Imara Jones: Hello, I’m Imara Jones, and welcome to “Lives at Stake”, a series of monthly discussions about critical issues facing trans and gender non-conforming communities across the United States. “Lives at Stake”, is a co-production of my projects, TransLash and WNYC’s, The Greene Space. Follow us at thegreenspace.org and translash.org to follow our work.
Well, before we move to the heart of our program tonight, we wanted to let you know that “Lives at Stake” ends its run at The Greene Space tonight, both TransLash and The Greene Space are incredibly proud of our program, whether it has been looking at the impact of COVID-19 on trans communities, trans people running for office, the plight of trans sex workers, or even finding where to shop trans for the holidays. We hope that we’ve been an important resource. We at TransLash look to bring “Lives at Stake” back in some other format. However, our exit from The Greene Space makes space for a really important and critical program that is coming up called, A Punishment And Profit, made in conjunction with the organization, Worth Rises.
A Punishment And Profit will look at in a step-by-step manner, the prison industrial complex, how it came to be and how it impacts us all. I look forward to looking at Punishment and Profit, I hope that you will too. And on behalf of everyone, we thank you so much for watching and joining us, and hope that you’ll continue to follow us and follow our work. Well, here we are at the beginning of 2021, it feels like 2022, but it’s actually 2021 still. And we thought that it would be really good to explore how we can get our minds and our bodies together this year.
Now, already, of course, we’ve had an insurrection and a white supremacist uprising and a Qanon conspiracy, but we still do want to make progress this year. And of course, that all starts with us, and that’s why our guests tonight are gonna tell us how we can work with our brains and our bodies to be our best selves as healthily as possible. First up will be Pat Manuel, Patricio Manuel, who is the first trans man to box professionally. Next up will be, Gaurang Choksi and Kay Nikiforova, both of Violet, a service which helps TGNC people find mental health services that are competent and which work for us. And last up, will be a conversation with Luca Page, who runs Radically Fit, a gym for all genders and all bodies in Oakland.
Now, of course, you should know by now, but we’ll tell you again, that we really want to have your questions and your input and your comments throughout this program. So, if in any way that you are watching or engaging us, on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, make sure that you leave comments with the hashtag “Lives at Stake”, or the hashtag TransLash, and we will be sure to pull those into the program and I’ll be reminding you all to send those. So please make sure that you do that.
One additional program note, is that of course we are still recording from our homes and apartments. My apartment happens to be in a place that is a very windy, so if you hear howling or wrestling, it’s the wind and not someone trying to break in. Someone said, asked me earlier if a ghost was trying to enter, and I surely hope not. But it’s just the wind. Of course, we like to begin each show with things that are making us happy and keeping us uplifted. Of course, the exit of the Dark Lord from the White House should be, you know, meme enough. But a lot of funny things happened around that. And in our conversations, we thought that there were no memes that could of course top the Bernie memes, which continue to roll out even one week later.
Here’s one that was chosen, which says, “J-Lo in her 50’s and me in my 20’s.” Now, I’m not in my 20’s, but our staff who are in their 20’s, decided that that was the best way to go. I don’t know, why do you guys feel so curmudgeonly? I don’t know, that’s a separate show in conversation. And next up, is another person on our staff suggested that we have the Bernie meme, which says that this just could have been an email. Now, I don’t know if that’s directed at me. Perhaps I shouldn’t take it personally, but I think that it’s relevant for so many ways. I mean, could the inauguration have been an email? I don’t know. No. I mean, there’s no way that Amanda Gorman could have been an email. We had to see her live and in flesh, nor Michelle Obama’s outfit. She could not be a meme either, because I mean, you had to experience that, right? Not an email, you have to experience that.
So, the inauguration was worth it. So, onto the heart of our program, remember please to send your questions and your comments, as we move along, if you have questions about health or fitness and so many different ways, you have so many different experts. So make sure that you reach out to us tonight and we’ll fold those questions and comments in to the program. First up tonight, is Patricio Manuel, who is the first trans man to box professionally. Patricio lives in California, and has lots of insights about the connection between mind, body and spirit, that he’s gained throughout a life of boxing and exercise. And so, we are happy to have Patricio join us. Thank you so much.
Patricio Manuel: Oh, I’m guessing that’s my cue to unmute, right?
Imara Jones: That’s your cue to unmute.
Patricio Manuel: Hey, Imara. How are you doing today?
Imara Jones: Good, how are you?
Patricio Manuel: I’m good. I’m grateful for you to bring me into this conversation, because you know that I can definitely go on a rant and rave about this topic for a pretty long time.
