It’s time for another Story Time Tuesday! Enjoy!
“We call you the Lady Tiger.” The short, stalky gold chain wearing, fake tanned, South London pretty boy trainer told me one afternoon while I was at the gym. He watched me attempt to do five chin-ups in a row at the assisted chin-up machine.
I stepped off the contraption as gracefully as I could manage. “You call me what?”
“That’s funny.” I said and took a swig of my water.
I wanted to know why but I feared the answer; was it because he thought I was prowling the gym for men/prey or was it a reference to some body part or some sexual thing about Tigers. It had to be something dirty.
Then his name was called over the PA system; he had a call on line one. I stepped back up on to the giant assistance machine, placing my knees on the counter balance pad and attempted another set.
I’d been going to this gym for six months, since I had moved to London. During that time I became friendly with the staff, or I should say the staff became friendly with me. All of them were male and I was the only women in the gym between 2-4 p.m. Most of the clientele of this gym were, as was the neighborhood, openly gay. Something it took me weeks to observe.
The day I realized it was when I forgot my iPod at home and the House Mix of Cher’s Believe came on the sound system. Every man in his tight shorts and tighter tank top bounced along to the beat as they squatted or bench pressed muscle bulging weights and smiling at one another. Things like that never happened in gyms where I grew up: Calgary, Alberta. They’d only play jock jams: Coolio, Rolling Stones, Nickelback. Oh, I thought, this makes sense now. That’s why the straight men are so determined to talk to me; they’re flexing their hetero-ness.
I’ve gone to gyms since I was eighteen. My best friend Joleen dragged me to one when we were bored and starting to pack on the freshmen fifteen. We’d sit side by side performing identical routines and jokingly coach each other.
“Come on Bynoe. Five more. Beeeeeeeeefcaaaaaake!” We’d call each other by our last names openly mocking the jock culture that surrounded us.
Of course, no one ever hit on us. Not that that was our reason for being there. It was a strange atmosphere. All these people trapped like hamsters in a wheel, plugged into music or televisions, barely talking to each other. In one corner were the beefcakes, grunting as they lifted 50 pound weights in 3 sets of 5. They’d monopolize the machines, taking three minute breaks between their short intense sets. And the grunting! I never understood all the grunting that came from these gym monkeys. All this done so that they could bulk up and attract women who went for men whose elbows would never touch their sides.
Everything Joleen and I knew about gyms and how to workout we gleaned from friends and library books. We did the basic moves: chest fly, row, press, biceps curls, squats and lunges. We’d joke around on the cardio equipment creating our own games of distraction and speed.
Those days diminished the moment we discovered yoga. Which came shortly after I the day I fell off the treadmill. This was back in the days of walkmans (remember those?) and I had fast-forwarded to my favorite song, then placed it on the shelf of the machine as it was too large to fit into the water-bottle holder. It fell off and landed on the tread, I hopped around it, tripped on it, smashed down on the treadmill and got wedged between the tread and the wall, which left a lovely burn on my back. The attendant at the gym stood up from his chair, looked at my shocked face and sat back down. As calmly as I could muster, stifling my pain and extreme embarrassment, I walked to the bathroom to survey my wounds. That was the last time I showed my face at that gym.
Yoga was a sanctuary where I could stretch and create lean muscles away from the grunting ape-men and machines that threatened to maul me. My body got trimmer and more adept. It was a godsend. But it is expensive! Which is why when I moved to London I decided to go back to the gym.
After a decade of yoga and body work I brought my stretching regime into the fitness club. One time after my cardio and circuit training session I went through a mini yoga-series on the thick blue stretching mats that always remind me of elementary school gymnastics class. One of the staff members at my London gym, Dominic, a gorgeous black man with a triangle shaped upperbody, caught me in downward dog and mumbled something I didn’t hear but know was completely inappropriate. I looked up and he held my eye contact until I blushed.
Thus began a series of events that I’d come home and giggle to my flatmate about. “Today Dominic called my accent cute.” “Dominic taught me how to use the rowing machine.” “Dominic said I had a great ass.”
He told me he was a fitness model and confirmed it by showing me an ad he did for power-protein shakes in an issue of Men’s Fitness.
I loved the attention. Honestly it was the most attention I’d received since moving to the UK. Sure, his comments were unprofessional but I was getting free personal training out of it. It worked this way; I’d let him watch me stretch and he’d help me do abs for five minutes. Everyone won. Well, mostly he did. The bonus for the gym was that every piece of equipment next to me would be dazzling as he cleaned and chatted to me as I did my cardio.
Three months in Dominic asked for my number. I told him I didn’t know it. Not because I didn’t want to give it to him but because I hadn’t bothered to remember the strange series of 10 digits in my new number. We stealthily arranged to meet on his break he met me in a Cafe Nero nearby and took it off me then.
Eventually we made plans for a date. I accepted mostly because I wanted the story of dating a fitness model. I found him a) attractive and b) intimidating – he could snap my neck in a second if he wanted to. Two hours before our date he phoned to say he got a gig to work as a ‘Sexy Santa’ at a party and had to bail. That’s okay, I told him, 150 quid is a lot of money, I’d bail if someone offered me that.
Shortly after the canceled date Dominic got fired. I think he was the only one that didn’t see it coming.
In the weeks after his departure my trips to the gym became more frequent and bolstered by his training I ventured into the grunting zone more and more. I had no fear.
I’m still that way. Last week I went back into a gym, walked straight towards the free weights, grabbed a BOSU, and made myself a spot beside the mirror. I took my space and started my routine. I felt confident. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that’s what the guy at the gym meant by Lady Tiger: my boldness in a beefcake world. In that gym I became fierce. I didn’t mind the grunting of men hogging machines taking two minute breaks between sets. I’d cut in, wipe down the machine and do my three sets in the same amount of time in which they’d ‘recover.’ I was no longer mocking the gym, I was working it.
Now, I’m a Lady Tiger and it all started because a man looked at my ass in downward dog.