably, the very researcher you used to bolster your own position disagrees with your takeaway. Explicitly: “a large and growing body of psychology research suggests…that disparagement humor can foster discrimination against targeted groups.”)

You continue to argue.


In the private Facebook group of a popular resource for trainers who train trainers, a question is posed asking about considerations of training someone who is transgender.

The first answer: “I trained a gay guy once. It was great, he referred a lot of clients.”

The others were exactly that helpful.

What are we doing.
What are we doing here.

If I am hopeful about what happens next, it is not because your responses or reactions have led me to be.

Disengagement is another option. Have you noticed that happening, or happening yet?

“Fastest unfollow this week. It’s SO disappointing when one of the ‘good ones’ shows us how low the bar for ‘good’ really is,” she writes.

“If you think that this doesn’t apply to you, you’re wrong.”
-Trudi Lebrón, Untame Yourself EP297  

A slew of you respond only to images with some amount of skin showing. You, too, are like clockwork.

I don’t know how any of this is going to land, except that I’m afraid that I might.

One of the strongest responses I ever saw in terms of checking behavior — from one of the “good guys,” of course — was “Man, you guys can be real assholes to each other.”


I don’t want to fight. I will, though, about lines, and who draws them for who else.

Lines can be drawn with you, too.


-isms move together in a pack, and must also be fought as a pack.

Siloing less and less. Yes!

We talk about movements that exist along a continuum, with slight alterations to pattern and scale, each with its own places, times, people.

It all scales.

The good stuff, too. Love is powerful. Team is exponential. 

I see team everywhere.

Who is missing, and missing what? How and why?

Last year, I went to an event that boasted an all-women lineup. (Great.) The man who had organized the event, however, announced each of the speakers primarily in relation to himself: how he knew them, or far too often, admitting that he didn’t, and then instead describing and praising the men who had connected the two of them. (Not great.)

He consistently bungled basic details about each of the presenters, interjected his own answers into their Q and A time, and on the occasion that he was corrected or redirected, continued to find himself right. Including when it came to place of residence. After a speaker clarified that she was not from the city he’d just announced she was: “Oh, you’re not from there? Well…you stayed there last night!”

During another intro, he noted that the presenter did an internship for [name redacted]’s facility. “I worked there for six years,” came her reply. (He seemed delighted to discover he was even more right than he thought.) Yet another ended with a story about borrowing money for a taxi, the punchline being that the speaker was worth about ten dollars to the man who’d recommended her for the lineup. Verbatim: “That’s how much he thought you were worth.”

He messaged me a few months later, saying he’d like to host the event again (great!) and asking for feedback (great!), and so I gave it, as kindly and clearly as I could. He thanked me, said he “seriously appreciated it,” and that he would like to follow up.

I reached out again a couple weeks later, asking if he had anything to add or wanted to continue the conversation.

He left me on read, lol.

To continue the exercise analogies, it comes down to Wolfe’s law, which states that your body lays down new tissue along lines of stress.

Are you building tissue that supports the skeleton, or are you creating or maintaining imbalances?

Are you listening?

If so, how hard? To whom?

Erin Brown:
“It’s not flame throwing. It’s behavior illuminating.”


“These men who are around you are the best guys, and you want everyone to win. These are how these conversations are going, you’re rooting for them.

“The shift has to be putting our attention on who is actively seeking to do better, who’s actively looking at themselves, who’s actively accountable for what kind of leader they will be, and what kind of leader they will stand for, including where they put their money.”

“If you’re going to be a public person, I think you have to choose to do that work, not be guided to it, not be coaxed into it, not be convinced that it matters. If that’s true, you just suck at leadership.”

“You actually don’t necessarily get to disagree about what’s racist, particularly as a white man in this country. You’re not the person who decides what’s racist. Just like you’re not the person who decides what’s sexist. People are pointing out that your language is harmful and you’re so mad because people have never addressed you in such a way and asked you to make corrections to respect them.”

“It’s not like those people rail against updated terminology elsewhere in their lives.”

-Cameron Esposito, “Rape Jokes”

It is really something to consider who is still not participating, who is carrying on with their opt-out. The absence of men is glaring. And…strange. I can’t begin to tell you how strange. You are everywhere else.

The alternative is that you show up to disagree, however politely.

You wouldn’t believe the consistency in this experience. (You don’t.)

We must be clear about where we stand, if we stand, both on the platform and off.

In the most literal sense, only a handful are. Standing there, standing with, timing out, timing up.

Dr. Tee Williams: “So the conversation’s bigger than this like…oh, it’s not this one fucking guy. It’s like, where are you?”

Yoohoo. You, too.

I don’t believe she really gives up. The way she discusses moral hazards and obligations, and the bold suggestions she lays at the reader’s feet, reveal she is still, always working.

“I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you.”

-Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len’s mantra as part of the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponono 

(Do we need a phone tree?)

January 13, 2018 

Hello! I have a favor to ask. I’m wondering if you could please answer a few questions about your experiences in any gyms and fitness communities you’re a part of (if applicable), and *also* I’m hoping you might ask people you know to answer these questions, too, so that we have more answers from more people about what that experience is like for them. (Thank you in advance for your time!):)

What we are trying to look at, specifically: the reality that, as with every industry, the fitness world is rife with issues of discrimination, harassment, abuse, and more. Sometimes it comes as a surprise; sometimes not. We could all tell our stories. Maybe we should. Maybe we will.

What I hope we agree on is that it matters that the spaces designated to fostering better fitness be safe and inviting for everyone.

I believe there are opportunities to do better. Ones in which we learn, grow, and transform together. But in order to figure out what could and will be, first we have to get a better handle on what currently is.

