In The South

OPINION: Sugar Swan – How she sees it 

Besi Besemar January 3, 2019

A clichéd New Year’s Resolution by Ms Sugar Swan.

EACH year, it’s tradition that we make New Year’s Resolutions. Whilst we may focus on anything from picking up a new hobby through to charitable giving, many resolutions focus on health and fitness.

Losing weight, gaining weight, building muscle, losing it, quitting smoking, changing our eating habits, joining a gym, the list goes on. This month’s Gscene asks if exercise is really good for our mental health, I have to say that, for me at least, I think so.

I have battled lifelong eating disorders in my life which may have tied into my gender dysphoria. I’m not unique in this situation. I know many trans people who have either an eating disorder (ED) or some other self-harming habits that offer us temporary relief of our dysphoria, if only for a few seconds.

Being easily susceptible to addiction, I’ve been able to swap one addiction for another and concentrate on my diet and exercise regime and have been able to lose 40 kilos at one point in recent life. Unfortunately, and inevitably, my ED will once again raise its head and my weight will balloon and then I’ll yo-yo up and down that 40 kilo slide forever either bingeing or putting all my effort into weight loss and exercise.

Regardless of my EDs and weight, exercise and sport is something that has always been an important mainstay and consistent in my life. As a young child I was a tap dancer and an ice skater, as I reached my teens, a runner and tennis player.

As a young adult, I found myself struck by tragedy and injury as I was in a road traffic accident which was to claim my girlfriend’s life and leave me in a wheelchair for two years whilst I underwent many a surgery requiring me to once again having to learn to walk again.

If we fast forward 15 years, I find myself with liver disease and my orthopaedic surgeon telling me that I need a new set of knees but won’t get them whilst I am obese. This was the push I needed to sort out my overall health and fitness once and for all.

I joined a new gym, got a Personal Trainer who worked with me on my diet and counselled me through my EDs. It was only a year or so before I was so fully integrated into the gym and had made such huge changes to my life that the owner decided that I would make a great team member and put me through college to become a nutritionist, aerobics instructor and personal trainer. I managed to bag myself a job in a women-only gym delivering Aerobic Classes and Strength Classes. This gave me access to a women-only space where I knew I was in a safe space, this helped me thrive.

Getting healthier, getting on top of my EDs and getting in shape helped me be able to come out as trans three years ago. Before this I was still hiding who I really was as I knew that I was in no position to be able to safely tolerate HRT and my BMI was far too high to be ever cleared for surgery.

I’ve been transitioning socially and medically for three years and I’ve been transitioning surgically for two. In the last two years I’ve been through a grueling schedule of 10 surgeries, each scheduled to happen as soon as I’ve recovered from the last. I’ve been in such significant pain and healing from these surgeries that it’s meant that I have had to take two years off from my gym work and my own exercise schedule which would mainly consist of spinning classes and yoga.

Since being unable to work in the industry and exercise on a personal level, my surgical schedule has had a two-fold effect. Firstly, it’s taken its toll on my mental health. I’ve missed the social aspect of group exercise and endorphins that rush through the body and the general benefits that I feel exercise has on my mental health.

Secondly, it has had a negative effect on my body shape and whilst in post-operative depression and in a great deal of pain for two solid years my EDs have crept back in as just for a few moments things feel better with a cream cake in my mouth.

I’m now in a place where my surgical transition is over, I’m not in daily pain and from January I’ve been cleared to start gentle exercise, slowly building up my endurance and strength. I won’t be able to do certain things for at least another six months, such as sit on an exercise bike, but I’ll be able to do most exercise and by next summer I hope to be fit and strong enough to once again take up teaching.

I am about to embark on my next chapter of life as a woman who doesn’t have to worry about communal changing facilities in things such as swimming pools and the nightmare of trying to hide a penis in a swimming costume or yoga pants and for that I feel grateful and privileged. I can now face the world proud of my body and my genitalia as transition for me is now in the bag.

2019 for me will be a year of growth, both physically and mentally. I am looking forward to the inevitable improved mental health that exercise will bring. I wish you all the best for the coming year.