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Challenging Stereotypes As An LGBT Athlete

Our initial goal in bringing YEG Fitness to life is to share inspiring stories of Edmontonians doing all they can to stay fit and healthy. We’re not always about featuring a celebrity on our cover, and we certainly don’t showcase one specific body type as the image of fitness. We’re about being comfortable in your skin. Doing what you are able to in order to lead your best life possible. Physical fitness is something that is a lifelong goal for many people; however, without mental wellness, it is difficult to achieve.

The month of June is a time in YEG when we celebrate gender and sexual diversity with our annual Pride Festival. It’s one of the city’s most popular events as it celebrates the achievements of the LGBT community and raises awareness of the issues many Edmontonians face due to bias and unjustified stereotyping. In this edition, we’re proud to feature two LGBT athletes who have faced many of these challenges themselves, but have persevered and challenged those stereotypes.

 

Aseef Daredia

Aseef Daredia was born and raised in Edmonton, growing up in Millwoods. At just 4’11 in high school, he barely played any sports. His parents tried to expose him to a variety of different team and individual options including soccer, swimming and martial arts. In grade nine, he fell in love with hockey just like most Canadian boys and girls.

“I was really timid about playing,” he says starting out with ball hockey before moving on to ice hockey in grade 10. After his father passed away, his mother became worried that he and his older brother would get up to no good so kept them both busy with extracurricular activities until breaking his foot later that same year.

It wasn’t until he went to university in Ottawa in 2009 before he started playing sports again. “I went to play drop-in grass volleyball with friends, and at this point, I was a bit taller— 6 feet,” he says. It turns out that he was decent at the sport and was asked to play with a lower division team at GOV (an indoor volleyball league in Ottawa really just for LGBT).

“I think it's easier to play team sports with other gay men for obvious reasons,” he says. “I learned enough about the game to make my own team the following season and for me it was more about having fun and finding a way to incorporate friends into a weekly routine.”
When he returned to Edmonton, he made a few friends at drop in volleyball and has been playing competitively ever since. “We don't really have a league like the GOV in Edmonton, but at this point it doesn't matter for me, I'll play ball with anyone.”
Psychology is a big obstacle for many gay men in sport, and Aseef was certainly no exception. Team sports are naturally cliquey and being gay can made him feel like an outsider. “I find a lot of gay men gravitate away from team sports and towards individual pursuits like swimming or track,” he says. “Getting started is especially difficult when you may not have the skills you need to gain respect.”

Straight men are generally expected to be better at sport, and athleticism is inherently tied to our social understanding of masculinity. “When I strut on to the courts or the rink or the field I am often met with a bit of uncertainty and I have to prove myself a bit more,” he says. “I hate playing sports at a low performance level. I think if I'm going to play sports, I have to be able to hold my own and break down some of the age-old stereotypes.” The bar gets set a bit higher for an identifiable gay male and Aseef feels that is an important distinction. “I have a lot gay friends that play sport, but they might be more physically imposing or a have a deeper voice or just not have a "gay look" about them and their challenge is totally different.”

Sport is a medium that can help break down some walls between communities that sometimes have a difficult time understanding one another. Sport is almost like it's own silent language. There is a lot of respect in the athletic community for skill and talent but developing those skills doesn't just happen, and that's one of the biggest obstacles most gay men face wanting to play sports.

“A lot of us didn't play much sport growing up,” says Aseef. “I buried myself in mostly academic pursuits from high school through university and then focused on building my career. Gay men are supposed to be in hair salons and shopping malls or doing flips with the cheer leaders on the side lines (I'll take some heat from the dance community for that one).”

At the same time, he now loves the competition of sport. “I absolutely love the feeling of laying down a smash against a guy who had written me off as bottom feeder fodder,” he says. Seeing how someone will do a complete 180 when they realize he can play motivates him, because he feels it's important to challenge those stereotypes.

At times, Aseef often feels like he’s standing on a bridge by himself between communities. “Whether it was the religious small community I grew up in or being the sporty gay man among my identifiable gays, or being the softer gay among my athletic gays, I've always been such a blend of communities,” he says. He doesn’t feel tied to any one label, but definitely feels those labels thrust at him.

“I'm different and I've embraced it. “I try to enjoy the company I'm with now for who they are and what we have in common... and I'm going to just do me from here.”

 

Trish Willerton

Trish was raised in a small town, middle class Alberta family with loving and involved parents. As the eldest of four children their family was always close growing up. A fairly typical family setting growing up where the kids participated in winter and summer sports, camping and swimming lessons.

“I've always had a very warm and friendly personality,” says Trish. She was strong academically, and excelled in sport. She played hockey through high school at a competitive level. Soccer was her summer sport until junior high when she opted to focus more on life-guarding and swimming. She finished her Red Cross lessons around 10-years-old and l always loved swimming so naturally, she went on to complete National Life Guard courses. “I spent my summers loving my job and making good money and staying fit,” she says.

