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On a Sunday in a tiny gym in Brookline, personal trainer Justice Williams is teaching Leo Morris a stretch called the Brettzel (which looks like whatever you're imagining).
"Yass," Williams shouts. "There you go. Elbows down."
"Jesus," Morris says with exasperation.
"Yass," Williams shouts again. "And hold. Very nice."
Morris, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, is among about 10 people working out who identify as gay, trans and/or queer.
This is "Queer Gym." Williams, who started it, says it's a place where people can work out if they're in the LGBTQ+ community and don't feel comfortable in regular gyms. He says going to a gym can be an awkward experience for many people, but that vulnerability is amplified when your body or mannerisms don't conform to people's interpretation of how you should be.
"[Gyms] are hyper-masculine, they're toxic, they're about an aesthetic," Williams says. "Being part of the LGBT community, I've observed and noticed that people don't feel comfortable in gyms today."
Morris, who Williams is teaching the Brettzel stretch to, recently had top surgery — which is an operation to remove breast tissue to reflect a person's gender expression. And Morris says that causes people to stare.
"When you're working out, you just want to focus on your workout. But when you know that other people are staring at you and then sometimes talking about you, it can be distracting," Morris says. "It can be demoralizing, you know, when you're supposed to be pumping yourself up in the gym."
Among those working out on this day: two straight women who say they don't have to worry about being ogled here like they would in a regular gym.
Eddie Maisonet, who is trans, says he wears sleeveless shirts when he works out and has also noticed people staring at the scars from his top surgery. But Maisonet says at Queer Gym, no one stares and the visibility is only positive.
"Here, we're looking at each other, but we're so supportive," he says. "It's people trying to take pointers or make sure you're not hurting yourself as opposed to feeling like a spectacle."
Maisonet says other physical trainers he's worked with didn't know how to work with trans people. But Williams does.
"If I tell Justice, 'yo, this hurts', he'll give me a modification or tell me to take a break," Maisonet says. "So, I feel listened to and I feel a lot stronger, and that kind of confidence — there's not many places in my life where I can get that."
Creating confidence is why Williams says he became a personal trainer. Williams is trans, too. And 10 years ago, he couldn't find a personal trainer who understood his journey when he needed to lose weight before starting gender-affirming hormone therapy.
"I decided to go to a gym and I had a very negative experience with a trainer there," Williams says. "And that forced me to learn on my own, so that I could teach myself the proper way to workout, to be in my body, to polish my armor."
And today, Williams' armor couldn't be shinier. Now, he's hoping to offer that protection to whoever comes to Queer Gym.
"Each movement that I do with my clients — the people that I work with — we celebrate being in our skin and that's what I want to create, that type of energy, loving ourselves regardless."Queer Gym trainer Justice Williams
For Queer Gym, Williams rents the space at CORE, a gym in Brookline, every other Sunday. He says too few spaces exist that are explicitly for LGBTQ people and this space honors their existence.
"To move in our bodies and to be in our skin should be a celebration," Williams says. "Each movement that I do with my clients — the people that I work with — we celebrate being in our skin and that's what I want to create, that type of energy, loving ourselves regardless."
He says the ultimate goal is to arm people with the confidence to navigate all gyms. But until then, Williams says he'll try to maintain and expand Queer Gym for as long as necessary.
This segment aired on September 20, 2019.
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