Have you ever had an experience where you’ve felt targeted or uncomfortable in a gym/online space as a result of one or more of your social identities? (please check all that apply):


Did you share your experiences with the owners/operators of the gym/online space?

No. White folks generally don’t get it.”

“I’m so conditioned to make every excuse & entertain every possible other reason for people’s behavior toward me, so it’s tough to nail this down without excusing or apologizing it away.”

“It’s frustrating to see how aspects of certain fitness personalities get overlooked because they’re popular. [name redacted] says sexist nonsense, as does [name redacted]. [name redacted] is friends with and rented space to white supremacists. He urged people to ‘look past’ their beliefs when he interviewed them for his podcast. That’s complete garbage. His friends are listed on [the Southern Poverty Law Center’s] hate group list. I’m not looking past that. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who associate with him or support him and just don’t care. The same goes for people like [name redacted], who think it’s acceptable to use the n-word. I’m just tired of being asked to look past people’s racism (or sexism, or heterosexism, or any kind of bigotry).”

“Most of my discomfort comes from reading things online. Racism in fitness affects me on a personal level.”

“As a woman of color, I always feel that I’m judged on race if I’m in a not diverse or welcoming environment (this isn’t specific to a particular gym).”

“People have assumed that my hijab is part of a novelty costume.”

“Anti-semitism and misogyny. Mostly offhand comments.”

“Offhand homophobic, fat-phobic, and racist comments.”

“Sexist comments, unwanted attention.”

“belittling, name calling, bullying, uncomfortable sexual atmosphere.”

“I have left gyms & lifting clubs due to harassment (verbal & physical) & bullying/assault.”

“Homophobic jokes, sexist jokes. I’ve actually told the owner he needs to hire more women coaches.”

“Being talked down to or dismissed because I have limited mobility.”

“It looks like constantly worrying who will confront me at a meet or who won’t allow me to sign up or who will try to use me as their token to get ally cookies. It’s exhausting, quite frankly.”

“Getting misgendered, no gender-neutral locker rooms (I’m nonbinary but pass as a ‘woman’), literally all instructors assuming I’m a woman.”

“those looong looks trying to establish whether I belong in the women’s locker room or not.”

“Being a butch lesbian, it has been difficult to find a comfortable space to lift.”

“I can feel and hear comments from men; there is a sort of attitude among some that I should leave the equipment for the real lifters. Constant comments on my body, attempts to chat, pointers, etc.”

“Dudes telling me how to do my workout and voicing unsolicited opinions about my workout. Other things like guys just setting up on a piece of equipment while I’m taking my break, then taking their break ON the equipment so I can’t work back in with them.”

“Men come up to me to correct my form or even tell me that I should do other exercises.”

“Men staring. I don’t mean glancing from time to time but actually watching for an hour at a time, then standing in my path to speak to me.”

“Guys staring while I lift.”

“I hated men hitting on me.”

“Leering, staring, being followed around during my workout.”

“He walks BETWEEN the equipment to get to his next station so that he brushes against you, and he orients himself while at the station to stare.”

“I approached a guy who had taken a small gym accessory that belonged to me once he was finished using it and informed him that it belonged to me. He responded with a screaming tirade during which he called me fat and every slur you can think of.”

“I’ve had men make overtly sexual comments, demeaning comments, take my equipment, and in a couple of cases, touch me without permission.”

“Cluelessness of instructors who touch me without asking.”

“Dudes would not leave me alone. Comments on my gym clothing were common. Would have an audience when deadlifting, doing kb swings, and squatting. Someone once waited outside the locker room for me and tried to follow me to my car. Talked to the gym staff about it and they did nothing.”

“Men watching me train. I have received inappropriate comments when I have been doing hip thrusters even though I am facing the wall. I once had a man point out to me that he weighed the exact amount I was hip thrusting, 185 pounds. Very creepy. Another time I caught a man filming me with his iPhone while I was doing cable pull-throughs.”

“I’ve had a man follow me around a gym trying to surreptitiously film me. I’ve been hit on and sexually harassed more times than I can count. I’ve gotten unsolicited comments on my body size, appearance, and gender presentation.”

“Twice I’ve had gym stalkers when I was at a big chain gym.  Both were men who followed me around the gym talking to me, hitting on me, commenting on my physique, etc., despite my wedding ring and headphones and lack of eye contact. I quit that gym when I caught one of them taking photos of me while I was working out.”

“Harassment, unwanted sexual advances, verbal abuse, stalking.”

“When I used to work as a trainer I was hit on, harassed, and verbally threatened more than once, including one incident in which the member was banned from that particular gym forever. Most of the discomfort I feel these days comes from men (always men) trying to give me unsolicited advice.”

“In the last month: Males sitting behind me, staring, not working out, while I’m squatting /deadlifting. Males taking my dumbbells during rest periods because they don’t think I’m using them because they’re ‘too heavy.’ Getting unsolicited advice during a set by a male. During my set. Didn’t see him interrupting the guys, just me.”

“I’ve had men make comments about how much I’m lifting (too much OR too little), making judgments based on my gender: e.g., ‘you’re lifting too much, you might get hurt.’”

“completely unsolicited advice and I felt targeted as the only female in the weight room. He wasn’t offering advice to any of the men in the gym... insert major eye roll.”

“Being questioned by men on my use of a space/piece of equipment when they certainly wouldn’t ask a dude (e.g., ‘do you really need the bench for that?’).”

“Condescension about ability, hitting on me, and otherwise drawing weird attention to the fact that I am a woman in a traditionally male space.”

“Hovering, taking equipment without asking, walking or standing too closely when (after observing them with men in their space) they don’t do the same to other men, things of that nature. I’ve also had pictures surreptitiously taken of me.”

“Men leering at me as I lift, or making assumptions about my strength.”

