Amazin LeThi – Self Portrait

This post is part of a series of Queerty conversations with models, trainers, dancers, and, well, people who inspire us to stay in shape–or just sit on the couch ogling them instead.

Name: Amazin LeThi

City: Citizen of the world. I’m based in the US, but I travel all over the world. It really has come about by the fact that there aren’t many Asian LGBTQ advocates in the world. I spend most of my year traveling around the world having these discussions.

Occupation: Professional bodybuilder and queer rights advocate.

Do you have a favorite exercise playlist? I actually don’t wear headphones when I work out. I tend to listen to the music in the gym and get into my zone. If I have to have a playlist, I listen to uplifting music: Madonna, Alicia Keys, George Michael, I’ve loved since I was young. I never knew he was gay as I child. I thought he just looked perfect.

Brooklyn Nets 4th Annual Pride night 2020. First Asian LGBTQ athlete to be honored at their event with the Game Ball Delivery. photo credit Mike Lawrence

What’s the best food to eat prior to a workout? It comes down to what kind of workout you want to have. You need to look at eating some kind of complex carbohydrate at least an hour before. You can have an apple 30 minutes beforehand, but apples are simple sugars, so it won’t give you sustained energy. I also take supplements. I know some in the fitness world are really averse to supplements. I’m averse to it in the sense that you shouldn’t just use supplements; you need to eat fruits and vegetables and meats as well. So you may want to have a pre-energy drink before a workout along with everything that you’ve eaten, or that you can sip through the workout, that can help.

What’s the best outfit for working out? Wear gym clothing, whatever you’re comfortable in. In the winter that could be a tracksuit. It could be gym shorts. It could be a tank top. It could be tights. It could be a t-shirt—whatever you’re comfortable in.

How do you balance staying in shape and having fun? Do something you love. I’m a qualified fitness coach, so I’ve trained everyday people to high-level athletes training for the Olympics. But you have to do it. Not everyone loves going to the gym. Not everyone can afford a personal trainer, so do what you love. The gym can be a frightening place for a lot of people. It’s very heteronormative. It’s very masculine. For an LGBTQ person, it can also be a threatening environment as well, because it’s not necessarily LGBTQ friendly. Gyms can also be expensive. If you have access to going for a walk or a run in the park, [do that]. Buy resistance bands and you can work out your whole body alone in the park, or at home with a friend. Find something that you love and will bring you joy. Ride a bike. Rollerblade. It’s a lifelong process.

Related: Professional dancer Corey O’Brien on dancing your way to perfect fitness

What’s a basic, if useful, work out tip you can offer?  Things you can do with just your bodyweight would be push-ups, sit-ups, running in spots. If you need resistance, go to the supermarket and buy large bottles of water. Use one as a kettlebell. Do bicep curls or squats with them. You can do a lot of exercises you would do in the gym with bottles of water.

What is it about bodybuilding that makes you feel competitive?

I was bullied a lot at school because I grew up in an all-white neighborhood as a transracial adoptee. I struggled with my sexuality. I was homeless in my early 20s. I never met an LGBTQ person, so I felt very isolated and insular. I had to endure gay slurs. I had low self-esteem, and I always felt like I needed a community. So I went into sports. Because of the bullying, team sports didn’t really work for me. So I fell into bodybuilding. I wanted a sport I could do alone, and I wanted to get stronger so I could defend myself. I found a pair of dumbbells lying around the house, and every single day I started doing 100 dumbbell curls. And I was only six or seven at the time. Then when I was seven or eight, I started going to the local gym down the road. I loved it so much. And I really attached myself to Arnold Schwarzenegger. I related to him in the sense that he came from this strange land and looked different than everyone else, but used the power of sports to elevate himself. And I realized I could elevate myself and others with bodybuilding. Through sports in general, you get these unique skill sets: pushing past the barrier, goal setting, mindsets, the belief you can do anything, that you can win. Research shows that people who have sports in their lives are better employees than those that haven’t been competitive or had sports in your life. You get an edge. And as an LGBTQ person, it really helped with my mental health.

What kind of reactions do you get when you explain your profession?