Imara Jones: Well, feel free, cut loose. The first question that I have is a basic one which is, how did you come to box and how did you come to develop a fitness routine and to make that your life? Because there’s so many ways in which to TGNC people, even before fully understanding ourselves can have contiguous relationships with our body. So, I’m curious as to how the body and your body became a focus of your life.
Patricio Manuel: Yeah, you know, for me, I wasn’t like many people. I wasn’t aware that I was trans, I didn’t really understand that trans men existed when I started boxing. I was around 16 years old, but it was more an act of self-preservation for me. And during that time, I think going through puberty and just going through also so many other personal things in life, I had mentally checked out from my body. I stopped doing the sports that I had loved before, I had played softball, I’m going to head Dunji Kudos and I stopped doing everything, and just really kind of pulled back into myself, my grades tanked. And there was a seed that was planted when I was a child that I always looked up to the masculinity of a fighter.
Like I was that type of nerd that, I loved anime before it even came over to the U.S., because I lived in a Japanese neighborhood, I was playing “Street Fighter”, I loved martial arts movie. It was something about that particular masculinity of someone who could handle their business. And that really appealed to me. So when I was in really my deepest part of depression and really just feeling like I was going through the motions in life, I didn’t even feel present in my own body. I asked my grandma for boxing lessons for Christmas, and she took me down to, I didn’t know at the time, was a really historic and now closed boxing gym called, LA Boxing Club, and I just fell in love with the sport. And it was in particular the discipline that I really fell in love with.
And now I look back and I’m like, it makes total sense. I was going through a time, where I felt I was completely out of control. I had no agency over myself as I was going through puberty and my body was doing things that I did not want it to do, that suddenly I could have some sort of grounding practice, some sort of discipline. I knew what I needed to do in the gym. I knew I needed to go in and train. I knew I needed to go in and work hard. And it really gave me a structure that I needed. And when I started, I had no idea it was something I’d be good at. I actually lost my first three fights, like, back to back, to back, I was terrible. But I loved it so much, I kept at it and eventually I got good at it and became a five-time national amateur champion.
Imara Jones: And as you moved through your transition, what did fitness do for you? That is to say that like as you were transitioning and as you were, your body had changed in a way that you hadn’t wanted it to, and then through learning more about yourself, was able to figure out exactly who you were and how you wanted to shift your body to align more with yourself, which is lots of change. And I’m just wondering throughout that entire process, what did fitness do for you? What role did it play?
Patricio Manuel: I’m always someone that’s gonna go body first. You know, and sometimes it’s the detriment of me. I’ll try, if something isn’t going well, I’ll try to fix in my body before I ever look to my mental health or my spiritual health, is my first go-to. And, you know, with boxing was this interesting thing, because it was something that was such a great vehicle of gaining control over the way my body felt and what it was able to do. But at the same time, my entrenchment in the sport, and at the time I was going for the 2012 Olympic Boxing Trials, which is the first women’s boxing trials I ever had, ’cause wasn’t allowed until very late into the Olympics.
I realized that I had to kind of shove down who I was as a person in order to prioritize being the athlete. And when I was injured after making it to the Olympic trials, and again, went in the spiral of depression and I hit rock bottom, I had to really look at, who was I beyond an athlete? Who was I beyond my sport? Because as much as I didn’t want to think about it, I was really hit with the reality of having a near career ending injury, that boxing wasn’t always gonna be there. My sport wasn’t gonna always be there, but this body, me, I was always gonna be here.
So that’s when I made the decision to medically transition. And I think, you know, for me, boxing and and being involved in fitness and being involved in regimen, like these are the things that really have, I would say, represented the man that I’ve been inside. And that is someone who has always found a way that has loved to work hard, who has always pushed through and, you know, isn’t afraid to have to stand his ground. So I think the sport and fitness really helped become a physical representation of what I was always feeling inside.
Imara Jones: One of the things that you do, is that you also train a lot of different people, from a lot of different backgrounds, all different body types, all different genders, all different gender identities, and what are you able to apply from your life of fitness to help keep other people on their fitness journey?
Patricio Manuel: Yeah. So I’ve been a personal trainer since, I think 2007, so I’ve been doing this for a minute. And I always like to joke, that I was a really crappy personal trainer when I started it out, mainly because I was using just a very normative fitness background in terms of like, this is what you’re supposed to do, if you’re supposed to, you know, gain muscle or lose fat. And when I started really becoming aware of that, I had a privilege, I had a really unique privilege as an athlete that had access to not only the sport, but really great strength conditioning coaches and physical therapists, that work with some of the best athletes around, that what was important for us when we worked out, was being better at our sport. It wasn’t about looking a certain way.
