Xander Marquez, 22, is determined to build up his chest muscles so he can carry his three dogs, collectively weighing about 120 pounds, out of his apartment building in the event of a fire. That, and so he’ll get better results from his upcoming chest surgery – the next step in his transition toward a fully male physique.
Trouble is, the ultra-tight chest binder he wears daily to flatten his top half can make certain exercises painful and risky for his spine, he said. At most gyms he’d be afraid to ask for advice on the matter, or even change clothes in the locker room. When he heard about Queer Movement, a new class at BodyTribe Fitness that caters to people across the gender spectrum, he though it might be a perfect fit.
“Beyond just the typical scariness of not wanting to out yourself, there’s also a mentality in standard gyms that’s very hyper-masculine that may not be very welcoming,” Marquez said. “It’s great to have this space and a trainer who’s so willing to figure out the best way for me to accomplish my goals while still protecting my body.”
At a recent strength-and-conditioning class, instructor Molly Jupitus guided Marquez and a handful of other students as they dead-lifted bar weights, hauled sand bags and maneuvered over mats and boxes with a combination of crab walks, crawls and jumps. The group, diverse in their fitness levels, gender presentations and hair styles, shared friendly banter between exercises, often applauding one another after a difficult stunt or lending a hand with a heavy lift.
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Jupitus, an apprentice at BodyTribe with a background in physical movement for theater, said she launched the class in April to give people who might otherwise feel dislocated in the fitness world a place to feel empowered and have fun.
“I had this idea of building a community group with my own community – I looked around and there wasn’t much,” she said. “We’re told often that we’re disgusting, our lifestyles are disgusting, our bodies are disgusting. To encourage people to use their body in a functional way, it’s a change of mindset – a checkout for the hour from what you have to deal with in life.”
Marquez, who started transitioning to male at age 16, said he once considered walking his dogs an adequate amount of exercise. He now shows up at BodyTribe three times a week and is working toward uprighting a 400-pound tire. Every physical achievement is a step toward feeling at home in his own skin, he said.
“I can’t speak for all trans people, but for me there’s such a disconnect between your mental persona and your body because it just doesn’t match up,” he said. “Using the space to work on my body has helped me feel more comfortable in myself, which is really important.”
Many LGBT people feel alienated at mainstream gyms because of how strictly those spaces enforce the gender binary, or the division between male and female, said Alex Filippelli, a transgender triathlete, who serves as a mental health program manager at Sacramento’s Gender Health Center.
Gym bathrooms and locker rooms, as well as weightlifting areas and cardio equipment rooms, are often pre-defined as male or female zones, he said. Even gym clothing, he noted, is “designed to provide comfort and support and to complement people’s workouts based on a very specific set of assumptions,” which can make people who don’t adhere to standard gender presentations feel self-conscious.
Queer Movement, like all BodyTribe classes, takes place in a high-ceilinged industrial suite off Richards Boulevard. There are no mirrors and no machines – only monkey bars, beams and other structures that encourage students to use their bodies in playful and unconventional ways. Punk rock plays over the speakers, and attire is come-as-you-are.
Filippelli noted that while classes such as Queer Movement are an important first step, the ultimate hope is for “an undoing of the gender binary so queer folks don’t need to find queer spaces.”
In the meantime, Sacramento’s LGBT athletes are continuing to carve out their niche in the exercise industry. The Yoga Seed downtown offers Queer Community Yoga, and Frontrunners LGBT jogging and walking club meets weekly at local parks.
The queer fitness movement has been surging in recent years as LGBT people become more visible in society, said Nathalie Huerta, founder of The Perfect Sidekick in Oakland, which calls itself the nation’s only LGBT gym.
Huerta opened the facility six years ago, fed up with the hostility she faced while trying to work out, she said.
“As my gender expression changed through the years, I noticed that had a direct negative impact on my experience at the gym,” she said. “ As I cut my hair and started to look more butch, the locker room got really weird.”
At The Perfect Sidekick, Huerta offers gender-neutral locker rooms and trans-specific personal training. She is now at capacity with 1,200 visitors each month, and is looking to open a second location to meet the demand.
“We’re finally speaking up,” she said. “We’re finally getting some visibility and taking a stand for our rights in terms of health and wellness.”
Queer Movement at BodyTribe Fitness
Sundays, 10 a.m. to noon
1106 N. D St., Suite 7
More info: 916-743-6974