The gym can be intimidating at first, especially for queer students confronted with gendered spaces. So UF’s Trans Health + Wellness Initiative tries to make it easier.
“Everyone has a right to be in fitness spaces,” UF applied physiology and kinesiology third-year and THWI president Dahlia Wrubluski said.
THWI hopes to provide queer students with the tools they might need to start their fitness journey free from stigma and social barriers. On Oct. 4, the club hosted a meeting in collaboration with RecSports to provide students with an introduction to gym facilities and exercise techniques.
THWI started last Spring and has hosted events promoting open conversations about what health and wellness mean to the transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming communities.
Wrubluski said THWI’s main purpose is to “deprioritize looks in fitness” and create a space where students can break down the unspoken cis-normative nature of fitness culture and feel comfortable engaging in physical activity.
UF English freshman Miles Wasser, who identifies as non-binary, explained that the gym environment heavily relies on gender roles and often alienates those who fall outside of the gender binary.
“It really does not feel welcoming to anyone is isn’t cis-presenting,” Wasser said. “It’s not just focusing on aspects of your body and how you’re moving, it’s also analyzing ‘am I moving in a way that looks more masculine or feminine?’”
THWI hopes to assist queer students in their fitness activities by educating about gym resources and creating safe spaces where they can exercise with a sense of safety and confidence.
“I realized there was a need for trans-inclusive health that goes beyond reproductive and hormonal health and focuses on holistic preventative health, and exercise, fitness and wellness are some of the things that are central to preventative health,” Wrubluski said.
The meeting was surrounded by a sense of community within the attendees. The close-knit group met in Little Hall and had an open conversation about why fitness matters in the queer community.
“What we tried to do was put together a presentation that would be inclusive enough to be able to accommodate any needs and hopefully break down barriers,” Cory Bennett, RecSport’s fitness programs assistant director, said.
The meeting covered “Gym 101,” which included basic gym etiquette, general body mechanics and how to overcome the initial anxiety of going into a gym space for the first time.
Bennett talked about the different resources that RecSports offers to students to make it easier to start their fitness and exercise journey. He emphasized the resources at the InMotion Center, located at Southwest Recreation Center, which offers a series of 45-minute informational sessions focusing on the specifics of getting started at the gym.
“We have a lot of services that are available that can help people learn the basics to exercise and that are mostly for free,” Bennett said. “Our hope is that people are going to be able to come here after those appointments and experience it for themselves.”
The individual sessions provide students with equipment orientation, instructions on how to operate the RecSports facilities and where to find the different spaces offered at those, and individual comprehensive fitness assessments to help establish healthy fitness goals.
By providing students with information about the resources at RecSports, THWI hopes to relieve the anxiety that queer students might experience when it comes to going to fitness spaces.
“It’s just about having a place to work out without having to worry about sticking out like a sore thumb, and about having a place to work on your body free of judgment,” Wasser said.
The club also offers panels with health and fitness experts as well as social events to promote a sense of community support with students.
“On one hand, I want for trans and intersex people at UF and around Gainesville to feel comfortable claiming a space in a gym or a team,” Wrubluski said. “And on the other hand we also have a goal of educating pre-health students on campus about trans and intersex health.”
THWI will soon host a follow-up panel with RecSports to open a conversation about making fitness facilities more accessible to transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming individuals.
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Kristine Villarroel is a second-year journalism student at the University of Florida and a staff writer with the Avenue. In her free time, you can usually find her making playlists or talking about the full moon.