This is a long post and probably more of a record for me. I am keen for anyone’s thoughts but appreciate its layered, might lack context and be too personal. In my head I am judging me for sharing this post. I’m embarrassed for expressing myself. I’m ashamed I had a run in with someone. I’m glad I stood up for myself and I know confrontation is okay and that I need to practice not judging myself.
The last few months I’ve started doing personal training with a female trainer at the boxing gym I go to. There is another trainer there who is a big muscly dude with lots of satanic tattoos. For the sake of this post I’m going to call him Diablo. He’s a wrestler and S and I have been along to one of his shows (I love WWE and secretly dream of being a show wrestler). Diablo is an excellent strengths based trainer and is regularly at the gym. I have no problem with this guy, except he happens to have a penchant for heavy metal music. It’s death metal really and he plays it during his classes (mildly tolerable because it’s easy to zone out) and also when he is at the gym doing personal training sessions. The last few times I’ve been attending PT with my trainer, he’s there at the same time with his client and he’s got his heavy metal music on. So when I rocked up this morning, the metal was playing and I noticed it was particularly intense. It was real hardcore demonic sounds and whilst training I started to feel really agitated, uncomfortable and disconnected from my body. And finally it just irked me so much that I said, very firmly, “Diablo, could you change the music?” It was very clear by my tone that I was hating it and he kinda smirked and said yeah and so my trainer changed it. So training is done and I go home and I am feeling really weird about it still. The story goes a little deeper. As some readers know, i lead a boxing/ writing workshop for survivors. As part of it we are co-curating a book of the writings and also making a documentary. When we filmed at the end of last year we did some interviews at the gym. Although I’d asked to use the gym at downtime, there ended up being some clashes and Diablo was doing personal training outside whilst the filming was going on. One day during filming, he kept walking in to the gym whilst a survivor/ participant was being interviewed. It was weird and uncomfortable for her of course and it ended up triggering discomfort and shame. I felt responsible for this as it is important for me to create an environment where the survivors feel safe and supported and I felt I should have put more boundaries up. It opened up a discussion between me and this survivor friend about the need to feel as though the work we were doing at this gym, was being better respected and that perhaps what was missing was some trauma informed guidelines about taking a project like this into a gym environment. This particular survivor was a new member of the gym and so felt exposed by the idea that this trainer had perhaps heard her story or knew she was a survivor and might look at her in a “particular way” each time she came to the gym. It’s just another layer of shit a survivor needs to manage, when they shouldn’t have to. I’d mentioned this incident superficially to the gym owner (a woman) and suggested we have a coffee to talk about stuff. She was quite offhand, stating the gym is a safe space. And I’m like, nothing is safe because you say it’s safe. Safety is a set of principles – that ultimately form part of values, it’s an ethos. If a couple of survivors are asking for certain needs to be met to feel safe, then that’s because you haven’t considered their feelings or needs and so it isn’t “safe”. I didn’t actually say that but we did agree to have a coffee soon and talk about moving forward with the project in the space.
So… back to heavy metal incident. I’m feeling worked up and so I decide I’m going to just request that no heavy metal music be played. I decide to send Diablo a message:
“Hey X… I got super triggered by the music you played today. My background is as a satanic ritual abuse survivor. This means that I am very sensitive to the demonic, irrespective of whether you think this music is linked to that. I feel anxious, irritable and disconnected to my body being in the space when this music is on. I need to know the gym is a safe space for all, and that you are aware that sometimes people who train at gyms come from diverse trauma backgrounds. Would you consider avoiding playing this music? Donna
He responds: Do you mean all heavy metal triggers you?
And then… “Of course the gym is a safe space for all, regardless of what music is playing. We try to cater for everyone and many people especially those who attend my classes, prefer heavy metal music.”
This gets me. It goes back to the “safe space” bit I spoke about before.
So I wrote: “If I say I don’t feel the gym is safe when you play this music I need you to just accept that. Just because you say it is “safe” regardless of music indicates you are not hearing me. I’m happy to have a conversation with you about this. And yes heavy metal in general.”
He writes: “You also said I triggered someone during your filming?”
And I’m thinking, wow, so the gym owner has relayed a private conversation to this guy. A half baked conversation that needed to be unpacked at a later time, that we agreed on doing together. And she has gone and told him he triggered someone. Not cool.
I wrote: “Happy to have conversation about filming. I talked to X privately. It’s a conversation best done in person.”
To which he says: “That’s fine.
If you’re triggered by the music, I have no issue changing to less extreme music. If however you’re triggered by me and my satanic tattoos, I can’t help you.”
I said thank you for hearing me about the music and then “Different conversation X. I never mentioned that.”
Then it starts to get pointed, defensive and annoying. He says: “Yes regardless of which conversation it was, I can’t help you with that 😎”
I told him I was confused. I wasn’t asking for him to help me with anything other than what I reached out about. To which he revealed the crux of his issue.
“Help as in stop you or others from being triggered by my presence.”
So the guy thinks that he is a trigger for survivors- based on the gym owner mentioning something to him that lacked context and clarity. I indicated again that we should have a conversation about the filming but do it face to face. He said we won’t be there at the same time again (referring to project filming). To which I replied, that triggers are multi faceted and complex. He responded:
“I’m a trainer. Not a social worker. That’s a bit above my pay grade.”
And i made one last comment to which he did not respond: “You are a trainer who works in a space where people come who are black, may have injury or trauma or other needs. As a trainer you no doubt consider how best to appropriately work with people to accommodate their needs. This is not a personal attack. You are you, who brings a richness of experience and character to a space. I have no issue with that. I hope you can see that my text was about expressing what I need. You have responded to that. As for filming this was a private issue I discussed with X that I am happy to have a separate conversation with you about. It’s not about you- the way you look- it’s the context in which the events took place.”
A few things I want to get off my chest and I totally get this is a rant and this blog is for me to just spill out how I think and feel so my apologies if it is boring or sounds immature. Firstly, yes his satanic tattoos trigger me but not enough that I would ever complain about this to the owner. People can wear, dress, tattoo themselves whatever way they want frankly. I don’t have to like it but I also don’t have to stare at it and I don’t. Music is different. It’s inescapable. I would be happy to do a poll and see how many people in his classes actually do like heavy metal, but my time is spent better elsewhere. Secondly, his attitude is demeaning and threatening and I feel massively triggered by the interaction. I feel scared to go back to the gym, unwelcome and troublesome. I am disappointed the gym is so closed to working with survivors in a way that is conducive to creating a positive environment and relationships. Why would you want to create an environment that triggers people? Don’t get me wrong, I handle triggers every day. I manage a lot. But if I am paying membership fees to go to a venue and also bringing a workshop that is for survivors to the space (granted the gym is free) , then I don’t feel it is too much to ask to consider how trainers etc are engaging with the “out” survivors. I think trauma guidelines are pretty freaking simple. 1. Understand a survivor is walking around carrying consciously or unconsciously shame, disgust, body dysmorphia, fear, self loathing, negative self talk and is often dissociated whilst training. No one needs to fix it, just be aware that this person carries this shit with them day in and day out.
2. Think about how your surrounds can therefore make someone feel at ease.
3. Be respectful, nice and friendly.
4. If you can be extra encouraging that’s nice too as it feels good.
There’s probably more but I’ve written enough. The incident has triggered in me sadness and shame. I am unsure whether to find another gym.