The fitness industry has a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity and diversity. But one person striving to help LGBTQ+ people feel at home in the gym is Em Donkers, also known to their fans as NRG Fitness.
Em shares challenging workouts, supplement and nutrition advice, and their own experiences as a non-binary person in an effort to inspire others to be their authentic selves.
We interviewed Em to find out how they were able to embrace their identity through fitness, what makes them feel confident in the gym, and where the industry can build upon a promising foundation for inclusivity.
“Social media is very powerful”
Social media is the digital wild west, and though there is toxicity to be overcome it really does connect isolated members of marginalised communities with the rest of the world.
Em has not only offered a means of support for LGBTQ+ people, but they’ve found a community through social media that’s helped them come into their own too.
“I’ve been able to connect with, and see myself in others. Social media is very powerful and has allowed me to connect with people all over the world who are more like me, and have allowed us to create a community online where we can thrive. Such as my Instagram page. Having a community that has similar goals, thoughts, and lifestyle has been very helpful in understanding who I am.”
“You belong just as much as anyone else, even if society hasn't caught up”
LGBTQ+ people can so often have a complicated relationship with the gym due to things like binary changing rooms. We wanted to know what advice Em would give to someone wanting to embark on a fitness journey, but didn’t feel comfortable stepping into a gym.
“Why let others' opinions, or even looks, stop you from achieving your goals or being happy? Their thoughts can only hurt you if you let them. Be proud of who you are, that you don't look like everyone else, that you are noticed, and that people notice you because you are original, a trailblazer.
You belong just as much as anyone else, even if society hasn't caught up to the times. You can always bring a workout buddy to make you feel more secure. Be bold, be proud, be you.”
“More gender-neutral bathrooms”
Practical steps are a vital element of change to help people feel more comfortable. Em points to ways gyms around the world have made changes to make them more welcoming for all, including things like single stall shower rooms instead of open changing rooms.
Another key element of change Em points to is “more gender-neutral bathrooms”, something that’s already commonplace in many other social areas like workplaces and restaurants.
Gender-neutral changing rooms are popping up more and more across fitness spaces in the UK too, like fitness studio TRIB3, which became one of the first in the UK to have gender-neutral changing facilities when they launched in Sheffield in 2017.
Em also explains that gym staff and personal trainers can make changes. For example, not assuming someone’s identity, Em says that although it seems polite to say “how can I help you sir?”, simply asking “how can I help you?” removes any potential discomfort. It's a win-win!
“Even if you don't feel confident, try to pretend that you do”
When it comes to confidence, Em is a big believer in the ‘fake it till you make it’ mentality. That and knowledge are key to walking in and feeling empowered for an amazing workout.
“Even if you don't feel confident, try to pretend that you do, and then eventually even you'll believe it! People respect and don't mess with confidence, so I think if you can keep your head up, and act like you own the place, you're more likely to be respected and left alone.
I feel very confident in my fitness and sport background, and nutrition, which gives me great confidence while in the gym. I also have a great understanding of how to use the equipment, which can really help as well. Being a personal trainer definitely helps. Maybe do some homework, watch some YouTube videos on how to use equipment, that way you feel confident once you're there and actually can use it. Going to the gym with a friend can also help gain confidence and understanding.”
Confidence takes time. Start slow, build up your knowledge, and maybe bring a friend along until you feel like you can take on the gym solo. It will take time but it’ll be worth it.
Take home message
There is so much work left to be done to make gyms a more welcoming place for everyone. Because everyone deserves the space to work on themselves and build up their fitness. Em is doing an incredible job at making those in the LGBTQ+ community recognise they have a space at the fitness table, and we’re supporting them all the way.Follow Em’s page for brilliant fitness and nutrition advice.
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