WEIRD NEWS
10/28/2011 08:32 am ET Updated Dec 28, 2011

Chris Bruce, Transgender Bodybuilder, Competes As A Woman 20 Years After Doing It As A Man

A transgender bodybuilder who competed as a man 20 years ago is now coming back to the sport as a woman.

Back in the early 1990s, Chris Gary Bruce competed in male bodybuilding contests. He was good, but only up to a point.

"To compete at a high level, you need to dedicate yourself to training three months before a competition in order to get your bodyfat down to 2 or 3 percent," Bruce told HuffPost Weird News. "That's hard to do if you're trying to raise a family and run a business."

Bruce, a 42-year-old personal trainer living in San Diego, will get another chance to go for the gold on Oct. 29 at the Border States Classic Bodybuilding competition -- but this time, it will be as Chris Tina Bruce, and she will be competing as a woman.

It's the culmination of a long journey that included divorce and surgery, but gave Bruce inner peace.

"I had to come to terms with the transgendered issue," admitted Bruce. "I tried to get away from the things I did as a guy, but I decided I had to be me."

"I am perfectly fine that a typical male-to-female transgender wants to be girly, but don't put me in that bag," said Bruce, who speaks with a voice that's anything but "girly." "This is me. I race cars and I love football. I may be a third hybrid."

Growing up, few people were aware that the 6-foot, 3-inch Bruce secretly identified as a female -- and she didn't make any attempt to let friends or family in on the secret.

Instead, Bruce tried to satisfy her feminine side by cross-dressing. Working in sales allowed Bruce to wear dresses while away from the family.

However, Bruce's cross-dressing helped lead to a divorce in 2007, though her ex-wife didn't find out she was transgender until earlier this year, according to the Dallas Voice.

"She hates it," Bruce told the publication.

Although his ex-wife was worried about how their kids -- a son, 12, and a daughter, 8 -- would react, Bruce says that so far, their children have adjusted well.

"I think they'd rather see Dad being honest and be happier as a result," Bruce told HuffPost Weird News.

In 2008, Bruce began taking hormones, testosterone blockers and undergoing plastic surgery. By 2009, the transformation was complete.

In order to compete in her debut bodybuilding competition as a woman, Bruce had to slim down from 230 pounds to 190 and, obviously, lift a lot of weights. But the most important thing she lifted was the pencil she picked up to write the contest organizers.

"I explained who I was and my story and they were fine with letting me compete as a woman," Bruce said.

Event promoter Jon Lindsay told Fox 5 San Diego that his organization conducts neither drug nor gender tests at the event, and welcomed Bruce into the ladies' competition.

WATCH: CHRIS TINA BRUCE EXPLAINS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE BODYBUILDING (Story continues below)

But competitors like Laurie Delaney aren't happy to share a spot on the podium with Bruce.

"This just isn't a normal man walking the street who has now decided to become a female," former bodybuilder Delaney told Fox 5 San Diego. "This is a bodybuilding male."

Delaney, who will be competing in the fitness division, added that Bruce has a decided advantage.

"Chris has had the opportunity to descend, if you will, while other females have had to ascend to that same level," Delaney said. "So they've had [to] up or boost their testosterone levels to get to the same levels. Where Chris has had the opportunity to build muscle as a man."

Bruce doesn't give Delaney's comments much weight and points out that his situation presents disadvantages as well.

"I could be at a disadvantage because they may not like a transgender person competing," she told Fox 5 San Diego.

Even if Bruce doesn't win the competition, her presence -- and the growing visibility of transgender activists like Chaz Bono, of "Dancing With The Stars" fame -- is already having a positive effect on other transgender people, like Lana Moore, a fire captain in Columbus, Ohio, who underwent male-to-female transition.

"By putting themselves in the public eye, people like Chis and Chaz show people that, like any other segment of the population, we are not all the same," Moore said. "We come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. Once you've met one transgender person, you've met ... one transgender person. By telling their stories and living their lives with dignity Chaz and Chris help bring down the walls of misunderstanding so that more and more people see us as human beings."

Bruce is hoping to have that effect, and she says she's already benefitted from Bono's appearances on the hit ABC series.

"One of my friends has a very conservative mom who, five years ago, wouldn't have accepted this, but now she sees Chaz and says, 'He looks so happy.'"