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Where am I at trainingwise?

As I already mentioned before, I have been running for quite some years now, never professionally though. It all started when I was called out by my orthopedist at the age of 14 because my belly fat kept me from being able to bend all the way downwards. To have better chances with the girls (we see where that part ended…), I started to run 5k every other day with my neighbour who had similar ambitions. That was also the time when I started to think about goals in life and decided to run a marathon before turning 30.

As of then running was pretty much always there – sometimes more intense, somtimes less. Between 19 and 26 I put sports on the side line as life had many other things to offer. I ran once in a while but definitely put the focus on other things such as graduating from high school, leaving home, going to university, doing volunteering abroad, finding my sexuality and sexual identity, socialising, alcohol, career, professional experiences…you name it.

But then there was always that one goal: Finish. A. Marathon. By. 30.

With parties becoming replacable and not giving me any added joy anymore, with a full-time job that required me to sit all day, with a life that became sort of a routine…it all came back. So, at 26 I decided to slowly start going for the marathon, since first, in case I fail I have three more years to go, and second, it’s quite some distance to go between 5k and 42k. By doing that, I developed new enthusiasm for the sports. I told the story – that’s how I ended with the whole Ironman-craziness.

In December 2016 I then signed up in my local gym to create accountability and started to swim and bike. Before hitting the pool for the first time I thought I just have to improve my freestyle a little. Well, turns out what I was doing was more like doggy style in the water and couldn’t do more than 25 meters. Now it has become my favourite discipline as the learning curve is really steep. I am still quite slow but soooooo damn joyful when in the water!

My story with cycling is somehow similar. I mean I bike in the city and commute to work on my old, heavy bike for 12k to the office and back every day. But never really went any further than that. A first realisation of the distance to cover in an Ironman hit me when a colleague took me on a 10-day bike trip to Mallorca. We did different distances between 80k and 150k everyday…and oh yes, I was pretty sore after that. But I finally got a feeling for the distances. And respect! Then in summer I finally got my own bike and did something I’ve always wanted to do since I moved to Berlin: Cycling from Vienna to Berlin – home to home. I did it in 5 days with daily loads of somewhere between 80k and 190k. And again, was pretty sore after that…

Running I keep improving little by little since my marathon. In June I participated in a relay triathlon and managed to do the half marathon in 1,5 hours.

Looking towards my half-distance Ironman I of course had to set goals for each discipline and overall time in the competition. When I registered for my first competition taking place on 27 May 2018, I had to indicate my anticipated swim time. Well, I was a bit insecure as I haven’t yet swum this distance all at once in open water yet. Knowing my colleague’s time in that relay triathlon and not wanting to be in the very last cohort I then chose 35 minutes. And then it came to me: 35 minutes!!! “OMG, what did you do??” Well, but here we are…

So, my goals are now:

Swim: 35 minutes

Bike: 3 hours

Run: 1,5 hours

Overall (incl. transitions): 5 hours and 15 minutes.

Quite ambitious, I’m aware. But someone once told me: “If your dreams or goals don’t scare you, they are not big enough!” Et voilà.

Being gay in Berlin

To further set the stage and give you a little more background information on myself, here is another fun fact about me: I currently live in Berlin. Blogs typically call it things like “Capital of Cool” or “Sin City” … whatever the names, Berlin’s reputation is well known. And that doesn’t come out of the blue, I guess.

Living in Berlin has been the most character-forming period in my life so far. Well, there was early childhood…but I’m talking about that kind of character-forming that is apparent, that you can actively reflect upon. Since I left home at the age of 18 and having travelled quite a bit, Berlin is the city I spent most years in. I’ve been calling it home now for already more than four years.

One of the reasons I came here for were my studies. During my Master’s program of “Futures Studies” I had the chance to do an anthropological study on Berlin’s gay subculture and its future titled “Not all that glitters is gold. A view on Berlin’s gay subculture and its role in society” that I would like to share with you now.

The original was published in German in 2015. I just took the effort and translated it to English to make it accessible for a bigger audience. So, here it is. Grab a coffee and immerse yourself into Berlin’s gay subculture. Enjoy the long read!

