For 38-year-old Columbus-resident Mason Caminiti, the Gay Games is more than just a contest. It's about self-acceptance and pride for the transgender man who chose the games as the first time he'd ever get on stage for bodybuilding. We talked about his life, his grueling training, and his nervous excitement leading up to event on August 11 and 12.
I saw your blurb on the Gay Games website; it's obvious this means a lot to you. How long have the Gay Games been on your radar?
It's probably been over 10 years because people that I knew years ago actually attended the one in Amsterdam — I guess that's 16 years ago — so I've been really interested in competing, but the opportunity never really presented itself because I started my transition, like, seven years ago and I didn't want to compete as a woman. It's been in Europe since then, so the cost of it didn't coincide with the budget I had. But this year is perfect. I'm originally from New York and moved to Columbus six years ago, and the games are now in Cleveland. As soon as it was announced, I was so excited. I made hotel reservations, like, last February. I usually work out and train, but around that time I actually got a trainer.
What does it mean to you to be competing here?
Well, first, I had wanted to transition for years. I knew since I was a kid that there was something different about me. And I've wanted to compete in this for years, because weight training itself was really my only way to kind of change my body; so that, in and of itself, means a lot. And then once I'm on stage, it's the kind of thing — I still have a hard time when sometimes I look into the mirror and see a woman, and my sister and friends tell me I'm completely ridiculous: "You don't look female at all!" But because I'd lived for 32 years like that, you still kind of have that in the back of your mind when you kind of look in the mirror. So I think this is sort of like the ultimate validation, sort of like a tribute to this sport that I love, that I don't have the body that I have in my head that I toggle back and forth with. So there's that validation that I've been working towards for so long, and just being able to compete, to write it off my bucket list. It's been really, really huge.
Have you done competitions before?
I never have, but I've always wanted to. Part of me didn't feel 100-percent comfortable and still kind of insecure, so I felt the Gay Games was the perfect way to kind of start off. And the other thing, because I do take testosterone shots at least once a week now, I wanted to compete in a "natural" show, but when you do that, it's very difficult because that drug test can read a different way. I'm out to certain people — everyone in my personal life, a little bit in my professional — and so that can read a little different and may look like you're on steroids, some kind of enhancer, and that would require me coming out and letting the organizer know. I started that process and spoke with someone a couple years back; they were very nice and respectful but they kind of didn't know what to do with it, and I kind of felt like it took away from the spirit of the competition, and I didn't really want focus on that. So the Gay Games is a good starting point, and my trainer now wants me to compete in the NPC Mid Atlantic show in Wheeling in November, so I'm gonna do that next.
So do you know anyone else going up?
That's competing? No. I made my hotel reservations a while ago and I have some friends that are going to be coming up that night, but I really don't know any other competitors. It's an individual sport. I'm not on a team, and I'm just getting excited by the fact that there will be so many different types of people from all over the world competing that may identify as LGBT, and then just allies and people really supportive, it's just really awesome. People have been really positive.
You've known your whole life, but started making the physical transition to a male seven years ago?
Yeah, I come from parents where they — I don't speak with them anymore, unfortunately. They really tried, I think, in their own way, but they're really old school and not willing to push themselves, so I couldn't really make that transition until I was fully on my own. In New York, that's hard, because the cost of living is crazy. There were times I was out on my own but then had to move back, and just other responsibilities. So finally when I was on my own, I was able to pursue that. There's an LGBT healthcare center in New York City — I'm originally from Long Island, moved to Brooklyn — and they're very knowledgeable, so that's when I was able to do it. Since I did come out about it when I was 19, everyone around me knew, and I had been going to therapy on and off, so I had that diagnosis for years. So as soon as I was able to, I could go out and transition because I already had the diagnosis, I had the backup from the therapist who said, "Yes, I approve this person, they definitely are transgender."
How has it been going through the physical transition?
It's been really great. My parents, it's been rough with them, and it's unfortunate that we don't talk. But it's really hard to be around people who are
embarrassed of you, who see you as something they can't be proud of — they've seemed very uncomfortable. But aside from that, I've been really, really lucky with the support system I have. My friends have been phenomenal. I've been able to really network and get in touch with good medical and mental health care providers, which is key, because in my situation I want to pursue surgery and I'm always going to be on hormones, so it's really important to get knowledgeable people who look out for you. Another thing is I've always considered myself a male, but society treats you the way they perceive you to be. So I've been socialized as a woman for, like, 32 years, and I think moving to Columbus has been really good for the beginning of my transition; I can start fresh. Although I miss my friends in New York, I think it's helped psychologically being here. I'm kind of moving back and forth between the way you're socialized as a woman and how you relate to the world, and then the gender roles of being male. Before, it was sort of from the gay woman's perspective; even though I didn't identify as that, it's how people treated me. But now I'm seen as a straight man. That's been tough to get used to because I feel like I didn't fit in before, even though people were supportive. But now I kind of feel a little awkward too, because I don't totally relate with the straight male demographic. I always identify as male, always, so the societal gender roles have always been interesting.
What misconceptions do people have about the trans community?
