The fitness industry is empowering for many people, providing a way for them to build self-confidence and truly find themselves. It has the potential to be at the forefront of societal change through this ability to change the lives of so many. Progress is exciting but — as with many industries — there is still work that needs to be done before complete accessibility is achieved. The goal must be fitness for all.
Throughout LQBTQ+ history month we are celebrating our ambassadors at the forefront of positive change in the fitness community, whether through advocating for themselves and knowing why they belong, or supporting others through their fitness journeys.
One person who’s successfully making a difference is Em Donkers (who also goes by Ben), who you may know as the person behind NRG Fitness, an LGBT+ fitness channel dedicated to inspiring others to work out with pride. Em is making huge strides to make the gym and other fitness spaces in the real world more accessible for their clients while also raising awareness of the benefits — particularly for the LGBTQ+ community — through social media.
We caught up with Em to talk about all things fitness, as well as their aspirations and inspirations.
“Just being around people who are trying to be the best version of themselves, trying to be better and stronger”
The gym is a place for self-improvement — a space for building the body you want, the body you’re comfortable with. Em identifies with that. But for Em, it’s also more — it’s a space for people to celebrate their identity, embrace their desire to be healthy and love their body by investing in it. This is the message Em wants to share with their clients, to help future generations learn to love themselves for who they are.
“Just being around people who are trying to be the best version of themselves, trying to be better and stronger. I really identified with that, but it was a little confusing because the people that I wanted to look like didn’t necessarily look like me.”
While Em found it confusing at times, they learned to build their body in a way that worked for them. They blocked out the noise and focused on how they wanted to look. Em wanted a big chest, big arms and a big back. So they worked to achieve this, ignoring what people around them looked like and what they were doing.
“We have the power and the tools to sculpt that body that we’ve dreamed of... building that confidence to help affirm you in your gender and in your fitness journey.”
“Still the black and white gender expectations”
Gyms are evolving with their clientele, and that’s the sort of momentum that is so great to see. We must celebrate all progress being made in fitness spaces, which are places that many people use to embrace their identity and work towards their goals.
Em’s mission is to help gyms become more inclusive spaces by raising awareness of the needs of the LGBT+ community. Em is being this change by providing a visible presence to people, talking openly about struggles, and teaching people to know they belong in fitness spaces.
“I know it can be tough with the changing room situation, or the environment, or the looks, still that black and white gender expectations. It can be intimidating being at the gym, so I just want to help break that down, build that confidence before we get there.”
As a full-time personal trainer and influencer, Em runs at-home classes for clients so they can build confidence before they even set foot in the gym. Em’s clients often know what it is they want, but going directly into the gym may be scary at first. Starting the journey at a place where they are comfortable is incredibly valuable to Em’s clients, giving them a foundation they can build on to thrive in a gym environment.
Em’s dream is for queer people to know they belong in all fitness spaces and for there to be no barriers. For anyone. Full stop.
“Just to have the language, to use the correct pronouns, to create a space where everyone is included, to have gender neutral bathrooms, changing rooms, whatever it may be. Even just the writing on the wall when they have their slogans, just to be more inclusive.”
“I really can’t wait to see where NRG goes and that is really motivating to me. I can’t wait to help more people.”
What motivates Em the most is making a change. Changing their own life, changing the lives of their clients, and changing how LGBTQ+ people are seen — and see themselves — in the fitness industry.
“To hear that they’re feeling that much more comfortable in their gender. I've helped them come out, or I've helped them decide to spend more time working on their body before they get top surgery. All these things are super rewarding...
I'm excited for the next workout, the next day, the next client, the next big move. I really can’t wait to see where NRG goes and that is really motivating to me. I can’t wait to help more people.”
And on a personal level — even after years of hard work, being the person who they are — Em has no plans to stop any time soon.
“I'm going to take it one day at a time, but it’s motivating to me not knowing what the next day is going to be even with these hormone changes, with my body it’s super exciting — it really keeps me going.”
“You're going to get there and it’s going to be amazing when you do.”
Like many people in the LGBT+ community, Em has faced adversity. But they’ve come through it with an even stronger mindset. They know they’re comfortable with who they are and the difference they are making. Everything else is just noise.
“Keep going. Never give up. Keep pushing because you’ll get knocked down and people will say what they want to say. But as long as you keep going, knowing that every day is going to get better, you're going to become the person you’ve always wanted to be. You're going to get there and it’s going to be amazing when you do.”
“They advocate for me.”
A natural concern for many people in the LGBTQ+ community is family acceptance. Em is fortunate enough to have supportive parents — in fact, they are a massive inspiration. Em is visibly emotional when we talk about how their family embraces their identity, and realises how lucky they are to be loved and accepted by those closest to them.
“My parents have been a huge inspiration for me. I grew up in a very active household and they have always been so supportive and so amazing. They've also supported me through this gender journey. They ask me all the best questions — sorry if I get emotional — but they’re just so supportive and they read the books, they learn my pronouns. They advocate for me.”
Take Home Message
The fitness industry may still have a long way to go before it’s accommodating for everyone, but it is people like Em who are driving real positive change, inspiring people to make the best of themselves and not let fear hold them back. Whatever your own goal, Em’s page is full of powerful messaging, and if nothing else, seeing the community thrive is sure to put a smile on your face. Check it out here.
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