"People of all identities deserve the right to feel safe in the training room!"

Name: Mabelle Bong

Age: 25

Pronouns: she/hers

Pull for Pride location: San Diego

Favorite song to listen to while training: “Flava” - Princess Nokia

Favorite post-training meal: A huge pile of grilled teriyaki chicken, a scoop of white rice, broccoli, a chocolate protein shake, and maybe some ice cream for dessert.

Instagram: @mabesmysashimi

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

I’m a first gen Asian American bi-lady who spends most of her free time lifting at the gym and eating brownies with her friends. When my partner and I were looking for an apartment in San Francisco, where we currently live, we used our local gym as the epicenter for our search. I also love board games, red wine, reading comic books, chatting about AAPI + social justice politics, and trying not to fulfill every Bay Area AAPI stereotype that’s out there.

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

I’m so excited to be a part of Pull for Pride for the first time, and to lift for the purpose of raising money to support young queer people. WSC’s mission to empower others through strength training combines everything that I care about - trauma-informed strength training, social justice + anti-oppression work, and community. I feel like I’m lifting for a purpose outside of myself and more for the community.

What do you find fulfilling about training?

I’ve always been hard on myself to achieve life goals, and I end up doubting myself and accomplishments. My anxiety sometimes feels like it takes over everything I want to do and paralyzes me. However, when it comes to weights, lifting goals are concrete, measurable, and something I can hold onto when life gets hard.

A best friend of mine once said to me that she sees me working towards getting physically, externally stronger as a way to translate getting mentally, emotionally stronger. I also love lifting and defying people’s expectations for what women in the gym can do, and especially as an Asian queer woman. With my new and badass group of lady lifters, we uplift each other to be our best selves in and outside of the gym.

What do you find challenging?

Balancing my energy between work, life, and the gym.
As someone with mental illness, it’s a process to look ahead and best plan how to use the energy I’ll have.
There are days where the gym is exactly what I need, but there are also days where I just need to rest and be still to recover my emotional energy. I sometimes feel guilty for choosing to rest over lifting. But I know that my mental wellness and overall wellbeing is priority, which sometimes means relaxing at home and eating some moose tracks ice cream. I’m continuing to find my own power in how I choose to prioritize different aspects of my life.

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?

It’s totally normal to feel nervous or unsure how to start strength training! My first tip would be to do your research and start reading up on the basics! Start to take note of what your goals might be and what kind of training you’re interested in. If you have a friend who strength trains or just likes going to the gym, ask them for advice on where to start. Once you have a rough idea of what you’re looking for, I’d recommend looking up local gyms nearby and read reviews (e.g., does it seem like a local, community gym? Does it look like a big, commercial gym?).
Most gyms provide tours and free promos for potential new gym members, so you can check out the gym environment in person. You deserve a gym that’s affordable, accessible, and also promotes a type of environment that you feel comfortable being yourself. Plus, most gyms can help you find a personal coach if that’s something you are interested in!

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?

My words of encouragement would be that strength training is so much fun, and people of all identities deserve the right to feel safe and comfortable with who they are in the training room! Unfortunately, I think it’s common to find gyms, especially larger, commercial ones, that feel like they promote a hyper masculine environment or stereotypes of women and men (e.g., men in the lifting room, women only doing cardio).
In my own journey, it helped me to brace myself that a new gym I walk into may promote this framework, but it doesn’t mean that you have to participate in it.
When I started to figure out how to claim my own power in the lifting room, it helped me to bring a friend along with me to create that space and to feel safer. Either way, you have the right to exercise, be healthy, and be unapologetically yourself. I’d also check out resources for queer/trans friendly gyms and fitness, like @queerflex, @superfithero, and @decolonizing_fitness on Instagram.  

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 believe that cisgender and straight allies have an obligation to not be bystanders if they see or hear something homophobic, transphobic, etc. Use your actions to show queer/trans people that you are there for them; step up if you hear or see something. You can also work to promote creating inclusive norms as part of the gym environment (e.g., not assuming people’s pronouns, assuming what their goals are, etc.). Talk with gym owners about creating non-gendered bathrooms, and advocate for queer and trans people’s right to feel safe in the gym.

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

One of my biggest strength role models is my partner. We’re competitive in nature and also drive each other to be stronger and also better people. He supports me with everything that I want to do, and he stands up for me when I need it most. I also love my Sunset Gym strength crew - we’re a diverse group of weirdos who love to lift and encourage each other, and we always come together in the gym.

My best friends Al and Liv for once traveling for hours to cheer me on at my first competition and always supporting my love for the gym. Lastly, my parents have been huge role models for me. They were nervous at first about my lifting and worried that I’d get hurt, get less feminine, and all of those stereotype about women and lifting. But over the years, they’ve grown to be supportive and have come to all of my competitions and brag with their friends later about how much I can lift.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I’m so proud and happy to see how much the visibility of our community has grown in the fitness + strength training world. I’m excited to be part of a community that is driven to empower each other, despite the hardships and ignorance in this world. Lifting has helped me find my strengths and ways of growing, and I’m so lucky and blessed to have found community in a growing sport in the LGBTQ+ community.

I can’t wait to meet everyone at Pull for Pride San Diego!