Personal trainer Kel Haines of Columbus, Ohio, was the Bodybuilding Masc Division Overall Winner at last year’s Atlanta-based International Association of Trans Bodybuilders and Powerlifters competition. IATBP’s eighth annual competitions for transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming athletes takes place Saturday, Oct. 1. (Photo by Angel Taylor)

Dozens of athletes from across the state and the country are headed to Atlanta this weekend to participate in the annual International Association of Trans Bodybuilders and Powerlifters competition on Saturday, Oct. 1.

IATBP, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, got its official start in 2014 to meet a call from transgender men who wanted to compete as bodybuilders in a space where their gender identity and physiques were celebrated, not questioned or criticized. Since that time, the organization has evolved to include more gender identities. Timing for such an event remains important as trans athletes, including in Georgia, face ongoing discrimination in public schools and targeted by lawmakers.

“The the cool thing about our organization is that we’re the only organization in the world that offers bodybuilding and powerlifting to transgender athletes, as well as non-binary and gender nonconforming athletes,” said Bucky Motter, executive director of IATBP.

“People are very responsive to us and really appreciate what it is we’re doing because it is very affirming for them to be in their bodies as they picture them,” Motter said.

Bucky Motter, executive director of International Association of Trans Bodybuilders and Powerlifters, an Atlanta-based nonprofit. (Photo by Mark Rosenberg)

The powerlifting meet will be held on Saturday at 2 p.m. in Reynoldstown at CrossFit Downtown Atlanta, 215B Chester Ave. SE. Spectators are not allowed in the gym, but IATBP will be live-streaming the event. Tickets to watch the event are free, but donations can also be made.

The bodybuilding meet will be at 6 p.m. in Little Five Points at 7 Stages Theatre, 1105 Euclid Ave. NE. Tickets for fans who want to sit in the auditorium and cheer the athletes as they pose on stage are $25.

“Everybody’s welcome to come to the bodybuilding competition and even if you’ve never been to a bodybuilding competition before, it’s really kind of crazy,” Motter said.

“People in the audience go nuts. They are rooting for the athlete that they want to win and they’re very vocal,” he said. “It’s so much fun.”

Kel Haines, 34, of Columbus, Ohio, learned about the Atlanta bodybuilding competition after watching “Man Made,” the 2018 documentary about the event.

Last year, he competed and took home the Bodybuilding Masc Division Overall Winner trophy. The cheering from the crowd was a welcome treat after months of strict dieting and working out to develop his winning form. And it was more validation of who he has always been, he said.

“For me, half the reason that being trans can be so difficult is that you feel like you have no control over how the world sees you,” he said.

“Bodybuilding is nice because you’re the artist and it’s like you’re sculpting something out of marble and you just feel like you have complete and utter control of everything,” he said.

“And then stepping on stage and showing off all your hard work and thinking, ‘Look, I did this, this is who I am,’ — this is what I want to see in the world and how I want people to perceive me,” Haines said. “It’s really empowering.”

IATBP powerlifting meet director Janae Marie Kroc, in front, with non-binary powerlifter winners at last year’s competition. (Photo by Ames Beckerman)

Motter said powerlifting is a sport for people of any body shape and continues to grow in popularity among LGBTQ athletes.

“I’m not saying they have it any easier,” he said. “It’s a it’s a very mental sport. Being able to lift a certain amount of weight and go for personal records at competitions takes a particular mindset.”

But more than competitions and trophies, IATBP is about providing a supportive place for trans people around the world to compete in bodybuilding and powerlifting, no matter where they are on the transgender or non-binary/gender nonconforming spectrum, Motter said.

“We want every bodybuilder and every powerlifter in the world know that they have a home with us,” Motter said. “And this helps raise the visibility of trans people and non-binary people and gender nonconforming people to be safe in this world.”

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.