“People correcting me (even though I’ve been doing this for years) but not correcting others (men) around me who are clearly not doing the exercise right. Approaching me, commenting on my ability, then on my body.”

“Go be a woman who weighs over 150 pounds in a weight room and see how many respected coaches eventually tell you that you’d be so much more competitive in a lower weight class.”

“Comments about my body’s appearance, comments others heard about my body, comments about other women’s bodies, comments about not being as strong as man, comments about getting too big, comments about my presence shaming men, lots of unsolicited advice that I think is because of my gender.”

“As an older, fat, out of shape, inexperienced person, I found it very tough to start getting fitter and going to a gym. I found it usual for coaches and trainers, especially but not exclusively young men, to be uninterested in training and teaching older women. I, and others like me, seemed to be seen as unattractive, uninteresting, and not worth the effort to teach (or maybe just unteachable). I was also patronized and treated in a condescending fashion. It didn’t occur to many coaches/trainers that I had goals and some strengths, as well as my many weaknesses, and intended to achieve my goals.”

“Going to a gym as a large woman, the only thing available to me is weight loss. Sucks balls. I want a space where I can be helped with solid weightlifting advice and help, but gyms/trainers only think I could ever be interested in weight loss.”

“Sexual harassment at the gym (once from a trainer, usually from men working out), offensive conversations about mental health and gender, being forced to participate in or listen to conversations that promote body dysphoria and eating disorder issues, being subject to the assumption that I work out to lose weight.”

“People making jokes at your expense about being large and thinking you don’t hear them. People giving you a pity look because of your size.”

“Trainers assume I can’t do things because I’m a bigger woman.”

“When I was heavier, I got looks and was openly mocked when using machines. I would also get approached constantly with unsolicited workout advice from men.”

“Many people would whisper about my body size and say things like ‘it’s that time of year’ if it was January or February.”

“Getting unwanted attention, ‘I bet your husband likes that you work out...’ type of stuff. When I don’t respond positively, they keep it up. Fuck off.”

“I’ve been asked where my husband is and why he’s not with me on the weight room floor. Mostly it’s the eeeeeyess that follow you across the room.”

“Every time you enter a gym you get started at and watched by at least one guy, it’s creepy and uncomfortable.”

“Comments from men about lifting: ‘if you keep lifting too heavy, you’re just going to get bulkier,’ ‘why can’t you work out in the other area?’, ‘you’re not really going use the squat rack, are you?’, and my personal favorite, ‘you would probably be taken more seriously if you weren’t wearing lipstick to work out.’”

“Backhanded compliments (strong for a girl), mild sexual harassment (being hit on, stared at, asked out).”

“I prefer to exercise in public spaces because I find the behavior from men in gyms is far worse.”

“At my previous gym, I was touched regularly by men trying to ‘show me how to do X correctly.’ I was grabbed by the thigh by an off-duty police officer who was ‘complimenting the size of my leg muscles.’ Another time a group of four men started a conversation about what I was wearing that spiraled from noticing the uniqueness to asking what it cost and what I did to get the money for it (insinuating I performed sexual favors), to talking about getting me out of the clothes. I was on an elliptical doing my workout and had to pretend I was done and leave. There are at least 10 more very negative experiences I had relating to being a woman in the gym, and hundreds of things I’d call ‘little’ because they weren’t as bad or were so frequent that many women just considered it normal for being in the gym. Btw - this type of thing was a major factor in deciding to open my own gym.”

“Many people believe Blackness is the mark of Cain, that fatness is the mark of gluttony, that untamed womanhood is the mark of disobedience and chaos. A walking embodiment of the Pandora’s Box, ‘apple-shaped’ bodies symbolize the forbidden fruit that caused the world to fall.”

-Hess Love for Wear Your Voice: “Everything That We Know About Obesity Is an Indictment of White Supremacy

“But apples have also long been a symbol of deep magic.”
-Sarah Gottesdiener, visualmagic  

Hidden stars. Seeds of change.

hidden stars.png

Fitness Fellas, Cont.

Know your place, he tells her. An extraordinary coach in an organization with back then even fewer women in leadership positions. I watch tears fall from her eyes.

You go out of your way to disparage the Health At Every Size (HAES) movement, but not a peep about the health effects of racism. 

The headline reads:
Children Don’t Damage Women’s Careers — Men Do,” by Jessica Valenti. 

The article is about the continuing gender disparity in housework and childcare (women do roughly twice as much), and provides data to back the claim.

“Wow – that’s a broad brush you’re painting with…

“Its a very broad statement and certainly does not pertain to all of us…”

Not all men.

Not the point.

I like my women underfed, says the head of the organization.

The nutrition expert who makes national news, followed by pointing fingers and shrugging shoulders from the men around him. A few apologies.

“Maybe you could have just believed [name of one of the women redacted] in the first place,” she writes.

Maybe so.

What about the conversations we had the year before?

It all scales.

The healthcare professional who posts a meme of a weight scale accompanied by the words, “The only monument my clients want to topple,” during a time Confederate monuments were heavy in national news. A slew of comments identifying racism, deleted or ignored.

Several women approach him privately. I am one. To his credit, he signs up for Dr. Tee’s course, tells me he will follow up afterward.


And doesn’t look at the message that I eventually send. Always did before.

On the other hand, the list of womxn and gender nonbinary individuals in fitness who are seeking this type of education is growing rapidly.

The terms are that we are aligning around values.

Racist, Sexist, and Homophobic Slurs No More!

What excellent news, I reply. If you don’t mind my asking, what are some of the books or resources you encountered that led to this turnaround in yourself?

No resources, you say. Rather, you did some self-scouting and self-reflection, and now you are all squared away. Besides, you say, you’re so busy with work projects that you will not have time to read a book outside of work-related materials for the next few years.