 

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Not all that glitters is gold

A view on Berlin’s gay subculture and its role in society

 

Gay men in Berlin have never been better. The number of men who can openly show that they are attracted to their own gender is bigger than ever before. One gets the impression that all those years of fighting for equality and acceptance finally bares fruit. But not all that glitters is gold. Despite the supposed acceptance, gay men are still a minority that has to deal with violence and social marginalisation in every day life. The path towards the center of society seems to be longer than expected.

Maximilian*, 30 years old, moved to Berlin one and a half years ago to continue his studies. After having done an internship in this city ten years ago it was clear to him that at some point he has to build a life here. Reason for that were the sheer endless possibilities to enjoy his sexuality: “Everything is possible, everything is allowed!” Due to the size of the city and its anonimity Berlin offers a place for every fetish that one can think of. He supposes that all desires, however extraordinary they might be, can be satisfied.

But it turns out that that is also the biggest problem within the gay subculture. The entire scene seems to define itself around sexuality. Depending on sexual tendencies, groups are built within the subculture; the marginalisation within the scene is huge. Interestingly, it is often only the display of the society’s – or the gay subculture’s – constructed beauty ideal: “It is just about being young and beautiful. Handsome men exclude the ugly; masculine machos separate themselves from more effiminate men. Only here in Berlin I have learnt marginalising terminology”, Maximilian says. With these words he alludes at all the labels gay men put on each other. Is this a phenomenon that can only be evidenced in bigger cities in which the gay scene has reached a certain size?

Carlos, who was born in Latin America and who has lived all over the world, would answer this question with a clear “No”. In his opinion “even in New York there is more solidarity than in Berlin.” Similar to Maximilian, Carlos was also drawn to Berlin because of its well-known vibe. He has been calling Berlin home for six years already. “Back then as well as today Berlin has a unique reputation in the global gay world – cheap costs of living, crazy parties. Such things spread fast.”

This “back then” he refers to dates back to the peak of the nineteenth century when Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the world’s first gay activist, already fought against Paragraph 175. Since then Berlin developed its own way with the gays. That is why the American historian Robert Beachy, whose research deals with the development of sexual identity in Germany, subtitled his recent book “Gay Berlin” with “Birthplace of a Modern Identity” [1]. Around the turn of the century it was the tolerant chief of police, Hüsselem, who tolerated gay men and their bars despite legal repression. And then there was also Magnus Hirschfeld and his “Institute of Sexology” that became the pioneer in sex education worldwide in the early twentieth century. The following glorious time of the Weimar Republic was nothing but the result of a natural evolution: Berlin became a magnet for gay men from all over. Above all, intellectuals from the prudish Anglo-American part of the world, like Christopher Isherwood, were drawn to the legendary city which offered a lot more freedom and tolerance in comparison to their home country.

But where would Berlin be today if it wasn’t for all these pioneers? This question is hard to answer. Neither is there an answer to the question where Berlin would be today if this liberal approach towards homosexuality was not destroyed by the Nazis during the “Night of the Long Knives” in the 1930s in which Ernst Röhm and his lovers were killed.

Klaus and Horst, both in their mid-70s and together for 48 years, are the most likely to have answers to these questions. Although they are too young as well, they at least had the chance to get in touch with witnesses of that period. For them paragraph 175 is still a synonym for the repression of gay men. To their youth in the former GDR they look back worrysome as well: “It was all hide and seek against the law and police.” But not only Klaus and Horst are aware of the city’s history. “Berlin has learnt from its negative past. History will not repeat itself”, Carlos mentiones convincingly. The desirable situation in the 1920s is only desirable out of today’s perspective because we know that it became worse afterwards. However, in terms of legal issues it was similarly undesirable. In the meantime the situation has improved a lot, the general opinion towards gay men has changed positively.

