Pull For Pride Athlete Lizzie Smith Emerson: "Simply being authentically you in those spaces that are marginalizing is an act of power."

Name: Lizzie Smith Emerson

Age: 30
Pronouns: she/her/hers

Pull for Pride location: Atlanta, GA

Favorite song to listen to while training: Boogie Feet - Kesha

Favorite post-training meal: Tofu Scramble and Potatoes with lots of ketchup

Instagram: @lizsemerson622

How do you identify? Tell us a little about yourself:

I identify as a cisgender, polysexual and demisexual woman. Even in queer inclusive spaces, I like to take time to define the labels that I feel fit me best, because my identities aren’t very visible or well known, so here goes:

To me, being polysexual means that I experience attraction to more than two genders and/or sexes, but that I don’t necessarily experience attraction to all genders or sexes.

Demisexual is an identity that is fairly common in the asexual community, but basically, it means I need an emotional connection to a person before I’m able to experience sexual attraction.

Cisgender just means that my sex assigned at birth and my gender identity match up. (I was assigned female at birth, and I identify as a woman)

I’m also a friend, a dog parent, a spouse, a student, and a whole bunch of other things too.

 

What does Pull for Pride mean to you and what's motivating you to participate?

Pull for Pride is going to be my very first powerlifting meet, so it means a lot to me. I was looking for a meet to sign up for, and I was super anxious about 1. Not being strong enough to compete yet, and 2. Showing up to a meet where I would feel othered and unwelcome. When I saw that there was a Pull for Pride meet scheduled for Atlanta, I knew that it would be a good first meet where I could feel comfortable and supported as a person and lifter. I also loved that PFP didn’t require me to sign up in a particular weight class, because I’m still trying to figure out which one I want to compete in, and that took of then some pressure off.

 

Lastly, I manage an LGBTQ+ resource center at my university, and one of the most heartbreaking challenges I see my students run into is the risk of homelessness due to familial abandonment. I’ve seen, first hand, how important safe places for youth can be during these moments, and as someone who is often in the position of trying to help people find safe living arrangements without them, I firmly believe in doing all I can to support existing efforts anywhere, to provide safe, inclusive shelter to LGBTQ+ youth.

When did you begin barbell training and what inspired you to start?

I started barbell training a year ago.  Before that, I’d been using general strength training as a part of my PTSD recovery process.
 
I started following women strength athletes on YouTube and Instagram, and they showed me how empowering lifting heavy could be, so I gave it a shot and fell in love with how it made me feel. Barbell training was incredibly impactful for me, because it made me feel like I had agency and power in my own body for the first time in a long while. It was a huge part of my recovery process then and it still is.

What do you find fulfilling about training?

It taught me that no matter how the world perceived me, I could control what my body was capable of.
 
I also think that training is so wonderful, because it gives me small goals I can work towards that force me to take care of myself. So often, recovery from trauma, abuse, and mental illness is a non-linear process, and having a coping outlet that gives me a sense of progress in one aspect of my life (even when it feels like I’m struggling everywhere else) makes a big difference.

What do you find challenging?

In the grand scheme of things, I’m new to barbell training. My numbers aren’t where I want them to be right now, and even though I generally enjoy the process of getting stronger and celebrating my own victories in each training session, I struggle with comparing myself to other lifters. Social media has been wonderful for me because its helped me find community, support, and sources of inspiration. As a female bodied, queer lifter, I don’t have a lot of support or community in my area. Being able to find people in other places who have similar experiences and identities has been incredibly meaningful to me. That being said, it's hard not to compare myself to others who are so much farther along in this sport than me and get discouraged.

I’m working on staying focused on my own goals and reasons for lifting, and trying to internalize the idea of working for progress not perfection, but some days are better than others.

What message or advice do you have for folks who might want to start strength training but aren't sure how or where to begin?

The powerlifting community (at least as I’ve experienced it) is incredibly supportive and welcoming. That has made all the difference in the world for me. My best piece of advice to anyone who is new to lifting is to reach out to other lifters for guidance and support.

If you are trans and/or queer, do you have any words of encouragement or insights for other trans and queer folks for navigating gym environments and approaching training?

So often, gyms and especially weight rooms are heteronormative, hyper-masculine spaces that make queer identified people feel unwelcome. I’ve definitely felt that way, and I don’t know any female bodied and/or queer identified people who haven’t, at some point, felt like an outsider in the gym.
 
Even in those movements when we feel unwelcome and unworthy of taking up space, it's important to remember we aren’t alone. Showing up, being visible in those heteronormative and hyper-masculine spaces is an act of resistance in itself.
 
You don’t have to look a certain way or lift heavy to be worthy, and simply being authentically you in those spaces that are marginalizing is an act of power.

Do you have any advice or encouragements for cisgender and straight allies who want to help make the gym a more welcoming space for trans and queer folks?

I like to think of the word “ally” as a verb, not a noun. It isn’t something you ARE, it’s something you DO.
 
Being an ally requires consistent effort and visibility. Good allyship in the gym means considering ways you can provide VISIBLE support. Consider how you can SHOW trans and queer identified people in your gym that they are welcome. Openly confront problematic language, behaviors, and policies that marginalize people with queer identities in the gym.
 
Being an ally isn’t just identifying as someone who is theoretically supportive of LGBTQ+ individuals, it's about actively working for inclusion and equity. It's about using your voice and privilege to support people without the voice or privilege to advocate for themselves.

Do you have a strength role model(s) in your life (this could be strength training or strength in other ways)?

I have so many, I don’t even know where to start. As far as literal, physical strength goes, @megsquats, @astoldbymary, @kristenlander, @chelsealifts, @decolonizingfitness, and @bamaburr are just a few of the many people who have impacted or inspired me in strength sports.

In my personal life, I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who are strong AF in so many ways. I’d be here all day if I tried to express the ways in which they’ve inspired me, supported me, or given me strength when I needed it. So I’ll just say to Geoffrey, Maddy, Kirk, MK, Kayleb, and Meredith: