Bodybuilder Chris Tina Bruce didn't win her first bodybuilding competition in 18 years, but she still feels victorious.
That's because Bruce, a 43-year-old personal trainer in San Diego, is transgender and her participation in the Border States Classic Bodybuilding competition on Oct. 29 represented not just three months of intense physical preparation, but also a lifetime of coming to terms with her true identity as a woman.
The 6-foot, 3-inch Bruce dropped 40 pounds for the event, and while the organizers were OK with a former male competing as female, she admits she was nervous about the reaction her participation would engender.
Although she ended up coming in second in her event, Bruce says she still feels like a winner.
"I came in second and I understand why they couldn't give it to me," Bruce told The Huffington Post. "But I was treated with respect. People, including the other contestants, asked to pose with me. I went in there expecting the worst, but there was no booing."
However, that second-place honor may be as ambiguous as the concept of gender. According to contest organizer John Lindsay, Bruce was only competing against one other contestant, a 48-year-old female bodybuilder.
"Female bodybuilding is dead," Lindsay explained to The Huffington Post, adding that that category usually only attracts one or two contestants.
A female bodybuilder who wasn't at the event but who agreed to speak on background says its common for trophies to be handed out to the top five in each category and that it is also common for competitive bodybuilders who are only competitng against one other person to do as Bruce has and say they came in second.
Bruce says that while her event was on at the early portion of the evening, she believes her participation -- and the international attention it received -- helped attract a huge crowd.
"The parking lot was jammed," Bruce said proudly. "The promoter told me he had a dozen media requests for coverage, but turned them down out of respect to the other contestants. Which, again, I understand. It's a mental game."
Lindsay -- who emphasizes that he thinks Bruce is "a nice guy" and "am glad he participated" -- tells a slightly different story.
"I've been doing this for 25 years and sell out every year, so I see zero impact from him being in the show," Lindsay said. "I will say this, during the preliminary rounds, the other contestant had four supporters there and he had none."
Meanwhile, Bruce says the reaction and support she says she received represents a great moment in her life and she is pleased that other contestants did speak with her rather than be standoffish.
"It reinforced to me that I need to keep doing it," she said proudly.
If she does, it won't be with Lindsay's competition.
"I don't want to rain on the parade, but I was under the impression the hardware had been removed, and it hasn't been," Lindsay said. "We're not going to have men competing against women and I am not setting up a transgender category."
Bruce concedes that she has not surgically transitioned, but says that shouldn't mean anything.
"Hormones are what makes the difference between male and female," she said, adding that, at this point, her penis is just a urethra.
She also says that while she was only competing against one other person, she believes the No. 2 position is a great personal victory.
"Going through what I've gone through will make a person stronger than lifting weights," she said.
Although Bruce is keeping her eye on potential competitions, she also wants to build up her personal training business and has her eyes set on the perfect celebrity client: Chaz Bono, the transgender son of Cher, who has quick-stepped his way to controversy on "Dancing With The Stars" this season.