Many of Berlin’s homosexuals think globally, they know the world’s cities and consider themselves world citizens. So does Sven, 30 years, who was born in Berlin and – except for a few years abroad – has spent his entire life in the city. In comparison to New York or London he still thinks Berlin is very provincial. This separates him from the others who moved here becuase of the unique situation Berlin has in global comparison. Nontheless, he also associates a certain uniqueness with Berlin. No matter if they are called Maximilian, Carlos, Klaus or Horst, everyone describes the city as a huge playground that allows everyone to rage themselves out. Berlin seems to be the perfect city to find and invent oneself.

But when it comes to defining a certain place that is symbolic for the city’s gay subculture the could not disagree more. No one can really answer this question. Maximilian responds as follows: “Back then the answer would have been easier, today it’s a little more hazy. On the one hand there are all the clubs. However, they aren’t concentrated in a certain area anymore but are spread across the entire city. On the other hand there is this plethora of virtual spaces like Planet Romeo or Grindr.” Michael, 54 years old, who moved from Hamburg to Berlin a few years ago and who belongs to a totally different generation, thinks of it differently: “It’s pretty obvious, it’s the area around Motzstraße and Nollendorfplatz. But while my generation concentrated there deliberatly, young people rather aim for social mixing and the abolishment of borders.” After the fall of the Berlin wall also Klaus and Horst got to know Schöneberg as the center of Berlin’s gay subculture. Interestingly, despite the obvious generational differences, it is always party locations that are defined as spaces for the gay scene. It is only the recently emerging virtual spaces that disrupt these developments. It remains unclear where this journey will continue. However, the increasing use of virtual spaces will undeniably have a huge impact on the way gay men communicate and get to know each other. Perhaps this development will also have psychological consequences. The art installment “Wanna Play? Love in the times of Grindr”, which lead to huge discussions within Berlin’s gay community, already provided food for thought by exhibiting intimate data that were shared in the virtual space in real surroundings to the general public.

The paradox is that the product of this development and the increasing anonymity that comes with it as well as all the endless possibilities is an increasing loss of orientation and a feeling of being lost. “It is like masturbating with shards of glass”, says Carlos. Many are driven by the multitude of possibilites but at the same time suffer from loneliness. Often they refer to themselves as victims of a future contingency which leads to the constant fear of missing out on things. “But you can already see that there is a change towards traditional values”, Michael is convinced. For many gays equality is still the possibility to marry. Maximilian has a very critical opinion to this: “It’s totally absurd when you think of how questionable marriage really is. The original thought is that the father passes on the responsibility over his daughter to another man. Maybe we should think of replacing such archaic concept. In a new system is has to be guaranteed that everyone has the same possibilities as well as advantages and disadvantages; no matter if it is adoption, hereditary rights, tax issues, etc.”

Carlos is also in favour of abolishing marriage as a societal institution. “It is time for a social transformation towards a post-gender and post-sexuality era far from gender-binary systems. Dualisms like male/female or gay/hetero cannot cope with society’s complexity anymore. The only problem, however, is the path dependency society is stuck in.”

In the short term it is not very likely that we as a society will go that far. A running machine with its inherent processes is hard to re-program. Homosexual men still fight for acceptance and integration. To reach this goal it seems to be easier to adapt to heteronormative structures instead of propagating a restructuring of society.

Or do gay man in Berlin have the power of setting trends? “Even if the city is home to so many gay men, it is presumptuous to claim that gays in their apparent role as trendsetters are responsible for the development of Berlin’s society. When it comes to that, sexual orientation is only secondary, other characteristics are much more determining”, Maximilian says.

Obviously Berlin would not be Berlin if it was not for the gays who have contributed so much to the city. The number of gay men is a self-reinforcing mechanism. Because there are so many here, many more are coming. The problem, however, is the lack of awareness for societal and interpersonal commitment which manifests itself in a been-there-done-that-messed-around attitude. After young men have sufficiently raged out and are in pursuit of a calmer life they leave the city. Because of this myopic approach they do not show any effort when it comes to putting their energy into the city’s future. “Young people say that they don’t have the time and often feel overwhelmed by serious topics and situations”, Michael complains. His biggest worry for the coming generation is the lack of progressive attitude and political activism.

