Angel Flores: "I Finally Felt Like I Didn't Have to Hide Myself"

Angel Flores
Ilana Panich-linsman | Netflix
Ilana Panich-linsman | Netflix

When the world met powerlifter Angel Flores in season six of Netflix's "Queer Eye", she quickly became a fan favorite of the series. She was the first trans woman on the show, and the "Fab Five" — Karamo Brown, Tan France, Jonathan Van Ness, Bobby Berk, and Antoni Porowski — swooped in to help her tap into her confidence, pulling from the power she felt on the weightlifting platform.

Since that episode, aptly titled "Angel Gets Her Wings," Flores has been soaring. She moved from Austin, Texas, to Seattle, where she's a coach at Rain City Fit. Just this month, she's both set a deadlift PR (a casual 475 pounds) and gone to DC on official business advocating for trans and LGBTQ+ rights at a time when our country needs it most.

In a year that has seen unprecedented anti-trans legislation and violence, POPSUGAR is highlighting the perspectives of trans and nonbinary folks throughout Pride Month. These leaders are sharing ways they protect their joy, reminiscing on moments of gender euphoria, and suggesting how allies can support the LGBTQ+ community right now. Explore all of our coverage here, and read Flores's story, in her own words, below.

This is my first Pride in Seattle, and it's already special. When I moved from Texas to Seattle in December, I felt like a time traveler, walking out, like, "What year is it? Oh, you're trans? You're out in the open? What a concept!" In Austin, we just didn't have that experience. I had to go out and try and find other people like me to create community. But here, it's as simple as going outside.

A year ago, I carried myself differently. I spoke differently. I didn't lift as much. I tried to stay small.

I think a lot of trans people, especially in states that aren't necessarily as safe for us, like Texas or Florida, we oftentimes feel required to stick to a certain type of image for the sake of passing. For the sake of being safe. For the sake of being able to go to the grocery store without being looked at a certain way. Here, people don't blink twice at me.

I finally felt like I didn't have to hide myself.

To come here and find the freedom to be who I truly am, I finally felt like I didn't have to hide myself. I don't have to wear my hair a certain way or dress a certain way. I can be who I want to be without the need to try and keep myself safe. To experience a place that allows me to be euphoric, and that allows me to feel completely safe being euphoric, there's nothing matching that, in my experience. And then to be doing it alongside other people who are doing the same thing to do it together, that's even better.

There was a lot of worry going into my own fitness journey, especially with transitioning, about how I would look, how I would feel, how other people would think of me. But I don't have that fear anymore. I don't worry what other people might think if I'm going to stand on the platform and pull a 450-pound deadlift. In the last few months, since I've moved to Seattle, I feel like I can build myself back up to where I wanted to be, and then beyond that. I'm not afraid to be huge here. I've put on at least 10 pounds of muscle. I'm not afraid to be this powerful figure, standing tall.

Angel Flores during Pride 2023; courtesy of Kestrel Bailey Photography
Kestrel Bailey Photography

It's all extremely liberating. It's like finding myself all over again — it happened with coming out, then it happened again with "Queer Eye," and now it again with this move. Finding a new space, a new person, a new me.

The move to Seattle also brought me back to in-person coaching, and that's been grounding in a lot of ways. Last year, in the wake of "Queer Eye," a huge part of my life became about this wide view of activism. On a large scale, that can feel like your impact is just a drop in the ocean. But this Pride season, I've come to realize the best work we do is within our local communities; for me, that's bringing trans people into the fitness space and giving them the ability to exist without fear. And with in-person coaching, I'm able to make an impact on the people right in front of me. I'm able to train people and help people, and see their progress day-to-day versus this general idea of, I'm doing something, but I can't see what comes of it. By focusing in, I also feel more validated and completely affirmed by what I'm doing.

This month, we're opening a new Rain City Fit facility in the SoDo neighborhood of Seattle, and I'll be head coaching. Being able to be in touch with the queer community here and connect with trans people who want to lift, who want to get involved with the gym, being able to help people like that grow and find a place in the gym space — which oftentimes is really like a home for us — that's been a huge, huge boon for my life.

For trans people, especially, getting them in the door is the first challenge. So many of us have no clue how to navigate the gym space, so a lot of what I teach just giving people the tools and the fundamentals to be able to come in and do what they need to do. Outside of that, it's exposing people to the different barbell and strength sports out there, and helping people find their own place and what they love doing. That's been a super rewarding experience, especially to have trans people who haven't ever touched a barbell come in and feel empowered. Trans people typically just don't find a home in the fitness industry, and they don't find a lot of inspiration, either. So to be able to bring that to a community that doesn't have that, that's one of the best parts of my job.

I've met a good amount of trans people that come into the gym, and they very honestly say, "I want to be you. You inspire me to be like you." And that's a very, very powerful experience for me. To have somebody come up to me after a meeting and say, "You're the reason I started doing all this. You're the reason that I even thought about walking in the door." That's a feeling like no other. It's something that I've had to learn to experience.

And while it's extremely rewarding to come in and see trans people who have either been inspired by me or who've become friends with me by finding their home in the space, I tell all my athletes that, eventually, I don't want them to need me. I want to give them the tools they need so they can feel comfortable making their own plans, and understand what needs to be done and what they need to do for themselves. It's about fitness, yes, but it's also bigger than that. I want to get my athletes to a point where they feel they can go off on their own, and I feel like every coach should try for that. Go off, be a free little bird. Spread your wings.

Angel Flores deadlifting during Pride 2023; courtesy of Kestrel Bailey Photography
Kestrel Bailey Photography

— As told to Lauren Mazzo