As a competitive swimmer in Tallahassee, we trained outdoors year round, winters included. In this northernmost part of Florida, winters get damned cold. When the pool deck froze into a solid sheet of ice, you had to walk – in your Speedo, mind you – from the locker room to the pool at just the right speed…quick enough that your feet didn’t stick to the ice, fast enough that you didn’t slip and fall. Miscalculate and you died of exposure.

OK. So that only happened once. The pool deck freezing over, that is. No one ever died of exposure.

But we all thought we might die of exposure. Which wasn’t such a crazy thought, given all we had were 15 cm of lycra and 5% body fat stretched over our shivering bones. Even if the whole deck only froze over once, kickboards did freeze onto the deck and icicles did form off the starting blocks whenever it dropped below 32 degrees. On those days, we undressed very slowly. We vowed to quit swimming and take up a nice indoor sport like knitting. Then we huddled at the door of the warm locker room, immobilized by the impossibility of the present, cruel situation.

At which point Coach came over and growled:  It’s not cold; it’s just your skin.

Coach was, as always, physiologically correct. Your perception of cold is all about your skin, which is loaded up with thermoreceptors. These thermoreceptors are either cold receptors or warm receptors. There’s not a certain temperature (70 degrees, let’s say), above which the warm receptors kick in and below which the cold receptors do their job. Rather, cold receptors respond to a decrease in temperature, while warm receptors respond to an increase. The stimulus is a change in temperature.

So when you stepped out of your toasty house onto your not so toasty porch this morning, your thermoreceptors perked up and sent a message (“I’m stimulated!”) over to your spinal cord, which shot the info up your spinothalamic pathway to the ventral posterior nucleus of your thalamus, then onwards to the primary somatosensory cortex of your brain.

From the somatosensory cortex, information hopped onto bundles of association fibers and made their way to your prefrontal cortex.

Stay with me now. The prefrontal cortex is really great. It’s where you’re smart (by having a working memory, judgment, and abstract reasoning) and where you’re you (by having a personality, moods, and emotions).

It’s also where you transform the raw information coming over from your somatosensory cortex – “there’s been a downward change in temperature at my skin” – into something else entirely: “It’s miserable outside and it would be much safer if I stayed inside eating Frito pies and watching another episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter.”

You – being your body – are actually not cold at all. You are a good and warm 98.6 degrees. The fact is, your prefrontal cortex knows nothing about whether you’re cold or not cold. But that doesn’t stop it from laying a judgmental gloss on the information that’s coming in from your skin. Incoming sensory information is just information, with all the judgments and feelings being tacked on ex post facto by the prefrontal cortex.

When the information coming in has to do with a change – here, in temperature – the judgment put onto that information by the prefrontal cortex tends to be negative and a bit paranoid. This has to do with your body’s need to maintain homeostasis, patriarchal capitalist mass market advertising’s need to freak you out, and other things beyond the scope of this little blog post. Suffice to say, the judgments our prefrontal cortexes glom onto the raw sensory information tends to be both unhelpful and inaccurate.

Wherein Queerfit? We are now in the part of the year where it will get, well, cold. Queerfit may find an indoor space for the winter, or we may not. Either way, it is always harder to get dressed, get out, and get moving when the ambient temperature drops below 60 degrees.

Being a grown-ass adult means that when you’re wavering at the door, wanting to go back inside, no Coach is going to appear to growl at you. Thus, this here appeal to the complex reasoning abilities of your prefrontal cortex, explaining why, exactly, it’s not cold, it’s just your skin.  As much as we love and appreciate our prefrontal cortex, that thing can really do screwy things with the raw data it gets from the rest of the body.

But the reasons the prefrontal cortex does screwy things is because it’s a super-malleable part of the brain. Think of it as the Romney-brain. You can change this part of your brain as easily as Mittens changes his position on abortion. This is good news! We may not have much control over how our amygdala responds to a leopard leaping out of the grass at us (fight, flight, or freeze), but we have a ton of control over what kind of value judgment we place on, for example, queerfitting outside in the cold.

The added bonus about it’s not cold, it’s just your skin is that it’s like duct tape, fun to apply in all parts of life. Pain, for example, tends to be lumped together in an undifferentiated mass and given a thumbs-down rating as something to be avoided. One way to overcome this is to have someone else growl, yell, or otherwise berate you into lifting more weight or continuing on when you get out of breath doing burpees. Another way is to simply unhitch your sensation of pain or discomfort from your negative value judgment. Once you’ve assessed that the pain you’re feeling is not injury pain, there’s no reason to judge it as bad. It’s not cold, it’s just your skin. It’s not bad, it’s just pain. It’s not deadly, it’s just unrequited love. It’s not evil, it’s just Limburger cheese.

It’s 53 degrees in Atlanta today. Oh, lovely! See y’all at 6:15 at Phoenix Park, 715 Ami Street between Grant Park and Turner Field.