An Exercise in Masculinity

To be fit, I had to be masculine. To find myself, I had to run from masculinity.

Sometimes, when I try to grapple with my relationship to my body, I picture it on a spinning wheel. My body, discombobulated, is somehow invisibly tied to this board. My body is on display. I am not. I am a corporeal figure, watching from a respectable distance. My wispy hand is holding a knife. The tiny blade slips through my fingers, soaring through the air, and I never see where it lands. The point of insertion.

Will it hit my body, or the board? Where does one start and one end?

I am at once living inside my body and observing it. I don’t always feel at home in my flesh. My high school was a single-sex selective school that aimed to unite smarts with sportiness. We were expected to participate in Saturday sport throughout our schooling career, every term, every week.

I never really took to sports in the way that was prescribed.

I’m a chubby lil’ guy. I have a big infectious smile, long curly hair, and thick legs. I’ve always been rounder, smoother, physically and emotionally softer than my male peers. I never liked scrimmages, or rallies around the school before the big rowing competitions. I never quite gelled with the sporting culture.

I always enjoyed the adrenaline rush of running, of movement, of yelling during a game for a moment of catharsis. I would spread my arms like a flightless bird and sprint and grin into the breeze. But the markers of achievement I saw tied any physical success to being a man.

Going to the gym and getting stronger made it easier to pick up ladies. Tackling others in rugby was a sign of masculine dominance. Being in a rowing shell meant working with your fellow men to achieve a goal.

To be fit, I had to be masculine. To find myself, I had to run from masculinity.

A body and a board.

Eventually, in the swamp of the 2021 lockdown, I would stumble across an online aerobics program that rewired me. In my little living-room bubble, a perky, vivacious woman encouraged us “ladies” to run, sprint, dance, and sing out loud to the effervescent eighties’ music.

Movement, slowly, became decoupled from the masculine. My body transcends gender in non-bodily ways. My wants for my vessel are more immaterial now — stamina, flexibility, freedom. It is active and passive, working towards a body which matches a spirit I can’t quite pin down.

I am the most physically unfit I’ve ever been. I hung my body on a board and walked away. I dedicated a year to peel through my mind, dissolving and rewiring that which doesn’t serve me anymore, finding new routes, like the one towards my body, which sidestep the brambles of the masculine.

Now begins the task of reconciling the physical and the mental.

A body and a board.

A body and a board and a knife, held in my corporeal hand. But this time, I walk forward and approach my body, inquisitive. I pull my limbs back and slice, watching as the ties which bind my body and the board fall away. The mass limps to the floor. I hoist it over my shoulders like a wounded soldier. I walk away.

I wear my body like a coat. One day it will slip past my fantastical skin and fall into place. For now, it protects me. I must love it.

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