This Gym Is Doing Something for Trans People That Even Surgery Can't Do

January 22nd 2016

Taylor Bell

It's already hard enough for transgender people to go through the transitioning process and live life with a new gender identity. But one gym in Oakland, California is making that process a little easier by offering unique training regimens that help them properly adjust and come into to their changing body.

The gym is called the Perfect Sidekick and it was started by Nathalie Huerta in 2010. It is the only LGBT gym in the nation and one of the few places that gives members of the trans community an opportunity to work with trainers who understand how to sculpt their bodies during all stages of their gender transition process.

The Perfect Sidekick

There are unique questions and needs that trans people have after surgery, Huerta told ATTN:.

"Until today, there's no certification on how to train somebody on hormone therapy. There's not much education on how much to train somebody preparing for top surgery or gender reassignment surgery and so these were things that our members were asking for so we just had to take the initiative ourselves and try to go out and find this information somehow."

Related: Laverne Cox Embraces Her Body in Empowering Nude Photo Shoot

The Perfect Sidekick

With the guidance and education from medical professionals, Huerta and her team began training clients undergoing hormone therapy.

For someone transitioning into a male, doctors prescribe testosterone which increases the person's strength and muscle mass faster. At the same time, the hormone limits mobility and flexibility, which can lead to more injuries.

"For people on testosterone they need to understand that this new found strength that they feel--in their mind they are excited about it and they feel great and they want to push themselves a little more than they should, so trainers need to know that so that they can keep an eye on that when they're working out in terms of going to hard or doing too much too soon."

But the opposite is true for a man transitioning to a woman. Transgender women who are often put on estrogen experience an increase in body fat which makes it more difficult for them to lose weight.

The Perfect Sidekick

"They'll get frustrated," Huerta told ATTN:. "They're working hard. They're doing everything they're supposed to be doing but yet they're body fat is increasing, so for someone like that we're putting more emphasis on the strength training to increase muscle. That's the fastest way to increase your metabolism and burn the body fat."

The Perfect Sidekick

In addition to offering tailored workouts, every six months each trainer is required to attend a workshop that provides education on LGBT sensitivity. The gym even has a practice of asking clients their preferred pronoun and constantly works to develop ways to use inclusive language, as per the request of trans members.

At first, helping the trans community was not something that Huerta planned to do. But after members of the trans community continued to leave her gym and accused her of not being inclusive enough, Huerta took action.

Nathalie Huerta

(Above: The Perfect Sidekick founder Nathalie Huerta)

"I could have just ignored it and been like 'Well, we're not for trans people,'" Huerta told ATTN:. "But that didn't feel right to me and I truly believe in inclusitivity, and so if I'm going to say that then I need to be that."

The Perfect Sidekick founder is no stranger to non-inclusive environments. As a woman and as a lesbian she received awkward stares from women in the ladies' locker room and competition from men trying to outdo her in the weight room.

Huerta explained:

"Locker rooms were kind of a weird thing always. People would be like 'Excuse me this is the ladies' room.' Or you notice people covering themselves up, and I was like 'Damn, I just need to pee. That's all I'm here for. I just need to use the restroom.' And in the weight room, when I was presenting more feminine you would get guys approaching me--you know, the whole meat market experience. And then when I presented more masculine, it was like a pissing contest in the gym... so it's wasn't a welcoming experiencing for me. So I thought if I feel this way I can't be the only lesbian that feels this way."

The Perfect Sidekick

It was these experiences — coupled with her desire to have flexible work hours — that Huerta decided to jump back into the fitness business. As a former trainer herself, she started booking clients from Craigslist each week. But within months her number of clients grew, and Huerta was forced to rent a place to keep up with her new clientele.

Although Huerta did not plan to brand her business as a LGBT gym at first, she had a change of heart after taking time to contemplate the direction of her life and if she should move forward with her business full-time.

"I took a three-month hiatus. I sold everything I own and I pretty much traveled for three months just to kind of clear my brain a little bit and came back." Huerta told ATTN:. "And at that point I was like, 'OK let's fucking do this.' So we went into full drive and that's the point where I really claimed the gym as the first and only LGBT gym in the nation."

In a sense, Huerta said that it took three years for the business to "come out."

The Perfect Sidekick now serves 150 members, more than half of whom identify with the LGBT community.

The Perfect Sidekick

However, Huerta's gym has not only been a godsend for the LGBT community, but also for the heterosexual community. Huerta said that straight members — especially straight women — are thankful that they have a space that allows them to feel empowered and not a part of a "meat market" while working out in the weight room.

Moreover, Huerta said that heterosexual members have been the most proactive in making attempts to educate themselves on how to be sensitive to people of the LGBT community by taking the workshop Queer 101.

"We have made the straight members super allies and they're probably the ones who take more initiative when we do things like the Queer 101," Huerta said.

Although only located in Oakland, Huerta told ATTN: that she plans to open another location in the Bay Area soon and hopes to bring the Perfect Sidekick to southern California.