Bethany C. Meyers On The Evolution Of Words In The Wellness World
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
For the final installment of our series, we spoke with the one and only Bethany C. Meyers, mbg Collective member and creator of the be.come project, the inclusive and refreshingly feel-good fitness app that embodies our culture's changing views on why we move. Meyers is also an outspoken LGBTQ advocate who isn't afraid to share their experiences as a polyamorous, nonbinary person and use their platform to educate. We spoke to them about de-gendering the fitness world, gender-neutral parenting, and thinking critically about the words we use—both among wellness communities and everywhere else.
What is the be.come project's approach to fitness?
My goal has been to take a different approach to fitness. The wellness space I think has really started to transition into more inclusive conversations, less diet culture, really evaluating how you feel, and what I've found is that conversation hasn't really hit actual workouts. It seems like always the goal of working out is to change something about yourself or to look a certain way or oftentimes a punishment for things you've eaten or things you've done, and what I'm really working to do with the be.come project is simply to shift the focus and make working out a time for yourself and something you can give yourself as a form of self-care. I love the idea of movement as medicine. And so what we're really relating back to is how do we feel, and how does movement improve our feelings?
Before and after every single workout on the be.come project, so as you're filling it out online, in order to unlock and lock your routine, you have to answer the questions, "How am I feeling?" We offer a list of words and also a place to type in your own word. I just went through all of the data since we've launched, and the most commonly used word before the workout was "tired" and the most commonly used word after the work was "strong."
It's been really incredible to watch this transition of words and, through just 25 minutes, how we're feeling before and after. I think that statement within itself, that says a ton. People are walking out of their movement with the be.come project feeling strong. If I can empower people in that way and give people a sense of strength, I think that goes a long way for society and humanity. You know? Strong people do strong things.
Is there a reason why you still call it a "fitness" program when it's not so much about being "fit"?
Hmm, that's such an interesting question! I've never really thought about fitness in that way, as in the word in "being fit." I think that the word workout—I try not to use that much. I use it when speaking to people who aren't already part of the be.come community because it's a word that makes sense for people, but the word workout in itself has the word work in it, so we call them "routines." We do 25-minute routines.
I get that. I guess we could all stand to look more closely at the specific words we're using.
I would love for the community of wellness, working out, fitness, to also start developing new words. We're in a time right now when language is so key, and I feel like our language is really evolving. The way that we think about pronouns, and "beautiful." And I'm not using the term "body positivity" now. I'm using "body neutrality." And so I'm excited to watch the evolution of language within the wellness community and fitness community continue to grow.
Why did you find it important to specify be.come as a gender-neutral program?
Years ago when I was thinking about starting this business, I kept using "women"—"for women" and "to empower women"—and through conversations with my partner, they were like, well, it's not really about women. This is just about people that you want to empower. And then over the last couple of years, my identity, as I've really broken down what gender means to me, I've really resonated with being nonbinary. As I've continued to explore what nonbinary means and the breakdowns of gender and the constructs that were put in by gender all the time, I don't identify as female. I don't identify as male. I definitely identify somewhere in the in between. And as a nonbinary person and starting this business, it was really important to me not to use exclusive language.
There are people who prefer to move in one direction and people who prefer to move in another direction, but nothing inherent about those moves is specifically female or specifically male.
I think when we say something is just for women, it becomes exclusive, and we're missing out on trans people, we're missing out on people who've been socialized as female, we're missing out on this nonbinary take. And what I found out is that nonbinary people and trans people are often the people who are the most discriminated against in a workout context. They go to a studio, and it's men's locker rooms and women's locker rooms. They need a safe space more than anyone.
It's been really awesome to watch feminine men and butch women and nonbinary people and people who've recently had top surgery, and this is the only workout that feels comfortable for them, to be able to latch on to this and create a home within the be.come project.
Do you feel like the fitness world and the larger wellness world is unnecessarily gendered?
Totally. Society is just so obsessed with gender. If you go back like pre-1950s, babies' clothes were not gendered at all. Little boys and little girls wore the exact same thing, and then at some point, we created this blue and pink phenomenon, and it's translated into every area. It's like barre workouts are a women's workout, and weightlifting and boot-camp workouts, that's a men's workout. That has started to get better [and change].
At the end of the day, moving is moving. You can move in any way that feels comfortable for your body. There are people who prefer to move in one direction and people who prefer to move in another direction, but nothing inherent about those moves is specifically female or specifically male. And I certainly do not want to be contributing to that conversation.
Do you think LGBTQ+ people still face unique challenges in the wellness space?
I definitely do. I talk a lot about language that instructors use in their classes and how we refer to people. Like, "Come on, ladies!" is often used in "female" classes, and you don't really think about it. But you don't know who is in the class, and you don't know how that person is feeling. Sometimes people get up in arms about "well, it's not that big a deal if you say 'hey, ladies.' Everyone knows what I mean." But you can switch your language ever so slightly to really make it more inclusive and still get the same point across. "Come on, everybody!" That still accomplishes the same goal and yet makes people feel really included.
