When I tell other Instructors, “Once I found the bike, I found my home”, they nod and their eyes widen with that universal understanding of the belonging and oneness that comes with our respective programs. RPM Instructors all know the feeling of clipping into the bike, pushing the pedals and letting the music envelop their consciousness. Despite being connected to a machine, doing RPM is both empowering and liberating.
What made my homecoming unique, however, was that the gym was a place I never thought I could belong; I never imagined that fitness could be a part of my life. It was a door that seemed closed to me. RPM changed all that.
I have the great privilege of being one of very few transgender Instructors.
As a trans man – a person assigned female at birth, but who now identifies as male – the gym was one of many places where I felt unsafe, unwelcome, and decidedly “other”. While I’ve managed to avoid harassment in a gym facility, I have faced physical violence and verbal abuse in similar situations. The gym is a heavily gendered environment, with intense focus on one’s physical body. To even walk in the door was to put myself at risk, because gendered areas such as locker rooms can be dangerous for trans people. When a trans person doesn’t “pass” visibly as their identified gender, the consequences range from dirty looks, to harassment and complaints, and even assault.
There is no way to predict how staff and other members will perceive a trans person, other than to enter the space and choose to exist therein. I’ve been lucky so far. When I began hormone therapy, I finally had a platform upon which I could rebuild myself; I had the tools I needed to find health, fitness, and confidence. Les Mills classes were a huge part of that journey. Starting hormones gave me the internal boost I needed to feel safe in a space as body-focused as a gym. RPM was where I found my home.
I won’t lie – part of the appeal of the cycle studio was the dim lighting. I snuck onto a bike in the corner, head down, with my heart in my throat. My focus was safety and survival… until the music started. We all know that moment; the lightbulb, the fireworks, the quiet epiphany. The beats and the bike made me feel at ease instantly. Moreover, the energy in the room and the atmosphere set by the instructor made me feel like I was welcome, and part of something special.
“Becoming an Instructor meant that my identity was literally on display for all to see – no small matter.”
Imagine my delight to discover that group fitness was a place of welcoming and acceptance! Imagine my relief to discover that I was one of “them”, and part of the pack; I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. Just like that, I was hooked. The journey of the RPM class was the all-consuming highlight of my day, and intrinsic to my personal journey. Ride by ride I grew faster, stronger, fitter, and more confident. In climbing mountains in the studio, I felt equipped to climb the figurative mountains beyond. This part of my journey is a lot like yours; that passion put me on the path towards instructing, again pushing the limits of my comfort in my own skin.
Becoming an Instructor meant that my identity was literally on display for all to see – no small matter. There were some people who tried to dissuade me from going to training, concerned that my identity as trans may not be palatable to members. Time and again I was reminded that my body was a liability – I was not always visibly perceived as male, which often led to awkward moments with members and other Instructors. Being on stage, I risked exacerbating those moments; to instruct on stage with a trans body was effectively to come out as such to the world.
I’m grateful that the right people believed in me. I was blessed to have a very supportive Trainer, as well as my GFM and team members back home. Like Glen, I refused to take "no" for an answer. I have always believed that group fitness is for everybody – and every body. Regardless of age, race, gender, orientation, faith, or ability – there is a space for everyone in group fitness. From day one I have sought to embody that philosophy in my classes. Over the years I have seen my members embrace my philosophy as well. As we’ve grown together, I've twice been named the RPM finalist for "The One" in Canada, an incredible validation of a journey with humble beginnings.
This year I finally had my chest reconstructed, an expensive and painful surgery. I returned “home” to the bike six weeks later feeling like a brand new man – literally. I feel honored and privileged to be on the bike week after week, helping my members to feel as good as I do. This year has brought a renewed sense of focus and purpose to my classes. For the first time, I truly feel #limitless.
I feel compelled to share my journey because the trans community has a complicated relationship with fitness. Across the globe, trans people are less likely to participate in fitness activities, citing discomfort and fear for their safety as the deterrents. The gym can be an intimidating place, because the relationships between trans people and their bodies are complicated; it is jarring and discouraging to feel as though the very skin you inhabit doesn’t fit you. For many trans people, that discomfort and dysphoria is overwhelming, and thus physical activity and fitness become too much to bear.
I know of only two other trans Instructors in the world, but I know there could be so many more, if we all felt welcome in the studio. I think it’s important to share these stories to show the trans community that anything is possible, and to show our Instructor community as a whole how beautiful and diverse we are; that with some drive and hard work anyone from anywhere can be a part of our Tribe. As Les Mills continues to evolve, our practices around equity and inclusion will ensure we have room for everyone. I believe in all of us, and I challenge us all to continue creating inclusive and supportive environments for all who wish to be part of our global Tribe.
Emmett Lowry has been an Instructor for five years. He is based in Ontario, Canada, where he teaches RPM AND CXWORX. Follow Emmett on Instagram @rpemmett