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(Editor's note: Chris Tina Bruce is a Fitness and Nutrition contributor for San Diego Gay & Lesbian News and will soon write a social column, tackling transgender issues. Assistant Editor Morgan M. Hurley was finally able to chase down the busy entrepenuer and fitness trainer for an interview.)
SAN DIEGO -- Time to make more room in those California textbooks, because this has been quite a year in the history department for the LGBT community in America's Finest City.
Recent area transplant Chris Tina Bruce will soon make her own history as the first transgender person to compete in a nationally sponsored bodybuilding competition.
In an even bigger first, Chris Tina will also become the first person to have ever competed in both gender categories; she first competed as a male nearly 20 years ago, and this weekend, will be competing as a female.
Embracing the masculine within
Christopher Bruce was born Feb. 25, 1969, and grew up as a typical all-American boy in the suburbs of Atlanta, Ga.
A natural athlete, Chris started early in football, beginning with pee-wee and playing all the way up through high school and even while in college. That young boy was also taught manners, determination and a deep set of values by his single, loving mother, and eventually went on to graduate with a marketing degree from Georgia State University.
While in college, football injuries eventually led to a shift to bodybuilding, where again, he was a natural. Competition came easy and he flexed on stages around the south for several years in the early 1990s, competing his final match in 1993, shortly before he moved to Texas to pursue his future.
Once in Dallas, he launched a successful sales and marketing career, eventually traveling the country as a professional speaker. He also married and had two children. A successful entrepenuer very skilled in sales, he was soon set financially, had everything he could ever ask for and was living the American dream.
But -- something just wasn't right in Chris Bruce's world. He loved women, he loved bodybuilding, he loved his family, and he loved public speaking -- and he just couldn't put his finger on it.
It took 10 years of therapy, several kindred online friendships, a period of cross-dressing in safe environments, an eventual divorce, and a lot of interpersonal coaching, but eventually Chris got the courage to let his life take its own course -- and go in the direction it was pulling him.
On the day before Thanksgiving in November 2008, Chris Bruce began hormone therapy and became Chris Tina Bruce.
She has now been taking estrogen and progesterone for three years. She has had breast implants and some minor facial surgeries, but she hasn't taken any steps to change that deep, southern voice she gained at puberty -- nor does she want to -- and she hasn't had "bottom" surgery. There is no need.
Many male-to-female transgender people want to completely abandon their previous male identities, but not Chris Tina.
"I embrace who I was," she said. "I appreciate all of it and am proud of who I used to be. I had a great 40 years and I was very successful. It made me who I am today and allowed me to be who I am today. Someone once suggested I was a 'hybrid' and I tend to agree with that, because I am happy with both sides of myself."
San Diego beckons with "home"
Earlier this year, after a series of serendipitous events that included a quick trip to the area -- and a visit to Urban Mo's, where she finally felt "at home" -- Chris Tina moved to San Diego. Once here, Chris Tina began a new life with a fresh start, met people for the first time as "Chris Tina" and opened Hillcrest Fitness.
Chris Tina's love for physical fitness had begun early, during her teenage football years, and it developed over time into a part-time career as a personal trainer in Texas, where she started Discover Health and Fitness.
Her sister and her mother have been incredibly supportive of her transition, and she credits her mother with instilling in her deep personal values about never giving up, loving people for who they are, and that family is always there for you. They kept her going through the tough times and are what keeps her strong still today, in the face of the adversity she is often met with.
"My mother has been my role model. She taught me that even if they don't understand, family is always there for you, with love, commitment and dedication," she said.
When Chris and her mother finally spoke openly about her plans to transition, her mother thought it was her fault.
"She told me she was so sorry," Chris Tina said. "When I asked her why, she said, 'because you've been dealing with this your whole life, and where was i?' I told her everything happened as it should have and she taught me everything I needed to know."
Her mother is her biggest champion.
Teach, your community well ...
Since transitioning and even moreso since getting settled here in San Diego, Chris Tina has spent a great deal of time focusing on herself, her personal training and nutrition clients, and mentoring others. She gets emails daily and says even on the street, she educates people every day.
One thing is clear -- Chris Tina has a grand plan -- she wants to change world opinion about the transgender community. Her first step in this direction was to start a foundation, Be Bold, Be Proud. But there is so much more on the horizon.