But what willl Berlin’s future be like? “One can tell that the city is prone to the trend of increasing commercialization”, Maximilian mentions. There is the fear that Berlin will become replaceable. Even though hope is high that it can sustain its uniqueness, there is a prominent feeling that it steps into other cities footsteps and that opinions and behaviors are increasingly shaped by economical drivers. “The city mustn’t become a bubble like New York or London. But that’s exactly what it’s headed for!”, Carlos says convincingly. In all the conversations familiar words are dropped – gentrification, real estate prices, etc. Ironically, by the exact same persons who are among the most likely to cause these problems.

Similarly, worries about an increasing loneliness and lack of orientation are extrapolated into the future by the majority of respondents. This might be an explanation why many young men try to look for support in traditional values like monogamy or marriage. Sven is afraid that in future “pure narcisism, superficiality and triviality will become more prominent and that gay men will miss developments because of their self-referentiality.”

Although there are many who wish for Berlin to become a city free from prejudice and rather a city of peaceful solidarity across all ethnicities, sexual identities and social backgrounds, they are also realistic enough to see that this will most likely not be the case in the near future. “My biggest fear is that social peace is not guaranteed and that social classes are still separated in future”, Maximilian and Sven say unisono even though they have never met.

Apart from all these fears, gay men also have big hopes. They hope that in the near future it will not be necessary anymore to find strength in a group defined by sexual desires but instead find comfort in general society and that the term “gay subculture” becomes obsolete. Through acceptance and tolerance it shall be guaranteed that it is about the individual and the interest group and not about sexual identity. This wish, expressed by most of the respondents, is in so far of interest as they identify and categorize themselves based on different sexual preferences but abolish this thought when it comes to overall societal inclusion.

Berlin shall become a place for everyone. Where everyone can do what they want and where everyone is allowed. Financially and ideologically. Together and free from any prejudice. To get there, a common and guiding idea is needed. “In order for the city to keep its creative potential, it has to keep being a constant makeshift”, Sven says.

Interestingly, despite the different perception between young and old there is a shared dystopian vision on the future. But it only seems to be dystopian in view of a society that does not change fast enough. In the greater scheme of things everyone feels very well here in Berlin. Most of them are convinced that they will still feel comfortable in 2030 – in case they still live here then. Thus, it can be seen that the development is seen as tentatively positive. “It is often overlooked how far gay men have already moved towards the center of society.”, Maximilian says.

But even if a lot has been achieved, much more is yet to be accomplish. For gay men a lot depends on the party culture. “Religion used to be opium for the people. These days there are many different opiates. In Berlin it is stilly partying”, Michael says while looking into the distance.

 

*all names were changed.

[1] Beachy, R. (2014): Gay Berlin – Birthplace of a Modern Identity. Alfred A. Knopf, New York

Me and the Ironman

My journey towards the Ironman craziness started about a year ago after having successfully finished my first marathon. Since I was 14, the age at which I approximately started running with, my goal was always to finish a marathon by 30. As it was kind of the only life goal I had, I decided to not wait until the very last moment but to give it a first shot at 27 to better make sure not to fail on the one single goal I had.

Well, turns out it went quite well and I didn’t need more shots. I didn’t finish in a record time but still faster than expected (we won’t talk about numbers here…). Pride and happiness was on my side. Surfing the waves of endorphins.

But since life without goals seems kind of weird to me and suicide is not an option either (I like life way too much), I needed to expose myself to new challenges. Obviously, they had to be bigger (we won’t discuss the whole self-optimization thing now)…and so, here we are: the new goal I defined for myself was to finish a full Ironman before I turn 30 in August 2019.

Before starting the training Ironman was always something un-human to me. Just the thought of that distance, training for three sports at once, accomplishing all of them back to back etc etc. It was just from another world, not attainable for someone with no athletic background at all.

All I have is some jogging background with no experience in swimming and cycling whatsoever. That’s why I decided to not set the bar too high and compete too early (as with the marathon) but to rather focus on getting there injury-free (didn’t quite work out that way as my friends, the Achilles twins, have started to trouble me a little recently). So, for now all I focus on is my first milestone: finishing a half-distance Ironman on 27 May 2018, the magic day most of my life now evolves around. Adding another year for doubling the distance, the full Ironman will then be a pretty close thing towards my thirtieth birthday. But close is still attained, isn’t it?

