My name is Ava, and I’m a 31-year-old social worker, artist, cat mom, and trans woman. And I do CrossFit.

Lifting heavy is a relatively new passion for me. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I never took much of an interest in sports. I was at every single Friday night football game, but only because I was in the marching band. Although I had a supportive group of friends, I still felt out of place. I was the only out queer person in a high school of over 1,000 people. The boys in my school were performing the most toxic and dangerous sides of masculinity, and I was often the target. As an assigned-male-at-birth queer person I did not feel safe or welcome in any fitness settings. That certainly didn’t change after I came out as trans at 26.

A year into my transition, I took up distance running. It felt safe because it wasn’t an overly masculine sport, and I could do it alone. After an injury during a half marathon left me unable to run long distances, I was desperate for something else; however, I was still terrified of stepping foot in a gym. I met a coworker who was a CrossFit coach, and he encouraged me to try it out. He assured me that CrossFit is for everyone: the workouts can be modified for all fitness levels, and the atmosphere is welcoming and encouraging. While this sounded great, my fear outweighed my curiosity, and it took another year of convincing before I went to my first class.

I’m now approaching my two-year anniversary with CrossFit. I’m so grateful I gave it a chance. The strength I have now, both physically and mentally, has far surpassed my expectations. But the reality is I sometimes still don’t feel completely welcome. I don’t see women like me in the sport. The only results you’ll find when searching “trans women in CrossFit” are about Chloie Jonsson, a trans woman who was outed while competing and subsequently sued CrossFit HQ for banning her from competing with women. The representation you’ll see of women like me is dehumanizing.

To be fair, this dehumanization is not unique to CrossFit. No matter where trans women workout or compete, we are always battling the stigma that we have an unfair advantage. Even though I don’t compete I still have anxiety every time I lift heavy at my gym. How many people in the room are thinking, “She can only lift that heavy because she was born a man.”? No amount of biology classes or oversharing my medical history can change certain minds.

This is why there are so few trans women in CrossFit and the strength training community in general. It is emotionally and mentally taxing enough that women like myself wonder, “Is this even worth it?” Some days I ask myself that same question. But then I remember that the strong woman I’ve become is because I stared that fear right in the face and didn’t turn away from it. I refuse to back down to that fear.

Last month, for the very first time, and after countless online searches, I met another trans woman in CrossFit. I wish I could accurately express just how beneficial this friendship is for me. Hearing the same fears and worries that I have in the gym expressed by someone else has brought me the feeling of community that I’ve so desperately been searching for. This is exactly why representation and being deliberately, explicitly inclusive and welcoming to trans women in fitness is so unbelievably important (that means you, gym owners and Crossfit HQ!). A true sense of community can only be achieved when everyone is given a seat at the table.

I wish I had all the answers to bring more trans women into CrossFit. No, the community is not perfect, but we deserve to feel welcome in a fitness community that is so often described as “welcoming to everyone.” There are truly supportive gyms and members out there who will prove that— The OUT Foundation’s inclusive gym finder is a great place to start. Those members of our community have helped me grow in countless ways, and I would love to see more trans women share this experience with me.

I want any trans women reading this to know that you deserve a spot in your local CrossFit gym, or on that podium, or at the top of your gym’s PR board. You deserve to be exactly who you are and where you want to be.

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