One of your work projects is writing a book about the essential elements of personal training for a major certifying fitness organization.

We’re spinning.

I texted, “Can you hear what I am asking you to do?”

“Loud and clear,” came the answer.

No changes were made.

The nutrition expert is on the comeback trail, and many have joined the welcome-back wagon.

“I have very mixed feelings about it,” she says. “On one hand, I am a hopeless optimist who believes in people’s ability to learn and grow. I see it in my work, and I have experienced it myself.

“I have trepidations, however. Has the person in question done the work? And not just the external, looks-good-on-paper work, but I mean, the real work: the internal, messy, painful, honest work of dissecting how they could have gotten it so terribly wrong, and taken the steps personally to truly change?

“To this, I have to add the time factor. From what we know about true, long-lasting change, a few months hardly seems like enough time to delve into the murkiness of deeply rooted beliefs and values. And, as we know, the real work is never truly finished.

“So, I find myself experiencing mostly worry. Worry that this is nothing more than a ruse, carefully planned to win sympathy and support at the expense of those who have been hurt, myself included.

“To put things succinctly, even seeing his name makes me want to throw up. It’s a very physical reaction based on anxiety. And this is part of many of the continued effects this whole ordeal has had and still has on me.

“Is he a ‘new man’? How nice. I wish I could as easily scrape the difficult thoughts and feelings I am left with to this day.”

trauma-informed pillar

(Shouldn’t that be in the book of essentials?)

After my trip, when I heard the news, I set up a conference call with two of you. Another joins, once he hears the subject matter.

Oh yeah, you say, we had this member who caused a lot of problems. You were taken advantage of, you say.

I assume you mean the white supremacist, but you mean the guy who was picking fights with the white supremacist. Also not a good guy, you say. Both gone now.

ALL are welcome here, you say. One asks me if I think it’s wrong to be friends with someone who holds beliefs like that.

I hear that you condemn white supremacy, but your expulsion, once the fighting broke out, was not immediate, and your first answers trouble me.

I still have questions about why you decided not to donate a portion of the proceeds from the shirt he designed for you specifically to combat hate groups, as we’d discussed. You say you prefer your charity work to be more personal, but wasn’t this? And, I question your emphasis about how you were able to maintain the surrounding homes’ resale value for the work you have done, as if that were the real victory.

I still have questions about what we will allow, about what we will never stand for. I want to believe, but I have questions about your lens. I wish you did, too. I question my own all the time.


I like his work. He is skilled at presenting strength and fitness know-how in a deeply digestible way. Sometimes he toes the line into tough talk, for me, but overall, aligned. Visibly supportive.

And so, when he reaches out asking if I could repost him in a new social medium, I say yes, and:

“You know I’m a longtime follower and fan of your work, and the way you deliver your message. I’ve been meaning to ask you about something for a minute, and I’m hoping to gain some clarity on the matter. My memory is fuzzy on the specifics, but it was that you retweeted or included [name redacted] in a ‘sources to follow’ list, or something akin to that. Some positive representation of him, anyway. His highly misogynistic and bigoted views prevent me from pointing too vigorously at anyone who might send people his way, though. So I guess what I’m asking is, where are you at on that? (Sorry to be so to the point, I just don’t want to waste anyone’s time.) And, if I’m misremembering something somehow, please, please accept my apologies.”

Ah, he replies, he sticks to fitness, and [name redacted] is a “fantastic expert” in that regard. That anything he pushes is relevant to that person’s training info and nothing else.

A second message arrives, clarifying that he (the sender) is not a misogynist.

OK yes, I say, but choosing to point that way implies, at the least, that those viewpoints — which range in their attacks — are not dealbreakers.

Aren’t we culpable if we elevate accounts that spew bigotry?

He understands my justification, he says, definitely isn’t looking to argue my points. He appreciates my openness to interact about it.

I thank him back, reiterate my question about our culpability. Ask if this is something he is willing to shift his stance on.

No response. I don’t find delivery matters all that much, honestly.

I follow up again recently, repeat my question about culpability.

“Hi Jen, to be honest I haven’t given it any thought and have been really busy with work to boot. A little surprised that this is still on your mind…

“To answer your question more directly, I guess I can say that based on the way I’ve been raised by my parents, my stance toward misogyny and respect for women has always been and will continue to be virtually the same, so I guess in that way, it hasn’t really changed. I do think for boys, good core values and respect for women starts at home with a deep, healthy respect for your mother and female siblings. I’m not about to get into it much more, especially not here on [social medium redacted], but hope this is detailed enough for you. Enjoying your work as always!”

I thank him again for replying, say that it comes down to harm. That I understand that it’s all more complex than we’re even scratching the surface of here.

Then: “I just want to get to the same place faster because of the harm caused by making those connections. I took a spin through [name redacted]’s feed yesterday to see if it was still a problem (trust me, I have better things to do than this, but it is important for me to because of the associated harm), and I see that women should still be virgins and men shouldn’t date women over 25 and multiculturalism fails and how to be a better wife and Mike Cernovich. This picture of beliefs isn’t benign, regardless of how good his (often-plagiarized) strength-training tips are.”

What are the dealbreakers?


