Powerlifting is all about math. Competitors complete a series of three lifts — squat, bench and deadlift — and their scores are based on the weight lifted in proportion to the athlete’s weight and age. The simplicity of the process appeals to Toronto powerlifter Kinnon Ross MacKinnon. “It’s very cut and dry,” he says. “If you aren’t strong enough, you won’t get the weight. If you are, you will.”
MacKinnon, 28, is a trans man competing at Gay Games 9 in Cleveland, Ohio. “It’s been awesome. In a more regular powerlifting contest, it can be more of a macho environment.” At the Gay Games, due in part to their trans inclusion policy, MacKinnon says he can feel like himself. “It definitely made me feel it was okay to be here.”
He has never had any problems, but MacKinnon notes that the official powerlifting governing bodies lack any policies on trans competitors. “I think they probably just haven’t thought about it,” he says. “But without thinking about it they’re kind of excluding a whole population. I would like to work with them to create one, actually.”
In the front room of the Old School Iron Gym, enormous men in singlets (“the regulars,” I’m told) strain against machines loaded with weights the size of manhole covers. Rock music drowns out the clank of plates making contact.
The Gay Games competition is in the back, and it’s just as noisy. Contrary to the sport’s reputation, the crowd at the meet is exhibiting more wholesome camaraderie than hostile competition.
“Make it happen!” someone shouts, and the crowd erupts in applause as a lifter comes out of a squat. When the next athlete fails to complete his lift, the spectators groan, commiserating. “You’ll get it next time,” someone calls out, sparking another round of applause.
MacKinnon’s squat for the competition is clean; he registers a successful 352-pound lift. His short-term goal is 360 pounds, and he hopes to complete a 400-pound squat after that. Increasing weight is the key to success for powerlifters, and he is preparing for the provincial championships. “You have to get a certain total [weight]. I’m thinking in one year I can qualify.”
National-level powerlifting comes next, and it’s the last stop before the world championships. “Well, people say to dream big,” he says, “but my life has always been rooted in reality.”
MacKinnon’s enthusiasm plays out. At the end of the 15-hour meet, he places first in his weight class. Perhaps even more satisfying: he lifts 200 kilograms (2.78 times his body weight) in the deadlift, his personal favourite manoeuvre.