Amber Says Fitness Builds Self-Compassion: "I'm Learning to Love My Body Instead of Hating It"
I first met Amber Leventry when they came to my yoga class. I was inspired by their strength and determination and their kindness toward others. We bonded over parenting issues, CrossFit, and writing, and have kept in touch as most of us have over the past year: over our random Instagram posts. When they posted the video ahead, with the caption "I'm an athlete and exercise and sports have saved me in multiple ways," I knew I had to hear more. Keep reading to learn about Amber's experiences with sports and fitness as a nonbinary transgender person and how it's had a positive effect on their life and confidence.
How Did Sports and Fitness Positively Affect Your Life Growing Up?
Amber's first memories are from playing little league baseball and recreation basketball. "I was a quiet and reserved kid, but I was a natural athlete and loved being part of a team." They added that a lot of their friendships were built around and from the sports they played.
They were also a good student, but said their confidence came from the field or athletic courts. "As a closeted queer kid, sports were also an escape because I was part of a team versus a student who was seen more as an individual. I was able to use sports as a way to fit in and shape an identity as an athlete, which was more accepted."
How Have Sports and Fitness Saved You?
Amber shared that sports in general have offered them a physical release to the anxiety and depression that is always present in some form. Moving is their way of meditating, finding comfort in their body, and connecting with their body in healthy ways.
"I don't always feel good in my body because of body dysmorphia — a sense of discomfort and agitation based on how my body feels, which is often made worse by how I perceive people see me." They explained that not all trans folks experience this, but they do.
Since having had top surgery in 2019, the dysmorphia has lessened, they said. "Heated yoga, running, CrossFit, and any other intense activity takes the edge off and builds compassion and trust in myself. My body does really amazing things, and I'm learning to love my body instead of hating it."
Amber also shared that they have had yogis who have been amazing mentors. And their coaches through The Phoenix Program at CrossFit Burlington have been supportive, willing to learn, and make sure the gym is affirming and inclusive for queer folks, which is huge. They shared in this caption that this program has been a "very special part of my recovery. Physical fitness, moving, and sweating have saved my life. I am not being dramatic about this." They said in their caption, "After two years and many lessons, I have a community who cheers me on and helps me feel worth the hard work."
What Challenges Have You Faced With Sports and Fitness?
"The biggest bummer comes in the language used. Most competitions, teams, and workouts are gendered," Amber said. And unless you find a space that is aware of the negative impact of using gendered language in class, it sucks to be the person to point out their mistakes and blindspots. "That's exhausting work. So is being misgendered over and over again," they said.
"As an LGBTQ+ educator, I have the confidence and ability to know how to advocate for myself in ways that help folks learn and hopefully make the space more inclusive for the next transgender or nonbinary person who comes to a class. But it's still a heavy lift," they said. And they added that lifting physically heavy sh*t helps them lift the emotionally heavy sh*t.
Advice For Other Nonbinary People Wanting to Get Into Sports or Fitness?
"It's frustrating to accept that folks will make mistakes, but if I know I'm with people who are practicing and making efforts to learn on their own, then I'm able to let go of some of that frustration, and that improves my mental health," they added. "I'm able to hold folks accountable and expect respect, but I don't get too down if folks aren't perfect," they added. It helps let go of some of the fear and anticipation of being misgendered, which often takes a lot of their energy, they said.
It can take a lot of courage to walk into new spaces because you're never sure if they will be safe and/or affirming. "Take a friend if you can to act as an ally or support person if you want to try a class somewhere, Amber suggested. Email the gym or studio owner and ask what level of inclusivity training they or their staff have had. Or check out their website to see if they announce their allyship to queer folks. Anything you can do to feel more comfortable at a class, gym, or sport will make your experience more positive. And as Leventry has explained, sports and fitness can greatly improve your mental health.