“[T]he naïve conception would threaten to make misogyny very difficult to diagnose, short of being the agent’s therapist (and sometimes not even that would be sufficient). This would threaten to make misogyny epistemically inaccessible to women, in particular. That is, it would threaten to deprive women of the wherewithal to acquire knowledge and justified beliefs about the manifestations of misogyny that they may encounter, and to go on to make warranted assertions on that basis. So in effect, this notion of misogyny would be silencing for its victims.”
-Kate Manne, PhD, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny

“enhanced pattern recognition”


“Misogyny attempts to force women back into it, or to punish them for desertion. Alternatively, it may punish women for taking men’s place, or trying to. It does so via hostile treatment enacted by individual agents as well as collective or group activity, and purely structural mechanisms. It comes in a range of flavors, from sheer nastiness and aggression to pointed indifference and stony silence, among other possibilities. For the prospect of hostility of any such kind can be an effective deterrent in being aversive to human beings, in view of our social nature. People in general, and arguably women in particular (in often being socialized to be particularly agreeable), do not want to lose others’ respect or approval or to be shunned, shamed, or excluded. We may also need other people’s help, cooperation, and protection in the future. So the prospect of widespread hostility can be an especially effective deterrent to women who might otherwise engage in bad (or, rather, ‘bad’) gendered behavior, or alternatively fail to provide certain feminine-coded goods and services.”
-Kate Manne, PhD, Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny


Theoretically, you believe in sexism, in other types of discrimination. Even acknowledge you may unwittingly play a role.

Yet when confronted with your own complicity in specific instances, you almost wholly deny those forces could be in play.

Publicly denouncing -isms, private messaging excuses for shoddy behavior.

This discordance in thought and behavior, this not-me thinking, allows for the same man to coauthor a widely celebrated pictorial history of muscular women and also include this sentence in another, about an old-time strongman:

“His work with unfit men was well publicized and had met with much success, and his assistance to women had turned many a porker’s ear into a silk purse.”

He refers to the performer’s wife in another passage as a “quarrelsome shrew.”

For the same man to engage with and support a repeat offender’s comeback in the fitness industry, but to hardly be able to function over news of Bill Cosby’s transgressions.

You, too.

Theory versus practice. Where the rubber meets the road, there are so many skid marks.

“Why can’t I use ‘tribe’? Why can’t I use ‘gangster’ on my t-shirts?

…because it’s hurtful. And it’s just not for you. Again, there’s that issue that you’ve never been told that something isn’t for you.”

-Rebekah Borucki, author of You Have 4 Minutes to Change Your Life

And “savage.” And “lame.” And, and, and.

When in doubt, don’t. If you don’t doubt, start to.

(Not just men. Conversations about lyrics not to sing, urgent discussions regarding claims of “reverse racism,” about priorities and leveraging privilege. Friendships tested, tears shed. On the whole, though, women move much faster.)

Four of Flames
From Ffiona Morgan’s (Revised) Daughters of the Moon Tarot 

“The flames of conflict can be healing and lead to creative resolution by opening up positive communication and growth. For any clearing to take place, everyone involved must be willing to sit down and talk with each other, and be open to grow, learn, and receive criticism…

“However, processing cannot always take place, and we can’t always ‘work it out’ with everyone; we have the choice to do so or not.”

If you read this, will you see yourself in it? Will you be angry? Will you turn away, or turn toward the conversation, at last?  

will you see yourself2.PNG


We Believe You But

“I went to my boss and told her. She asked if I was sure, and then, ‘What did you do to upset him?’ When I’d finally had enough and quit, the male owner said, ‘We believe you but we won’t fire him.’”

“An incident that was startling to me at a recent certification I attended was an anecdotal story told by the head instructor about a man who comes into his gym to look and leer at the women who are lifting,” she says. “He told the story laughingly, without caveat or criticism, just like, ‘That’s what he comes for!’ He makes groups of women uncomfortable, and it’s like, ‘You just cosigned it. You may has well have written a policy.’ As a woman who has left a gym for similar reasons, it left me like, ‘Uhhhh…’”

During the same certification, she notes, there were jokes between the two instructors (both men) about being gay, about being together. (They aren’t, on either front.)



“When you don’t hear others, they become unreal, and you are left in the wasteland of a world with only yourself in it.”

-Rebecca Solnit, “Politics and the American Language,” Call Them By Their True Names



Don’t put your decision about whether or not you should use the word “female” to a poll of your Facebook followers. You’re only listening for yes, and your “instinct” here is not an instinct.

Find the answer. Figure out why.

Erin Brown:
“[T]here’s a lot of anti-Black racism in the term ‘ghetto’ in the suggestion that an area is that and everything attached to it — but also for Jewish people, it’s a heavy word. So if you have no connection to that word then you have no right to use it casually.” 

“The context of language matters and at the end of the day, it’s not really about the language. It’s about using the language to pick apart the ideas. It doesn’t sound like he’s conscious and it also sounds like he doesn’t give a fuck about being conscious, he wants to be right.”

So Many Private Messages

“Kudos to you for putting ideas out there that inspire so much self-defensive disputation, and for having the patience to actually debate it for the rest of whatever. I would’ve been exhausted after the first 2 or 3 replies.
[name redacted]” 

“[name redacted],
While I appreciate the sentiment, I wish I had more vocal support that perhaps high-profile fitness professionals (etc.) should not casually drop derogatory slurs into conversation, especially at events where they’re presenting. 

Same applies to [other presenter’s name redacted]’s post about [an event attendee]’s ‘tits.’”

This was your event. Why aren’t you having these conversations?”

“I was woke before woke,” he tells me, but he can’t expect everyone to have his exact same level of awareness.

“What was I supposed to do, correct a 70-year-old guy who grew up understanding ‘colored’ was more polite than any of a dozen other words he heard virtually every day of his youth?”

Well…yes. Yes, actually.

That and more. That is what we are all to do. For each other.

Erin Brown:
“My question about that is draw the line for what? The line for how many words you might change so that you can speak respectfully? The line to how much people can request of you? All I hear is ‘I’m flabbergasted that you’re asking me to make a change.’” 

“Here are these guys, here’s this behavior. This is behavior that’s rampant among them. I’m sure some of them are really wonderful, but our best work here is to explain the behavior. We’re illuminating the pattern and when you recognize that pattern then all you have to do is nod to the other ways it shows up.