My entire career, I've been really obsessed with language. I think it started with the way we talk about modifications or the way that we motivate people. I don't refer to it as modifications. I say alternative. And it's always permission to take the break that you need but also permission to ask yourself if you need to push, and I think that there's a really fine line with knowing how to push and knowing how to pull back and allow someone to take care of their body. So it's an instructor's job, it's constantly our job to be walking this line and to be knowing how to motivate without making someone feel defeated. And I think that same motivation happens in the language that we use surrounding gender and really making sure that we're inclusive in our conversations.
How did you come to recognize your nonbinary identity?
At the end of the day, it just made more sense to me. I've always carried a lot of masculine traits, and I've always sort of felt that I rode a line that wasn't quite female and wasn't quite male. I think what nonbinary has done is it's just given more language to people who feel similarly to me, and so when we create more language and have ways to describe ourselves, it's exciting to get to use that new language because it makes more sense. I guess I felt like a nonbinary identity gave me more permission to dress how I want to dress, to present the way that I want to present, to not shave my legs or underneath my armpits. It's almost a little bit of a "fuck you" to gender and society in general. It's kind of like I can say these things and do these things because at the end of the day it doesn't matter.
And they/them pronouns in general I just think are so much more inclusive, and I know that some people feel very connected pronouns and to using she/her or he/him, and just as similarly, I feel very connected to using they/them pronouns. It gives me more space to be who I want to be.
You and your spouse Nico Tortorella have a pretty nontraditional relationship, and you're very public about it. Why do you choose to share as much as you do about your love life?
Definitely being as open as we are about our relationship in a public sense has been one of the more scary things for me. It's been a bit harder to speak about it, but I have something that's wired in me where if I believe something or it's true to me, I really can't shut up about it. I just have to speak on it because I think at the end of the day, what helps people is communication and honesty and vulnerability and being authentic.
Every time I share something about our polyamorous relationship, I may get messages that aren't so nice, but then simultaneously I get way more messages that are like, "Thank you, I feel seen. You saying this has made it easier to talk to my partner." Or "you saying this has made it easier for me and my spouse to come out to our families," or "I thought I was the only person who feels this way, and I know that I'm not," or "I've always been bisexual, and I ended up marrying a man, and I often feel like my queer identity is erased." And at the end of the day, if I have the power simply by telling my story to help somebody else, then it's worth it. Then it's doing good.
I've heard you and Nico are thinking about having kids! Parenting is such a gendered experience, or at least it is in the way our culture has constructed it. Do you two have a plan for how to navigate it in a more gender-neutral way?
I've always wanted to have children. I'm very excited about the idea of being pregnant because I think the ability to produce life within your body is quite fascinating for those who can. And then also to raise children is just a beautiful thing. It's literally life. And for Nico and myself, we've always known that we would have children together whether or not we ended up with one another.
It definitely can be a very gendered experience, and I think that we are excited to figure out what it looks like to do that in the most nongendered way that we can. Our nicknames for each other for years and years and years have been "Mom" and "Dad." So Nico calls me "Mom." I call them "Dad." To me, the words mom and dad and the way that we use them in our relationship doesn't feel gendered, so I don't really have an issue with those words themselves. And I think that we're also very aware that we don't have all the answers, and just like the rest of our lives have been, we're going to be figuring it out day by day.
They are their own people. So often I think a lot of parents try to make their kids extensions of themselves. I'm not a parent yet, so I don't know how easy or how hard it is to do, and I'm definitely not someone who wants to give advice on something that I really have no idea about or have any experience in. But I want to foster our kids to be able to be as much themselves as possible. It wasn't necessarily a privilege that I had growing up, and that's something that I'm excited to be a part of and bringing into the world.
What is the central conversation we should be having during Pride?
I think Pride is trendy right now, and really what this month is about is furthering the community and giving the community the support that it needs. The people who need the most support in our community are trans and gender nonconforming people, specifically those of color. They're the most discriminated against, they're the ones who are in the most danger. The number of trans women who have died this year—I think the count is at 10 right now this year, and those are only those that we know about, and it's such a small community of people. This isn't about a parade. It's a march.
Any corporation who is using a rainbow logo or any corporation who is doing any type of Pride stuff or if you're a coffee shop and you're making a rainbow latte and you're selling it, you're essentially making money off this community, and therefore money should be given back to the community. So I feel really, really passionate about reminding everyone that this is still a fight, and there are still people who cannot walk out of their door safely. I'm not one of those people. I live a very safe life. I definitely enjoy a lot of things. I'm privileged in that way, and so it's definitely my responsibility to make sure that I take care of my family and that they're receiving the same type of equality that I am. That's definitely what Pride is about this year.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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