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Op-ed: The Genderqueer Heroes at Equinox Get It

Op-ed: The Genderqueer Heroes at Equinox Get It


The gym scene in South Beach may not be as gay as it once was, but it's still cool.

For those who've never heard of it, Equinox is a high-end "luxury" gym that prides itself on being a cutting edge, overtly friendly, one-stop shop for those wanting to knock their bods back into shape.

Alas, it's also pretty much the only gym left in sunny, gay South Beach. There's Crunch, but less said about that the better.

It wasn't always like this. For one thing, gay South Beach used to be, well, actually gay. When I bought my first closet-size condo (to avoid some of the worst of New York's winters), there were five body-building gyms within walking distance. David Barton, Iron Works, etc. None offered yoga, or aerobics, or any of those other silly lifestyle classes.

And all were pretty much gay, as was the neighborhood. South Beach had once been a quiet Cuban enclave with lots of Hasidic Jews. Until gay men discovered it in the late '80s and helped set off round after round of gentrification that is still going on, eventually transmuting all the old Orthodox synagogues into new condos along the way.

The gay muscle queens would walk, often hand in hand, to their favorite gyms in the morning to work out, just as the Orthodox men in their fur-lined hats would walk toward their shuls to pray at sunset.

More than a few of them were impossibly beefed up -- totally ripped to the tits on steroids that helped counter the effects of the new HIV cocktails that were unbelievably, suddenly returning them to life.

But all that is gone. This Equinox is pretty straight as far as I can tell. Even the cute trainers with the tight butts are straight. And yet, like South Beach itself, it's still strangely laid-back and tolerant, in a way that few communities can match. Certainly not Greenwich Village or Dupont Circle, both of which I'd lived in for decades.

One of the things Equinox does to maintain its hip, upscale yuppie cred is roll out MTV-style videos at all their gyms -- they're supposedly edgy but more often plain perplexing -- with the theme "Equinox made me do it."

For instance, last week I noticed the newest offering on the big video board at the entrance. First, a masked muscle-builder gets spray painted (I said "perplexing"). Then a lovely young woman starts shaving her head. A bearded man cradles a stone baby fountain with water coming out instead of pee. And for the finale, a striking blond long-haired model struts and pouts for the camera before taking off her coat to reveal her ... bare, flat, manly chest.

In the early days of GenderPAC, we couldn't even get the Human Rights Campaign to say "LGBT," gay newspapers wouldn't cover transgender news, and politicians of all sorts, when not in the Bay Area, ran from trans issues.

Now we're in Netflix and Amazon TV series, HRC can't live without us, and even the president says "LGBT." And Equinox, the upscale gym chain straight yuppies crave, is putting genderfuck front and center in its latest national branding campaign. Pretty good genderfuck, I might add (I'm a bit of a connoisseur in this narrow realm). In fact, it was so well done that I used my phone to video it and screened it for my daughter ("Cool!").

This is what social progress looks like when it comes around.

In South Beach, I wonder if anyone notices. When we moved down here and enrolled our daughter DJ in school we were more than a little worried. Even at our very small, personal school in D.C., she and I had both been taunted and teased by the kids over my being transgender. This school was huge -- easily four times as large -- and we were total outsiders who knew no one.

I made sure to wear a skirt to morning drop-off every other day DJ's first week of school. I thought we might as well get the harassment out in the open and deal with it. I plotted how to approach the principal, how she'd react when I complained, and how far I could press my point.

I needn't have bothered. It may not have as many gays as it used to, but South Beach still retains its famous get-along, laid-back attitude. No one said anything. All the PTA parents shook our hands or hugged us hello.

The only exception was one boy in DJ's class. He asked her who was her dad. DJ replied she didn't have a dad, she had two moms. "Then who's that guy who in a dress who drops you off?" he teased her.

"She transgender, dude! Get over it!" shot DJ. Now that's my daughter.

RIKI WILCHINS is an activist, stand-up comedian, and author of Read My Lips.

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Riki Wilchins