As the first (and so far only) LGBTQ gym in the country, Oakland-based The Perfect Sidekick, was founded to provide a safe space for both LGBT and straight ally members to work out in an environment that fosters health and community.
With 15% of trans members, the gym offers services specifically tailored to the T. Trainers offer workouts adapted for members who are undergoing gender confirmation surgery, and the locker rooms are non-gender specific. We spoke to Nathalie Huerta, CEO and founder of the gym, about the gym's bold, all-inclusive atmosphere:
Out: How did The Perfect Sidekick come about?
Nathalie Huerta: I googled 'lesbian personal trainer' and the only thing I got back was Jillian Michaels and porn, so I was like, 'Oh, there's nothing out there.' I put my ads on the 'women for women' section, and in that first week I got five clients. Week after week I got more and more clients. Six months later, I had enough of a client base I could afford renting a small space to train them at. That was the beginning of the unplanned inception of the gym. It was not like: 'I want to start the first queer gym!', It was: I'm a lesbian that feels weird and I can't find a place I feel comfortable in, so I'm going to start making one. Six years later, we have a small studio boutique.
What were people's initial response to the gym?
The LGBT niche was the primary attention grabber. But really the magic that happens is the community that's built inside the gym. I'm a self-proclaimed former club rat. So the second part to the gym I really wanted to add was throwing events that promote both health and hanging out. We throw one event called, "Pain & Champagne." It's a free workout to a live DJ followed by a mimosa mixer. And as a community group we started putting on events for clients that need some additional support. I have a member whose mother was recently diagnosed with cancer and we're putting together an event to raise funds for them.
Your website says 15% of your members are part of the trans community, and you offer training specifically tailored for those undergoing surgery. What was the road to The Perfect Sidekick becoming trans-friendly?
In the beginning, it scared me because I didn't know how to serve the trans community. I had the choice of being like 'We're primarily for lesbians, so we're going to focus on marketing to lesbians,' but I made the decision to be legit. We're branding ourselves as LGBT and we can't just leave the GBT out.
We started with Queer 101, which is cultural sensitivity training for our staff and members in the community. It's a safe space for asking all the questions you may not always feel comfortable asking or may feel is inappropriate. Then we have Queer 2.0, which is essentially clinical training for the trainers to understand what somebody on hormone therapy goes through and how the workouts can work with that or against that.
We also educate the trainers on how to train someone who has gone through top-surgery. You can't go and get certified on how to train the trans community, so it's been put upon us to be proactive in getting that information out to our trainers and the community. Right now, we have a campaign going on on our Instagram with Drag Race's Carmen Carrera, leading up to Transgender Visibility Day. It's been a great way to share some of the [trans training] tips we have become familiar with.
Meanwhile, 25% of your members are heterosexual. How has it been having this interesting mixture of lesbians, gays, bis, trans, and straights all working out together in a queer-friendly space?
That's one of my favorite parts about the gym. Seeing people going to get coffee after a workout who would have never talked at a party or a bar. When we do the Queer 101 sessions, half of the people there are straight. They bring their boyfriends or their husbands or their kids and you start to see them become more of an ally because they have a better understanding. And they start to see 'Oh, it's not a trans person, it's just a person...' We have classes based on fitness science, not cultural dynamics. I didn't want to foster any segregation inside the gym.
What are you future plans for the gym?
We are looking at opening a second location within the bay area at the end of the year. There's a lot of learning curves opening the second location, but after that it's copy paste. Long, long term: I would love to be the Starbucks of gay gyms.