"I liken myself to Chaz Bono," she said. "There aren't enough positive stereotypes in the transgender community. I want kids and other people to know they can 'be who you are.'"
Aside from Bono, who is mostly a public figure because of his incredibly famous parents, many high profile transgender people are athletes and when they fight for their right to still participate, that is how the world becomes aware of them.
"I think that is because often the public usually sees very feminine men transition to women and very butch girls becoming guys, and many of the M-to-Fs generally abandon their masculinity. Those of us who were in sports, generally do not. Plus, sports is still even more popular than education, so the attention is there."
Chris Tina sees her return to the bodybuilding stage as a huge learning opportunity for many.
"Look, I will never blend in. I know that. So why not take advantage of that and spread a positive message? I have a degree in marketing. This is my calling, this is what I am supposed to do."
Most people are aware that even in the LGB side of our community, people can often be ignorant about all things associated with T. Chris Tina wants to change that, too.
"Every day I educate people," she said. "A drag queen is an art form, it has nothing to do with gender, but people throw drag queens and cross dressers and transgenders into the same category, and they just aren't the same.
"What I always tell people is that sex is between the legs, gender is between the ears, and sexual orientation is between the sheets. They are usually all congruent but for a transgender, the sex doesn't match the gender."
Although she is not currently in a relationship or actively seeking one, Chris Tina is still attracted to women; remarkably, she does not consider herself gay, further complicating things for some who are still trying to follow along. The hybrid comment may again apply here.
Making history on the bodybuilding stage
On Saturday, Oct. 22, Chris Tina will compete in the National Physique Committee (NPC) Border States Classic XXXIII Bodybuilding, Bikini, Mens Physique and Figure (NQ) competition, held at the Scottish Rite Center in Mission Valley.
It will be her first bodybuilding competition in almost 20 years.
When she first contacted the organization, she wasn't sure what to expect, and not even sure they would respond. But respond they did, and almost immediately. She would be able to compete, and compete as a female, as long as her passport and/or driver's licence identified her as such, and they do.
Other women competitors may cry foul, but according to Chris Tina, there is no drug testing in the sport, so female bodybuilders take testosterone to maximize their sculpting ability and increase their muscle-mass; something Chris Tina is not doing.
In fact, her case is the opposite, since she has been taking two testosterone blockers for the last three years, as part of her hormone therapy regime.
"I have no advantage. Bodybuilding is more of a subjective sport and it's about what they are looking for," Chris Tina explained. "There will be between five to seven judges who are viewing the competition like figure skating, where they are considering a variety of things, like who is the leanest, or looking for symmetry and style.
"They may not like me at all and I'm expecting the worst," she continued. "After all, it's not a gay-friendly sport."
But unlike the "wait" limitations regarding transgender participation, NPC also said they had no requirements and no limitations with regards to gender.
This means that not only do they not give any credence to how long someone has been taking their alternative hormones, they also aren't concerned with surgery. This differs tremendously with other professional sports and more specifically the Olympics, who require at least two years to pass -- after full transition surgery -- before a transgender athlete can compete in their new gender class.
Thus, Chris Tina has been cleared to participate in the only female competition available on Saturday: The Unlimited Women's Bodybuilding class.
Where to go
The competition is open to the public and Chris Tina encourages all to attend. Pre-judging starts at 11 am, with finals at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $30 for pre-judging and $35 for the finals. Discounts are available for people 60 and older, military and children. All seating is open.
Online tickets must be purchased before 10 pm Thursday. All other tickets may be purchased at the venue box office.
The event is located at the Scottish Rite Event Center, at 1895 Camino Del Rio South in Mission Valley. For more information about NPC or the competition itself, click HERE.
More about Chris Tina Bruce
Chris Tina Bruce is a male-to-female transgender bodybuilder, spokesperson, nutrition consultant and fitness trainer.
Chris Tina lives by some very simple rules and affirmations: All of life is a transition; where you are does not have to define who you will be and together we can cultivate change. Be Bold, Be Proud, Be Yourself.
For more information about Chris, her Fitness Fun Camps, private sessions, nutrition programs or next bodybuilding show, check out her website, follow her Hillcrest Fitness Facebook page, or call (972) 989-6076.