“In nodding, I’m saying I know that that’s your experience and you’re actually the person to talk about that. The parallels clearly exist in lots of other ways, and we hope that in talking about this one, specifically, that you see it here, and maybe you see it there, too. It’s a constant. We’re talking about a concept. And maybe that helps the men here, too: That it’s actually not just them. But they are the most egregious in this specific way, which is entitlement.”

“Do you know what it actually means to be you? Do you know where you get passes and where you don’t? Do you know how you’re harmed by being exactly who you are?”

“Underneath all of the ways that you’re talking to each other is all kinds of things, is racism, is homophobia, is blatant sexism. Is more.”

“It’s not about penises being irrelevant, which is what I feel like all I hear: Penises are irrelevant or we don’t respect men or men don’t do enough or we don’t care about their role, but what we’re saying is that in heterosexual-couple partners, the wife tends to do X, Y, Z based on statistics and that is work and that is childcare and that is all this labor that you only understand if you’ve done it. Some men do it. Some women will never understand it. That’s not a biological thing or a gender thing, but a sociological thing that’s happening and we’re just trying to tell you it’s happening and you’re saying ‘Don’t be mean’ and it’s really frustrating.

“I don’t say men are trash. I understand what might feel good about saying that but I don’t come from that perspective. I actually don’t want to devalue anyone.

“And, I would also be really surprised and interested to see if this person in particular or any of them could hang in this conversation with me or if we could actually just watch the part when they quit.”

“If I’m in direct conversation, if I’m in the room, if I have access to someone and they do something harmful I will let them know 100 percent of the time. I’ve been doing that for a very long time, so I know exactly how to do that kindly. I am soft. I am direct. I am clear. I’m nice. I do that. It has cost me so much, and it has cost them nothing in terms of leadership, in terms of being able to remain a viable voice online.”

“If we’re still in a room together because you kept him here and he’s nicer to you so you think he’s come along but he’s still terrible to me, what have you done for anyone? Have you made it better for you? Is that the bar? Is it not good for you because you’re associated with him and he’s doing that publicly? Or are you really going to concern yourself with that person’s impact indefinitely, and what does that look like? What are you signing up for? What kind of labor are you doing for free if they’re not even looking for it?”

“Somebody [on a panel] was saying ‘Talk to people, ask them questions.’ And I’m like what do you mean, do you mean find a Black person and ask them about their experience with racism? Because I would say don’t do that. Because you know what’s true about Black people is that every single one of them is different just like every other group of people you could possibly categorize, and how much people want to be vulnerable about what their specific experience is will be wildly different.

“I would be so irritated if someone said to a room full of men, ‘Find a woman and ask her about her experience’ because you know how much time I have to tell some random stranger-man a story that would convince him that I’d been abused? Do you know how much that takes for me?”

“My feelings quit mattering because you’re just over here in yourself and not just feeling guilty that you said something offensive or whatever it is. Instead, it’s me, me, me, me, me, me, and that’s what a shame spiral looks like. And that’s what happens between white women and women of color a lot.”

“The angers between women will not kill us if we can articulate them with precision, if we listen to the content of what is said with at least as much intensity as we defend ourselves against the matter of saying…

“The angers of women can transform difference through insight into power. For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth.”

-Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, “The Uses of Anger: Women Respond to Racism”

“Sometimes uncomfortable things need to be said.”

-Chrissy King, Seattle Ignited Womxn, February 2019

At the gym. Everywhere:

“The problem isn’t imperfection. It is inaction. All you have to do is anything.

“When a complaining passenger asks to switch seats, you can ask them why. Make them say it. Call them out, and name their bad behavior. If you want to be snide, you can talk loudly with your seatmate about what a shame it is that there are bullies in the world. When someone asks you to switch seats because they don’t want to sit next to a fat person, switch with them. When you get off the plane, you can write to your airline in support of bigger seats and better policies for fat passengers.

“You can check in with the fat person. They’ve just been the target of unchecked, public aggression. Ask if they’re OK. See if there’s anything they want you to do, or not to do. If that’s too much, you can make sympathetic eye contact. You don’t have to make a scene. You just have to show up.” 

–Your Fat Friend, “A Letter from the Fat Person on Your Flight


He already apologized for what he wrote about looking at her breasts, he says, noting that several months later, he’d asked her to do an interview on an unrelated topic and that she had accepted. Why does that matter to the story, though? I understand what he’s trying to demonstrate: We have been cordial. She doesn’t hate me. She did an interview for me. I am forgiven.

But what happens in the very same thread is that she says that yes, [name redacted], you did apologize, but I also agree with this point this other person is making about the situation.

That doesn’t get addressed.

She is checking him, but he ignores it, and everyone’s so busy fighting (about what a good guy he is or is not) that her experience gets lost. Again.

This happens a lot.

// whisper network //

Erin Brown:
“Here’s this shit that comes along with being you, and in an individualist culture we don’t like to think about how we’re impacted by our coaches, by our communities, by our geography, by our identity, by any of those things, because it’s just me and me and me and me and that’s not accurate. There’s a science to this, it’s not just opinions. And I can show you that a person, given these set of factors, is probably going to behave like this and here’s what that causes for everyone else. It’s not personal, and a lot of people need to start moving towards being better people. It’s about harm. That’s all it’s about.” 

Dr. Tee Williams:
“Part of this whole endeavor needs to be a conversation that is directed at men in the fitness industry, calling upon them to be better men, to be better professionals, and to not remain silent, because people in dominant groups take silence as support, and when men are doing fucked up things and other men aren’t saying anything, by default, they’re supporting them. In order to bring about a shift, there is going to have to be a collective redefining of the culture of fitness.” 

“The most basic expectation that you can have of a human being who recognizes any kind of oppression is that I will fight your oppression as you fight mine.”