I think that it's almost like people think that it's some obscure concept of who that individual is, being complete weirdos and freaks. I think people fear what they don't know, and there haven't really been a lot of — it's changing, without a doubt, and it's progressed in the recent years — but there haven't really been good, positive role models or representations normalizing it for people so it's not a foreign concept. Just like other people, we may have different needs to be met that may require a little more patience and understanding. There's a lot of misconception about it. Maybe we're actually a little boring: We hang out at home, pay our bills, get frustrated over the same things. It's tough because there are people out there — just like every other demographic — that can be a little extreme and push the envelope and I don't think that's a really good representation of the community at large. But a lot of people, once they transition and "pass," they just want to blend in with the rest of society and they don't want to be out with that particular part of their life, which is totally fine, but it doesn't lend itself to really educating. People might be friends or acquaintances with people who are trans, and they have no idea. It's a small part of the population, and even smaller with the people who are out.
I noticed you've been on a lot of panels about trans awareness. What led you to decide to be a public advocate for the community?
I started volunteering at the LGBT youth center on Long Island, and it was really great to see other people that were kind of normalizing it — that, actually, these people are kind of boring (laughs). I want to be authentic with who I am, the truth of my life. You don't always have to tell everybody your life story, but at the same time I just know I had a really hard time when I was younger, and I feel like education is key. And part of it is that I don't feel like all of this was in vain. I went through a really rough time, but if I share this, I'll get something positive for myself, and other people a majority of the time overwhelmingly appreciate it. It's been really positive and people have been inviting me to other panels they want me to be a part of. I've fooled them, they think I'm smart!
It seems in the past few years that there's been a lot more of the trans community publicly acknowledged and supported, that people are less freaked out.
Definitely: Laverne Cox was on the cover of Time magazine. The entertainment industry has a lot to do with it, I think. And it's sort of what influenced what: laws or pop culture? I think they sort of work hand in hand, because some people pay more attention to one or the other, and people start thinking about it and think it's not such a foreign concept. I can't even believe what's been done in the past few years, after my transition started: what has changed and how overwhelmingly positive it's been. For the most part it's been very positive. But people also put up these rules, that it's impolite to ask certain questions to a trans person. But my feeling on it is I'm never really offended: As long as it's coming from someone who doesn't mean to be offensive, people can ask me whatever they want.
Going back to bodybuilding, what's your training routine?
It's a really strict diet and working out. The diet becomes comes more and more strict the closer you get to competition. A few weeks ago my trainer said I could have rice cakes, so I found these cheddar rice cakes that didn't have extra calories and I acted like it was a piece of chocolate cake. (laughs) It goes from, like, chicken to him making up things like peanut butter or nuts that you can eat. Now it's really, really strict: only eating carbs like sweet potatoes right after working out. It's not unhealthy, it's just that you eat at very specific times. You eat every two to three hours; it's planned around workouts. It's almost kind of obsessive, but it's the type of thing where you're building up to this event where you're only on stage for a few minutes and if you make it to the finals, your routine is only, like, 90 seconds long. If you're going to spend all this time in the gym, I want to make sure I'm eating when I'm supposed to on this diet. That's what it's like every single day. There will be days where I'll have to run errands and I'll pack a cooler and make sure I have what I need in there. It sounds crazy, but it's that commitment to do everything I can.
That sounds miserable. I could maybe do that for a day or two...
It can be tough, but I think my taste buds are off a little bit. Actually, last week my trainer was like, "We don't want you to go into starvation mode; I want you to have a cheat meal." I follow everything he says to a T, so I had to eat either an entire pizza, or whatever I'm craving like a burger or fries and a piece of chocolate cake. I was like, "I need to know right now, are you messing with me? Because if you are, that's messed up." So I got a cheeseburger and fries and I was full the whole next day and it was probably one of the best days I've had in a while. I swear if I could just lick a piece of chocolate cake — I just want to smell it, just smell some mac and cheese.
You've mentioned before that you'll be one of the smallest competitors. How tall are you?
I'm 5-foot-4 and I'm down to like 132 pounds. I'm a little bit bloated now because I've been eating a lot of salt for the past couple months, and that kind of helps retain water. So what you do right before the competition is sort of dehydrate yourself so you can see more muscle definition. You have to be really careful with it and that's why my trainer is so smart and experienced; he can help manipulate that naturally. By the time it comes around to competition, which is so close, I'll get down to like 125 or 126, around there. I still have kind of trouble losing fat in my thighs — I kind of sound like a stereotypical woman: Does my butt look big? — just because of genetics. That's been kind of tough because as a woman I'm normal sized, but as a guy I'm very short. I make short jokes all the time, which I guess is typical with a lot of guys who are shorter.
We've covered a lot, is there anything else you'd want to say?
I've known since I was really, really young that I was a guy. So if a kid says that, you don't want to jump the gun and say the kid should transition right away, but take it seriously, seek the advice of qualified professionals. Maybe people don't think it's a big deal, whether someone is trans or not. But remember the golden rule: It sounds really silly, but treat them as you would want to be treated. That goes for anything: Different isn't always bad. We're actually kind of boring (laughs), just like everyone else, and have our own struggles. And this is changing, but I wish people who were legitimately diagnosed, I really wish they could have better healthcare coverage, because it is and has been in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) for years, and it's still in the DSM-V. I just wish there were more qualified healthcare professionals to address the needs of the trans population. That's the big thing, and I think it's on its way, and I really appreciate everybody who already does that. Society has really come a long way and you can say one or two kind words in an interaction and that's going to mean so much. I appreciate that, and I appreciate being part of the Gay Games.