Well if only! All this may be far-fetched but it is what Aunty Annie asked when I first told her I was gay! Of course it’s not only Aunty Annie who wants to know. Churches and governments are very interested in how I use my genitals, and with whom. Personally, I like to think that there is more to me than my dick. There is far more to my queerness than the obvious and it is this that Aunty Annie may find surprising.
Don’t get me wrong; I love sex but it’s not the defining queer activity that I identify with. It may surprise you that the queerest activity I am involved in at this moment in life is my Friday night gym session. (I know, a gay in a gym, but stay with me!)
Really, after a full week of work the only thing I want to do on a Friday night is put the feet up, drink a bottle of wine, and watch trash T.V. The thought of engaging in an hour and a half of high cardiovascular activity is not enticing. But I do it. I finish work, come home, put on my sweats and I’m out the door. (Please take into account the Scottish weather. It’s cold and it’s wet, most Friday evenings.)
My local Edinburgh leisure gym is brilliant: great facilities and great staff and the gym goers are a pretty good lot. During the week, the gym is inhabited by gym rats, rugby players, members of the rowing team, yummy mummys and daddys, beautiful people, and middle age folk-like me! But on a Friday evening it’s quieter, not as many around. Where is everyone? Out having fun and having a life! Well, that’s what my gym instructor reckons.
Gary (our instructor) is a straight guy (built like a tank) who is very good at what he does. He takes great delight in asking us at the beginning of each class “What? You lot got nothing better to do on a Friday night?” No one answers; instead we stand with heads bowed, looking semi-embarrassed. And then I began to notice: it was the same people turning up each Friday, week after week. It’s obvious that the majority of us are there under self-duress. But here I am, at 6.30pm on a Friday evening in this queer little space. Standing in defiance, I steady myself for what’s ahead and know that, deep down, that I love it.
In the course of the months attending the class, I have built a rapport with these queer folk and together we pull, tug, lunge, lug, and split ourselves in every direction. I sweat like a demon during the class and, with words of encouragement from my peers and barks from Gary, I endeavor to do my best, to give my everything, and to survive to the end. I have had pulled muscles and dodgy knee flair-ups during the class but I keep going. The intensity of the class, a reminder of life and that I am not in bad shape for a queer man of 42. As my peers support me, so I support them. The class has football players, rugby players, two nurses, and a hairdresser… I don’t know what the rest do but I am sure it’s pretty fabulous (or at least I hope so). Each week, I extort them to “come on,” “move your fat ass,” “don’t f..king stop now,”… and it’s all pretty acceptable; indeed, it’s expected! The class has a variety of fitness levels, genders, and ages. But we all get along, no one judges the others, and we support each other to give it our best.
I love this space because it challenges me at many levels. It’s important for me to engage in physical activity in order that I can do my ministry well. It challenges me to dig deep, to engage with other human beings from a variety of different environments, and I am proud to say that Friday evenings are for gym members who are on the fringe. Instead of spending time with family, lovers, etc, we choose to spend it with people we barely know, but there is a safety in spending time with strangers. No one in my class cares what I do with my dick!
So, if you happen to be in and around Edinburgh, please drop me a line and come along. You never know what might happen. (by Patrick Ryan)