“Where do you start? Well, it’s a good question. You do what you can, where you are, with what you got. Sometimes it’s saying to people that’s fucked up, or problematic, or not acceptable. Sometimes it’s saying ‘I expect more from you.’ Sometimes it’s ‘tell me why you think that way.’ It’s so context specific. It depends on how much energy I’ve got, and it depends on do I like this person, do I want to invest in them, am I feeling irritated.”

“For people who do this work, it’s a goddamn investment. It’s an investment of hours of my life on a daily basis that I ain’t ever going to get back in the hope that doing this work will make this world a better place, that it will help this person see themselves and think about their thinking and think about their behavior and change in ways that will align their behavior with the beliefs of their higher selves. It really, really just depends.

“A liberatory perspective holds that humans are inherently good and that humans do fucked up things, so doing liberation work is holding the belief that humans are inherently good while addressing the things they do that are fucked up.”

“I’m a big fan of starting with yourself. I didn’t begin to work on my manship until I was in a self-awareness class. Every time the instructor asked me how I felt, I replied with what I thought. That shit happened four times in a row, and what really pissed me off was not that she kept asking the question but that I couldn’t answer it because I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I felt, and the reason I didn’t know what I felt is because masculinity requires that men disconnect from their feelings. So she was asking me a question I knew there was an answer to, but I couldn’t answer, even though it was about me. I could feel the emotions but I couldn’t access them, and even if I could access them, I didn’t have the language to talk about them.”

“I will never forget the first time I had like an in-depth training around sexism. It fucked me up completely for a long time, like…my worldview fucking imploded, and this is what people miss about doing this work.

“When you become aware of oppression, it is one of the most life-altering things you will ever experience, and every human being needs support because your worldview will inevitably and forever be changed by that knowledge. So for me, the idea that sexism was real and that it was everywhere, and that lord fucking forgive me, I’m a part of it? I didn’t know what to do with that shit.

“You have to bear in mind that doing liberation work is a direct concrete challenge to people’s worldview, and inevitably, if you hang in long enough, it’s not truth that crumbles, it’s this fabricated worldview, and so when that worldview crumbles, it’s traumatic as fuck for any human being.”

“The big thing is just noticing, paying attention to your thoughts, the ways you react, what makes you angry, what makes you happy, how you feel around a certain person.

“Noticing is sometimes the best you can do, and when something doesn’t compute, that’s the starting point right there. Anything related to positionality, perspective taking, tracing thoughts, tracing patterns, tracing emotions, recognizing patterns, recognizing emotions, or just knowing something ain’t right — any of those places can be a starting point.”

“It’s easy as hell to look at other people and say they’re fucked up, but to see that you do the same thing — maybe not as explicitly, maybe not looking the same way, but the same thing — that requires a certain level of introspection and a certain level of skill.

“It’s easy to say that [name redacted] as an individual sexually harassing individual women is wrong, but it’s harder to say that his pattern of behavior is part of the larger systemic issue within our field, and to recognize I’m a part of it. Those are two extremely different conversations.”

“When you’re teaching or facilitating work around social justice, you’re really fucking with people’s worldview. Worldview sounds like a nebulous term, but what it means is the way that you see and understand the world and comprehend the dynamics within it.

“So you’re fucking that up for someone, but you’re not just fucking up their understanding of the world but their understanding of themselves in the world: who you are and who you thought you were. Different people handle that differently.”

“I don’t care if you’re a man working on sexism or you’re a person of color becoming aware of the depth of racism, no matter what your identity, no matter what you’re working on, when you first encounter this knowledge, it is always traumatic, and you as a human being will always need support, period. That’s just how humans work. We all need support in doing this work, and so for me, having people who believed in my fundamental goodness as a man enabled me to continue to hold on and hold that idea for myself. I had people hold that vision for me when I couldn’t hold it for myself.”

“In order for oppression to take root in human beings, humans must learn to dehumanize and objectify other humans, and humans must learn what it means to be dehumanized and objectified. Now, bear in mind, that happens across various forms of oppression and across identities, and if a single individual human has multiple identities, what it means is that we have the experience of dehumanizing other humans and being dehumanized by other humans simultaneously. Does that make sense?

“In the process of learning to dehumanize, you have to cut yourself off from this other person. What that means is that I can no longer connect to you and be fully human with you because I don’t see you as fully human in the way that I see myself and people who look like me.

“The full range of human emotion that I could potentially express is stunted, chopped, and shaped to fit a specific box that then becomes a building block for the system of oppression.

“What that means is empathy gets chopped, love gets chopped, any emotion that is positive and affirming and a part of recognizing the humanity in someone who is in some way different from you gets severed so that you then have a perspective on the world that is narrow, that is myopic. You get stuck in the role that you need to play in order to ensure that oppression continues to occur. That’s how it works from the dominant side.”

“Whether humans know it or not, most if not all of us, are intimately familiar with the dynamics and the emotions that are connected with dehumanization and objectification because it is a part of our everyday lived experience of some aspect of our identities.

“If you are less human than I am or not human in the ways that I am, then I am not required to treat you in the ways that humans are treated in my own understanding.”

Shift Key

shift key.png

The difference between guilt and shame is that one focuses on behavior and one becomes it: “I have done something” versus “I am something.”

One is useful, and can foster growth.

The other is devastating.

But fast.

The thing about shame is that many of us have instant access to it. It has been ingrained in us on a cellular level, passed down through generations. It takes a curious path, twisting and winding through the intestines and permeating and rotting our walls.

It’s effective. It moves swiftly. And sweeps everything in its path.

