Jodie used to feel unsafe working out. These gyms want to change that
Jodie Nagyivan used to feel unsafe at the gym. The Aboriginal trans woman, from Gunai Kurnai nation, says it wasn’t unusual for her to experience harassment, with other gym-goers being deliberately intimidating, or gendered microaggressions from trainers who gave her male-centric exercises.
Jodie Nagyiván now trains at queer and trans-friendly gym called Non Gendered Fitness, in Melbourne’s Ringwood.Credit:Justin McManus
Nagyivan, 28, says she would openly state her fitness goals, her areas of concern for gaining and losing mass, and her desire to look feminine – and yet she was constantly given fitness routines designed for bulking up.
“I would go there [to the gym] and a lot of my experiences were like, ‘well, you clearly look like a guy, so these are the exercises you have to do’,” she says.
As a result, she tried to evade others: “I would show up at the earliest hours, just to try and avoid everybody.”
Nagyivan now trains at a queer and trans-friendly gym called Non Gendered Fitness, in Melbourne’s Ringwood, and she is thrilled to be back now that lockdown has ended. It’s one of several new gyms popping up that offer a safe space for trans, gender diverse and queer folk to train.
“What we found with people who come to our space – and there’s a few others around in Melbourne that are similar – is that it’s more about how do you want to move, what is helping you feel good,” says Bowie Stover, fitness and strength coach at Non Gendered Fitness.
“Gyms tend to have a macho image.”
“Just learning how to move your body in a way that helps you feel stronger and helps you feel better in everyday life.”
Another Melbourne gym that has a similar ethos is Pony Club Gym in Brunswick, which aims to “create space for those who typically would struggle to access a usual gym setting”.
The gym’s owner, Ella Mason, who is in the LGBTQI community, says it’s important for some spaces to be owned by people who have historically sat on the fringes because they come with a more informed understanding.
“I think queer people have always had the experience of having to fit into a heteronormative space, rather than the other way around,” Mason says. “That’s not to say not all queer spaces are equal, because, you know, people’s experience of being queer is different.”
Further to this, one study by Victoria University noted that while there have been extensive social attitude changes to LGBTQI+ Australians in the last decade, sport and exercise still retain “heteronormative attitudes” which can make queer folk feel isolated or silenced.
“Gyms tend to have a macho image, where if you’re not lifting your body weight in iron – ‘do you even lift bro?’ – it can feel intimidating,” says Matt Smith, owner of PRIDE FITNESS in Sydney. “You feel out of place. It explains the rise in female-only gyms. The same principle applies to queer-specific places.”
“I have to stress, Pride Fitness isn’t just for the queer community – we’re for anyone who is accepting and tolerant, and allies are an important, and fun, part of our mix.”
For Mason, it’s also about continually checking in to make sure the space she’s providing is safe and inclusive.
“You don’t just become an inclusive safe space and then that’s it; that’s continually evolving based on who’s coming through the door. So, I always have to be very mindful of going, ‘OK, who still can’t have access or who still doesn’t feel safe in the space?’” says Mason.
“Because people are always going to come in with new experiences.”
What’s more, Mason says she has noticed a special exchange of education and understanding between gym members who have different gender identities.
“It’s not forced, it’s not dogmatic. It’s just this gentle exchange of compensation that happens between two different people that might not hang out in the same space – and I think that’s so important.”
For Nagyivan, the emergence of these new spaces means she can train and receive fitness advice from trainers who have greater awareness. And that, she says, “is a breath of fresh air”.
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