When I started to compete, people didn’t know what to make of me. I once tried to get a job at MTV, and an executive told me there’s no place for an Asian female bodybuilder, no interest. That’s the kind of reaction I got, because it had never been seen before. Even now, Asian people only make up 1% of Hollywood leading roles. People can’t see them as a superhero or an Asian lead. Now, it’s interesting: I’ve worked so hard over the years to ground myself in my own narrative, people now are fascinated by my life story and the work I do.

Does that affect your personal life? How do you prepare for it?

I think when people look at female bodybuilders, they look at the women who are competing. And very few women look like that. I think for most people, I seem super healthy. Working out for me is like brushing your teeth—something I do every day. I think when you date someone like that, you start to think about your own habits. I think people see me as an advantage—a free personal trainer you can take to the gym and who can give them a program.

You’re someone that talks quite a bit about the lack of Asian representation in sports, particularly in the Western world. In your experience now as a person of Asian descent working in sports, why is that?

There are so many factors. It starts at the primary school level. The media plays a huge role in the representation of Asian people. There’s a stereotype that we’re very studious, very good at math, nerdy. Whenever you see a commercial with a doctor, it always seems to be an Asian person. We’ll never be seen as an NFL player. So that plays out in terms of how people perceive us. Then there’s unconscious bias from the sports community, that Asian people are shorter, slower, petite. We’re never seen in more athletic or masculine sports like boxing. There are also cultural issues around that. Our parents are immigrants, so if your parents work really hard to come to the US, the last thing they’ll think of is wanting a child to be an NFL player. There needs to be a better promotion for the community to have a role in sports or sports media. Asian kids have the lowest participation in sports, and the highest drop out rate. When we do participate, we’re bullied the most out of all ethnic groups. I was pushed out of team sports and into bodybuilding. I think a lot of LGBTQ kids experience that as well—they don’t feel safe. These are all the barriers. I use Jeremy Lin as an example. The amount of racism he received at the pro level, or at the college or youth level is a lot, and he’s one of the best basketball players the US has ever seen. We’ve come so far, but there’s so much more work to do.

You’re also working on the Biden campaign. What is it about getting involved in political activism that satisfies you? How does that make you feel better prepared for daily living?

I love activism work. I never thought I would be an advocate in any way. But it comes from my own journey. I think back to when I was in my teens and I never saw myself or anyone standing up for my community. Obviously, at that age, you don’t have a voice, so you need someone else. So that drives me. I now have a platform. It’s my responsibility to speak up. I know there’s a kid being bullied for being Asian or being LGBTQ, or who wishes they could see a mirror image of themselves in sports. The work I do isn’t for me, it’s for others. Sharing my story, I hope it can allow other Asian LGBTQ people to feel comfortable with who they are. It’s for all of us to speak up and unify. Sport is a unifying platform that can bring all of us together and create social change.

Can you tell us about some of your recent distinctions?

In pride month I became a 2020 Global Change Maker. I was also named in the Go Magazine ‘100 Women We Love’ list. I partnered with The Advocate to host the first Pride Month Asian LGBTQ Instagram live series: I spoke with Asian LGBTQ Hollywood actors: B.D Wong, Leonard Nam, Leo Sheng, Jake Choi and Rain Valdez. I spoke at the first 24-hour Global Pride 2020. I partnered with the UK embassy in China with a pride month virtual event on Covid19 and LGBTQ mental health & with the UK embassy in Washington DC for a virtual event on LGBTQ inclusion in sports. I partnered with the Australian and Irish Consulate for a celebrating pride month event around marriage equality and LGBTQ rights.

What do you keep on your nightstand?

Rose quartz, lavender oil, and a figure of the buddha. I meditate before I go to bed, so I have this thing called Muse that I put on my head and meditate. It clears my head and keeps me in the present. I have a gratitude journal as well, so I list things I’m thankful for. That helps as well: we need to find joy in the smallest things. Sports are so much about mindsets of going into the gym and psyching yourself up for a phenomenal workout. I equate that to a slice of life—waking up and finding joy every morning.

Bonus Pics:

Amazin Lethi, HIV/AIDS activist, editorial for A&U Magazine.

Amazin LeThi former natural competitive bodybuilder. Self Portrait

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