This whole triathlon thing has changed my whole life since then; I fell down that rabbit hole right away. 2017 was dominated by that topic: the practice, the theory behind, nutrition, behavioral adaptation…you name it. In June 2017 I participated in my first relay half-distance Ironman by taking up the running part. And guess what: I. Licked. Blood.

I always felt it was quite corny when all those triathletes out there say “It’s not a sport, it’s a lifestyle!”. Well, couldn’t be truer for me though…

 

Hello world!

Welcome to my blog. Let me quickly introduce myself. My name is Sebastian, a twenty-something who considers himself a jack in many trades and a master of none. I am addicted to life and always up for new adventures. I guess in common terminology all of this makes me the perfect example of a Gen Y-er.

I identify myself as a man being born in a male body, preferring to be addressed with the pronouns he/him/his. I happen to develop romantic and sexual feelings towards male persons. This, in common language, defines me as being gay. However, opposed to reductionist efforts by the general public, being gay is not my entire identity.

I am also an amateur triathlete. Since I only recently started to take up the craziness of this sport, this still sounds a little cocky in my ears to be honest…amateur triathlete… But as I swim, bike and run on a daily basis, I guess I may define myself as such.

You may be surprised but I am even more than these two aspects…But we won’t go all the way now. These two aspects will suffice for now as this blog emerges directly out of them. It is about me becoming an Ironman by the age of 30. Not a superhero but the one who finishes 3,8km of swimming, 180km of cycling and 42,2km of running, all back to back in a few hours.

Since I started my training about a year ago, there has hardly been an evening without Youtube videos and hardly a commute without some podcast about triathlons. The sport seems to have become quite hip (or is it just my selective awareness) and attracts people from all walks of life. The so-called TRI-be offers role models to almost every kind of person: the pros, the former alcoholic, the former drug addict, the overweight one competing to lose weight, the para-athlete…you name it.

However, having heard all kinds of different stories, I have hardly encountered any triathlete being part of the LGBT community. Considering the average number of LGBTs in the general population and including some biases for this sport, I guess there’s still a reasonable number around. Yet, they are hardly visible. A quick Google search delivers not even a handful of results.

Well, obviously…it’s 2018! We don’t really need to make this an issue anymore, do we? I couldn’t agree more. I am the last to put labels on people and the very very last who wants a label to be put on himself. And yes, it’s already 2018 and this shouldn’t be necessary anymore. Not making one’s sexual identity a thing seems to be a big step towards normalization and full acceptance. Well, but then there’s reality. A reality in which soccer players aren’t all straight…

Being gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, intersexual etc. in sports – no matter if endurance or team sports – is still stigmatised. As a result, there’s hardly any role models around.

So, this is the point this blog starts from. By writing down my experiences and observations my aim is to offer an LGBT perspective on triathlon and amateur sports in general. It shall help create visibility and maybe offer some point of reference for folks in need for like-minded people. I totally agree, it sounds quite arrogant to consider myself a role model, but all I am trying to do is to show that no matter who you are, chances are pretty high that there’s someone like you even if they are not that visible. So, this visibility is exactly what I want to create.

This blog will not only explore my journey to my first Ironman competition but also different topics evolving around being gay in amateur sports and what it means to live a gay life outside of the expected.

Summing it up in one hashtag, this whole thing is about connecting the lgbt with the TRI – #lgbTRI.

I invite you to become my companion in this journey by taking part in the discussion here, on twitter or on Instagram and share some breathtaking, inspiring and insightful moments with me. On y va!

 

Peace and rainbows,

Sebastian

 

P.S.: You might ask whether I’m seriously starting a blog in 2017. Yes, correct. It’s a blog in 2017, about 10 years too late, I’m aware…BUT…first, the written word is still my medium of choice and second, I want to offer something that doesn’t follow the evolution towards ever more sensationalism. And something you can follow while sitting at your desk pretending to work 🙂