Dr. Tee Williams:
“Shame is the pervasive sense that there is something inherently wrong with us and that the thing that is inherently wrong with us is visible for everyone to see. It is the feeling of having the worst of who we are, the most problematic parts of who we are, made visible. And, you don’t need someone else to see you in order to feel shame. 

“We have metacognitive ability. We have the ability to think about our thinking, so we can see ourselves and feel shame. There is nothing inherently right or helpful about thinking that you are inalterably and inherently flawed and fucked up.”

Shawnese Givens: 
“Guilt arises from knowing that we’ve done something wrong and are culpable. We can link guilt to a behavior. Shame is an internalized sense of inadequacy or brokenness that is directly tied to self-worth. 

“Healthy guilt allows for the development of a conscience and empathy. Shame is debilitating because it’s based on an idea of intrinsic deficiency and that is not healthy — healthy meaning something we can grow from. Folks get stuck in their shame, and defensiveness is their way of not having to connect too deeply to that shame. Shame keeps us from connecting to one another in ways that really matter.

“How does someone who believes they are irreparably broken create a network of people who support, celebrate and respect them? They are much more likely to surround themselves with folks who mirror back to them their own narratives of being unworthy. This can contribute to a chronic cycle of abuse. Moreover, as humans, we will naturally make mistakes, but for someone who carries shame, every mistake is further evidence of their brokenness, sometimes leading to self-harm and suicide.”

Dr. Tee Williams:
“There’s nothing helpful about that shit, and the problem with shame is that there’s so much of it, and it comes from so many places that even if it did help with self-regulation, you don’t just get it from an internal source. You get shamed by your parents, by your church, by your teachers, by your friends. You get shamed by complete fucking strangers when you’re breastfeeding your child. You get shamed when walking down the street because your hair is kinky and your skin is dark. 

“There is a plethora of that shit, and the core message of all of it is that there’s something inherently wrong with you, something inherently inferior. At the core of shame is a specific message and a specific internalized belief about what the thing is that’s wrong with you, and if that’s within you, it’s likely not coming from one single place. Shame doesn’t get instilled from an individual experience. It’s the consistent, repeated social interactions in which the same message is repeated to me over and over and over and over again from multiple people in multiple contexts, such that a thing that was once external to myself, external to a human being, now becomes a part of my interior psychological landscape.

“If shame is a part of that landscape, it means that you cannot look out into the world and comprehend the world without experiencing shame.” 

Shawnese Givens:
“I talk a lot with my clients about cultivating self-compassion. We explore how their experiences have shaped their view of the world and of themselves, and I work to help folks externalize their behaviors from their sense of self.  

“For example, ‘I have grown up in a patriarchal, misogynistic culture which asserts that women and trans folks are less valuable than cisgender men. This has led to me to behave in harmful ways’ versus ‘I’m a sexist, misogynistic human being.’ The first narrative recognizes the person’s capacity to grow and creates hope. Having empathy for themselves allows room for empathy for others because they don’t need to protect themselves from the idea that they are intrinsically bad.”

“As social beings, it’s very hard to do the work of combating shame in a vacuum. Dare to connect with someone who makes you feel seen and valued (sometimes a therapist is a good place to start, if you have access). It’s a lot easier to accept feedback when you’re not constantly trying to outrun shame. You realize that even if you’ve fucked up in a monumental way, you can rectify it. You can be vulnerable, listen, make amends, and pursue mutual healing.”

Dr. Tee Williams:
“I’m a big fan of us versus it rather than us versus them, and it’s a big shift. It is the perspective of critical liberation theory that we do this work together, but not everyone adheres to that philosophical understanding, and not everybody is going to think like that, so don’t expect Black people to hold your hand when you work on your racism. Some Black people are like fuck you and your racism, and they’re perfectly entitled, just like women will say fuck you and your sexism, and hey, I ain’t mad at you, sister. 

“I think we go faster farther when we do work together, and that learning to do this work together is a process of rehumanization.”

“It’s not like stepping across a threshold and never coming back, but if you can stay in the oppression and not of the oppression more often than not, if you can hold a liberatory vision and interact with people in liberatory ways, it makes life way easier. You internalize less shit and carry less shit and it’s easier to cultivate joy and experience joy and be in the moment. Rather than feeling constantly pissed off, carrying your hurt plus previous generations’ hurt, plus the trauma of the people around you who are being hurt, you can figure out how to heal.”

“Oppression has this way of dulling the shine of human beings. You can tell when somebody done their own self-work because they’re bright and shiny, and people are drawn to them. That’s what developing self-awareness does: knocks off the dullness and allows you to get back to the core of who you are as a human being.

“One of the side effects is that you have the ability to see straight through other people’s bullshit because you’ve gone through the process of seeing straight through your own.”

Nine of Blades
From Ffiona Morgan’s (Revised) Daughters of the Moon Tarot  

“If we present ourselves as incapable of handling criticism we can avoid confrontation, but it is an unproductive way of handling this most delicate subject. When loving criticism is offered, we have a responsibility to give it a fair hearing and examine ourselves honestly.”

Dr. Tee Williams:
“I’m not saying that you can undo things that have been done, but you can learn to be different, you can learn new information and be transformed. Any fucking day that you wake up is a day that holds the potential for transformation. That is some corny shit to say, but it’s very fucking true because on a given day, you never know what’s going to happen and you never know how you’ll be impacted.” 


jen bio.jpg

Jen Sinkler

Ferine mag cofounder Jen Sinkler is a longtime writer, editor, and personal trainer based in Philadelphia. Her website,, offers a number of different portals into strength training. Find her most everyplace @JenSinkler.
[image by Ms.Mars Productions ]



Gladys Carillo

(@CraftyPalette) is a maker and Reiki practitioner who is based in Chicago. She enjoys exploring different creative avenues, with preference for making clothing and visual art. Her work has been featured at the National Museum of Mexican Art.