Always a very active teenager, her schedule was busy with schoolwork and sports. “In so many ways I was the typical high school jock,” she says. “Aside from having to hold back certain aspects of myself I absolutely loved my childhood.

She grew up in a time when she remembers people who she went to school with talking about going to Edmonton to beat up "gays". “Everything was very much anti-gay and homophobic,” she says. Despite knowing there was more to her and hiding it, she continued to excel in many social circles.

Trish’s adult years were filled with a different set of adventures and challenges. She met the love of her life Michelle on February 4th, 1995 when she was still 18. “We fell in love immediately,” she says. Within a year she bought an engagement ring and they had their first son Nicholas in 1997. A second son Brendan was born in 2000 followed by a daughter Madeline in 2002.

“I told Michelle about my desires to be a woman before we were married,” she says. Trish doesn’t recall if it was their love or the fact that she was pregnant at the time or if she believed that it would go away, but she stayed.

Throughout their 20's and early 30's they went through many of the normal things that go into raising a family. Over that time however, she still very much hid being trans. “At times it would cause unrest between Michelle and I,” she says. “I would ‘dress’ sometimes when the kids weren't around. Sometimes she would be a willing part of it. Other times she hated it. For me, I had so much dysphoria about who I was.”

Her feelings ate at her and she felt so much shame. Shame about her thoughts and feelings. Shame about not being good enough for the people she loved so much. Shame about the impact it would have if she took steps to transition. Shame for not being able to turn “it” off. “In every way my life was so amazing. I had a wonderful and beautiful wife who I adored. I had 3 amazing children. I had an extended family and friends I enjoyed spending time with. I struggled a lot.”

During those years, like many other people, she let her fitness and sport activities slide. She didn't stop doing things completely, but she certainly didn't do as much as she did in high school. Michelle and Trish played rec volleyball in the winters and to get out and in the summers they played slo-pitch. Other than that she didn't allow herself much time to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That, coupled with owning a province wide electrical business and the anxiety and depression of hiding her gender identity, slowly her health degraded.

It was in 2011 when Trish made the decision to transition. With the diagnosis of Michelle’s mother with terminal cancer at just 53 years of age, Trish realizes how short life is and begins medically transitioning and going on hormone replacement.

“I'm still trying to hide my transition,” she says. “I'm not public but I am changing.” An employee who happens to be the vice-president of Fort Saskatchewan Slo-Pitch pesters her into becoming the new vice president as he steps up to president and she starts to realize that she can't hide as this will be a very public roll. Trish is worried.
On April 30th 2013 the same employee (and friend) is involved in a motor vehicle accident that takes his life at 24-years-old. “It hit me hard,” says Trish. “I see how big of an impact he made in his short life and I realize again how short life is and also how important it is to give back. ”
After dropping breadcrumbs for everyone for a year or two she publicly comes out as being trans in June 2014. She is now living full time as Patricia.
While this was a liberating experience for Trish, her home life became more difficult as a result. In October that year, Michelle tells her that she needs space and is preparing to move out. Life for her family is drastically changing. Michelle moves out shortly after and Trish looses her job a few months later. She weighs herself and is the heaviest she has been in her entire life.
“Near the end of 2015, I decided to take some needed space for myself and start on a better path,” says Trish. She went out in the woods locally and setup camp for a few days opting to be extremely minimal and aside from a few basic necessities to bring only water to drink and paper to write on. “The experience was amazing.”
When she came back, she rented a room from a friend and continued her water fast. “As I cleansed I felt empowered but as time went on and the cleanse was broke the reality of life settled in.” She spent a good portion of the winter in a depression like she had never felt before. As the depression progressed however, she felt a new awakening. “I now realize that it was also part of my cleansing process.
Today, Trish is still rebuilding. She has lost over thirty pounds since September and is eating better. Her relationships are improving with a focus on family and keeping things simple. She still acts as president of the Fort Saskatchewan Slo-Pitch Association and as part of that is leading up some major expansion of their facilities and leagues over the next few years. She also sits as the director of governance, policy, and succession planning for the Edmonton Pride Festival Society. She has a passion for supporting the LGBTQ community through various volunteer and mentoring efforts as well as bringing awareness to the outside world in her own accepting, relatable way.
“I will be playing slo-pitch again this year,” she says. “I hope I will be a bit faster than last year with the weight loss and fitness gain.” She also ran her first ever 5km race at the end of April and plans to get back into martial arts. One of her personal goals is to earn her black belt over the next few years. Another is to complete a Tough Mudder race.

“Today, it’s more about merging all the aspects of me and finding a new and improved balance. I am going to be that active kid again, but this time I'm going to do it being true to myself and helping others do the same.”

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