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‘Lots of people still have a stereotype of what a powerlifter looks like – I want to break that.’
We believe the gym is a place that everyone should feel comfortable and free to achieve their goals. The gym should not be a place for stereotypes and discrimination, but a place to break free from them.
Chatting with Gymshark Central, Warwick Barbell member Michael Jarvis shares his experiences as an LGBTQ+ powerlifter and how the gym has helped him to break stereotypes and gain confidence with his sexual orientation.
When did you come out as gay? Did you experience any homophobia?
Around the same time as I started training! I came out as bisexual when I was 13. As I got older, I became more confident and came out as gay to my friends when I was 15. It has only been the last 2 years that I came out to my parents.
I experienced homophobia a lot at school after coming out.
I didn’t even know that it existed prior to coming out. It wasn’t until I opened up about being bisexual at 13 that I started to experience homophobia first hand. As I have got older people’s opinions have changed, and my experiences of homophobia have become a lot less frequent. I still experience uncomfortable situations because of my sexuality. Kissing another guy in public, for example, feels like a display for other people to watch, whereas for heterosexual people that isn’t the case.
You talked about becoming more confident in yourself, what role did the gym play in that process?
The gym played a huge part in that process.
I was doing things that were out of my comfort zone and pushing myself to do things that people wouldn’t necessarily have expected from me. I started lifting about 4 years ago, and it really helped me grow in confidence. Working out has helped me to develop not just a healthy body, but also a healthy mind.
When I came out as gay, it was really hard. I didn’t enjoy school, and I didn’t enjoy seeing my friends, as my sexuality was always the go-to topic of conversation. However, when I was in the gym people didn’t talk to me about the fact I was gay. We’d just talk about training and the gym.
It became a form of escapism and allowed me to focus on myself and become more confident in who I am.
There are lots of stereotypes about the gym being a heteronormative, masculine place. What are your thoughts on that? Have you faced any discrimination in the gym?
I have never faced homophobia in the gym! It’s always been a place to escape. I think there is a stereotype of the sort of person you’d expect to see in the weights section of the gym, especially powerlifting. However, I think more and more people out there are breaking that stereotype. People have become a lot more accepting of others and their journey.
Everyone is in the gym to improve themselves at the end of the day – no matter who you are.
What would you say to people worried about going to the gym and not fitting in?
I’d say go for it! It was a great release to help me deal with any discomfort I had about my sexuality and identity. It helped me push myself to my limits, and I believe that it’s made me stronger in character as well as improved my physical strength. Even now I am more confident with my sexuality. I use the gym to help me break the stereotype that gay men are feminine and weak.
It feels cool to break the stereotype for other people as well as for myself.
And how can heterosexual people help to make those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community feel more comfortable?
Don’t assume you can spot anyone from the LGBTQ+ community just from the way they look or act. We’re all human, and we all deserve respect.
Saying ‘you don’t act gay’ isn’t a compliment. It just shows that you still have a stereotype in mind.
The gym is where we can break that.