LGBTQ+ Inside and Out – A Tête-à-Tête With Lorenzo Pagnotta
by Sakshi Singh | June 22, 2020
This is the month of Pride. This is the month we raise the rainbow flag. This is the month where we assert ‘love is love’––but it may not feel that way for people who are questioning their sexuality, or their gender. When you grow up with something like an identity crisis, you don’t just lose confidence––you can lose yourself. So you pretend. You pretend until it gets too much. Why? So you can be normal in the eyes of not-so-normal people? The only acceptance you need in this world is from yourself––that’s Lorenzo Pagnotta’s message to his clients.
Meet Lorenzo Pagnotta, he specializes in fascia, strength training, and queer and trans-affirming coaching. He helps people transform inside and out, so that while his clients improve their posture, they are also working on their confidence and self-worth.
During my tête-à-tête with Lorenzo we discuss how he helps people who are confused about their identity through flexibility, and mindfulness-based personal training. He is based out of Toronto, and is a founder of ArtsFitness.
Do you believe therapists can help people deal with confusion about their sexuality?
Therapists and counselors can provide neutral, unbiased insight into what you are feeling and experiencing when you are questioning your sexuality. When you look or feel different, the world likely does not provide many opportunities for you to see yourself––you can feel very alone and even afraid. Therapy can help by allowing you to let out some of your concerns, frustrations, and troubles. This can go a long way in relieving anxiety, or perhaps simply adding perspective to your life. You might just discover that you have value and purpose after all! Having been through therapy, I should know.
How is strength training different in these situations? Do things change if a client is on hormone replacement therapy?
Regardless of where you fall in the rainbow spectrum, there aren’t many limitations on what the body can do. If you are transitioning, the side effects experienced are dependent on the specific medications and vitamins you take. Symptoms will differ depending on whether an individual is undergoing medical masculinization or feminization, and whether the client is pre or post top and/or bottom surgery. Generally speaking, trans clients can experience symptoms like light-headedness, headaches, increased or decreased dehydration/urination/sweating/body heat, rapid mood changes, rapid shifts in fat distribution, and joint instability due to changes in muscle mass/bone density. Simple adjustments become necessary, like working out near a water fountain or having water bottles on hand and a washroom nearby. Without a doubt, being patient, mindful, and compassionate goes a long way. Someone is learning to move and exist in a new body. In most cases, programming begins with light cardio, stretching, and mobility before proceeding to conditioning exercises.
When someone is uncertain about their sexuality, what are the support options for them?
If you are uncertain about your sexuality, choose to speak to someone you trust. Don’t keep it in unless your safety is at risk. You can talk with a good friend or family member. If that is not available, reach out to your local LGBTQ+ community associations about meet-up groups, or inclusive/low-cost counseling or therapy services. We are lucky they are “out” there, and we can find them online these days. I am slowly expanding a list of therapists by city, which you can view by joining my mailing list at www.artsfitness.ca
Let’s talk about trans affirming coaching. How does that work?
First, I start the conversation by stating my pronouns and asking people their preferred pronouns, to build trust and let them know that this is a safe space where you can be who you are. Secondly, it’s about providing extra care, like a tour of your area. If you are in a public facility, educate your colleagues and members so trans clients feel safe and know others will not stare or make them feel uncomfortable. Finally, it’s about understanding my clients’ specific health needs at whatever point they are in their journey.
Who do you think should sign up for affirming coaching?
If you are tired of big gyms that reinforce unrealistic body standards and don’t take your identity and emotional and mental needs seriously, then affirming coaching is for you. We meet you where you are at. The bright side of COVID-19 is that it has taught us we can do this online too. Our homes usually have everything we need to improve our strength and endurance.
If someone is uncertain about their identity, how do you think a practitioner like you can help?
I never assume anything about someone’s identity. It is my job as a coach to listen to people’s needs, make suggestions on how to get them on the best path towards their goals, make educated decisions, and monitor changes to the best of my abilities. It takes a lot of trust to build a relationship with individuals who are not part of the status quo, and that trust is formed by being compassionate, welcoming, inclusive, and informed.
You mention fascia in your profile, and I understand that to be the connective tissue that holds the muscles together. Do you notice any specific struggles with fascia among the clients who see you?
Stress hugely affects our fascia. We are all under pressure to some degree, sometimes more sometimes less. The fibers in the connective tissues tighten, and then the muscle surrounded by these rigid tissues cannot function properly. It affects your organs too. Luckily, a little foam rolling and stretching can do wonders to improve the hydration of your fascia and get you moving better.
Are there postural similarities between the people who seek out your practice?
Almost everyone slouches a little these days, and/or experiences back pain at some point or another. Even if you don’t sit all day at your job, societally we dominantly move within our frontal plane, whether texting, typing, walking, running (chasing your head as I once heard it put). We rarely move side to side, or up and down other than to sit, stand, or use the washroom. So, yes, this means most people have shoulders and head stooped forward, and tightened muscles in the front of their torso in addition to other anterior muscle groups being tight. This is precisely why I choose to spend lots of time strengthening people’s back while freeing the front of their body.
It seems like you’re working within the emotional and the physical realms. What drew you to this kind of integrative practice?
I have a performing arts background which inherently combines the emotional with the physical on stage, and I suppose I have always been interested in psychology. As I grew older and accepted my sexuality, I realized that to improve your health you need to work in both the physical and emotional realm. Of course, we need to stay physically active so that our joints, muscles, and bones are at their best as we age; but we also need to share our stories as much as we need to express the things that bother us, so we do not let them fester inside––upsetting our mind and nervous system. Applied neurology and other developing fields of science intricately map out the impacts of stress-inducing repression on our body’s systems. It’s fascinating and insightful. I guess I could not develop a practice focusing solely on strength training, knowing about these developments and the increased mental health barriers my friends and colleagues in the LGBTQ+ community face.
Do you have a message to share with our audience?
The fitness industry has insisted for decades on using social comparison to guilt and shame people into buying into things, with little consideration of the barriers to accessibility, or issues of inclusivity and diversity. If we want to move forward, we need to recognize these issues first. We need to promote that the human species comes in an array of shapes and sizes. Being thin does not equate with being healthy, just as being fat does not by necessity mean you are unhealthy. Until we begin to move past these simplistic binaries, the pervasiveness of body shaming and diet guilt will continue to divide people and break many hearts. Social comparison is damaging people’s mental health and leads to illness, and even death (e.g., extreme surgeries, procedures, diets). Fitness trainers and coaches of all orientations, and gender expressions are speaking up about their experiences too. We need to listen, and consumers need to start supporting people who are doing fantastic work while fighting for change and representation, instead of idolizing “perfect” status quo bodies.
The thing is, no one is perfect, and sometimes, you need someone’s help realizing that.
You can reach out to Lorenzo here.