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    This Is What It's Like To Work Out At An LGBT Gym

    I had to try out the "Hardcore Homo" strength class for myself.

    Working out at the gym can be a stressful and uncomfortable experience — even more so if you're a member of the LGBT community. The Perfect Sidekick, an LGBT gym just outside San Francisco, is attempting to change all that.

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    The Oakland gym boasts being the first LGBT gym in the country. And, at least for now, they seem to be the only one.

    Being a queer lady who also hopes to one day be in some sort of shape, I had to admit I was curious. I went ahead and signed myself up for the "Hardcore Homo" strength class.

    Sarah karlan for BuzzFeed
    Sarah karlan for BuzzFeed

    That afternoon I sent a selfie to my girlfriend to prove I was actually working out (a rarity) and strolled up to the entrance flanked by rainbow bike racks. It also happened to be 4/20 so there was a ~ special deal ~ going on.

    Nathalie Huerta — CEO, Founder, and self-proclaimed Chief of Making Shit Happen — met me at the door.

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    Sadly, I wasn't getting a special greeting — each and every new client gets a tour from Huerta on their first day. The queer Latina mother of two walked me around the space she opened nearly six years ago and admitted that its existence is actually a bit of an accident.

    "There was never an actual plan for it," Huerta, who worked as a personal trainer before heading to business school, told me. It was only when she moved her personal training ad on Craiglist to the "women seeking women" section (for less competition with other trainers) that the clients started rolling in.

    "That first week I got five clients and from there it just kept on coming," she said. By the time winter rolled around, Huerta had enough of a client base to rent out a small space and move the workouts indoors. Within a year she had outgrown the space and it would take two more moves to land where they are now on Park Boulevard.

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    One gender-neutral bathroom is all you need, really.

    The gym itself is bare bones, offering a mix of group classes and personal training. There are no treadmills, no luxurious showers, no sauna room, and, most strikingly, not one single mirror. But clients aren't signing up for the amenities, they're coming for the sense of community and a safe space to sweat.

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    Huerta told me the gym's success stems mostly from trial and error. "Mostly error," she admits. Early on she noticed transgender clients would sign up, but only stay for a month or two. They informed her the gym simply wasn't fully inclusive.

    "It's not just about putting the "T" up there, it's about understanding what that means and how you can truly be inclusive," Huerta explained.

    After reaching out to local members of the trans community and health professionals, the gym put new standards in place. Trainers say "chest" instead of "breasts" during workouts, each class starts with individuals sharing their preferred pronouns, and trainers tailor special workouts for clients undergoing gender transitions. "I wanted to be legit in terms of the LGBT title. It was about being authentic." To ensure the utmost inclusivity, classes are never broken down or targeted towards one section of the community. Everyone is welcome to join — including straight allies.

    "One thing I love seeing is people go grab coffee after class, people who would probably never have met each other at a bar or any other place," she added.

    Nowadays Huerta allows her clients call the shots, listening to feedback on the gym's Facebook page for guidance.

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    It's important to have a trainer who understands not only what you envision for your body, but also how to best achieve those results. For many transgender individuals, that can be a complicated topic. Enter Nicole, one of several trans trainers at TPS.

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    As Nicole wrote up the plan for class that day (which looked completely awful to me), I asked her how she liked working at TPS. She started three months ago after dealing with several incidents of discrimination at her former gym.

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    "I was in a body building gym," she said of her last job. "There were a lot of stares on the floor." At TPS, she no longer has to worry about those types of incidents.

    As a trainer, Nicole can connect with any trans clients currently going through transitions on a very personal level. "When I started my transition, anytime I would get off on my estrogen — if my levels were off — I would go to the rack and I would lift and lift."

    "It's therapy," she said of the atmosphere in the gym. "When you're able to share that and connect with people, that's a good thing."

    After all the walking and talking around the space, I nearly forgot what I had come there to do: Work out. I may be a lesbian, but I am not the stereotypical soft-ball playing sort. Athletically speaking, I'm completely average.

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    The small class was a mix of jogging around the block, burpees, crunches, and plenty of soul-crushing reps with weights. Many high-fives from Nicole kept me from wanting to melt into my mat.

    One hour later, I was only slightly more of a hardcore homo — but as an added bonus I got to meet a bunch of truly amazing humans. IDK, maybe that's just the endorphins talking.

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    Once I regained consciousness, I chatted with some of my classmates about how they found TPS. "I didn't want just a trainer, I wanted a workout family," one woman told me, adding that her classmates often text her if she hasn't been to class in a while — as a friendly and supportive nudge.

    Someone else mentioned that this was the very first gym they had ever felt comfortable walking into.

    With so many queer spaces disappearing and with some states even passing laws allowing for discrimination, I for one hope that this whole queer gym thing catches on. I could use the workout.