It wasn’t about, I mean, yes, I’m a weight class sport athlete, but it wasn’t about necessarily body composition. It was either, this is making you better, or you don’t do it, because it’s taking away time from it. So I really use that type of background to inform my own training. And, you know, the way I look at is, whatever someone wants to do, whatever they are doing, my goal was to make you stronger and being able to do that. Now, that could be something as just sitting at a desk and being able to write long papers. It can be teaching classes, whatever it is, but it’s more about making the person stronger.
And if we’re really talking about strength, we can’t not talk about the way that mental health, spiritual health, all of this stuff ties into to be a really holistic approach to being stronger. I’ve learned it myself. If you just focus only on the body and don’t factor in all of the other things that are going on in your life, it eventually is going to catch up with you and it will relate itself into your body, as all my injuries were a result of.
Imara Jones: If people are just starting out on their fitness journey, what are the things that you advise them to do? What is your kind of overall counsel? And also, I just want to remind the audience, that you have any questions for Pat, send them through, so that we can ask while, that he’s on and available. But what do you, in general, what do you advise people who are just starting out and wanting to start on a journey?
Patricio Manuel: First thing, is slow down. I think we are inundated with products that are about 30 days fat loss transformation, 90 days to the body of your life, it’s not going to work that way. If you move too quickly, it’s not going to be sustainable and nothing that you want to do, should be not sustainable. This is unless you’re an athlete like me and you have a very short timeline, this should be something that it becomes a practice in your life. And you really have to take an honest look at yourself and be like, what do I want? Why do I want it?
That’s very, very important, because you’re gonna have to look back on that later, and then look at the small steps to getting there. And I mean, as small as possible. I always tell my clients, if we’re setting up a workout program for them, I would rather they be 90 to a 100% certain that they can do it. Now, sometimes that means only doing like one exercise out of two days. That’s fine. I would rather someone have something to build on and then we keep moving from here, rather than shooting really quick and then dropping back down. I think, too often, we are taught to rely on motivation and the concept of willpower is such a fallacy.
It is something that is limited, it is a resource that you should only use when you need it. But if you build in habits and make it a sustainable part of your everyday life, you’re going to have a longterm success. And really just enjoy the journey. It’s not about forcing your body. It’s not about mastering or dominating your body. It’s about being in collaboration with your body, and really being honest about what it is you want, figuring out the ways that are, you know, fun to get there. What’s the point of doing all of this? We’re all going to die at some point, you might as well be enjoying yourself as we get there, and not make this be about some sort of punishment. I think too often people use fitness as a way to punish themselves. And our bodies are amazing. They’re very different. And again, if we’re going to be in alignment with them, we need to treat them right.
Imara Jones: Yep. I think that that’s a really important point about using. A lot of times, fitness is even sold as punishment, right? That you have to put your body through these extremes. One person just asked, Danny, a question says that, “If you’re newly out as non-binary “and uncomfortable being in a boxing gym for now, “what do you recommend doing at home “to start learning how to box “and to prepare yourself both mentally and physically?” They said.
Patricio Manuel: You know, boxing is one of those sports that I really feel needs to be learned in person, but you can really help prepare yourself before stepping into the gym. And I think doing like basic things like pushups, getting in some cardio, whatever form it is for you, whether it’s like jumping rope, ’cause you’re going to have to jump rope in boxing. It can be going for a run, it can be going for a swim, and really start studying the boxers that you like. See the things that they do, immerse yourself in the sport as much as you can.
It’s never going to be the same as stepping into the actual gym. And I know it is very intimidating when you first step in, it’s very loud, there’s a lot of people, there’s constant noise going on, and understand like, you are going to have hesitation and you are going to have anxiety. Like, it’s something new and it’s something that, boxing’s intimidating, but I hope that you find a gym that is accepting, because I also know that once you get involved in boxing, it is one of the, for me, it is one of the safest, warmest environments that I’ve ever been to. That is my family every time I step in there.
So, I hope that you’re able to do what you need to to mentally prepare for the time when you’re able to go in there, and that you are received with open arms. And I always tell people that probably the one thing I can offer an advice of being comfortable and accepted into a gym, is boxing really respects heart more than anything, be willing to do the work, show that you’re doing the work, and nine times out of 10, other people will recognize that in you.
Imara Jones: And lastly, one of the things that you’ve spoken about and I think it’s a really important point, and I don’t want to lose it is, that you’ve been thinking about the impact of trauma on fitness. And also thinking about, and recognizing, that we’re in a time of constantly being traumatized and our body’s constantly being in a fight or flight mode and how that’s impacting our wellbeing and the way that that intersects with fitness. And I’m wondering if you can just share your thoughts about that before we leave tonight, ’cause I think it’s, again, something that’s really important for people to hear.
Patricio Manuel: Yeah, often people will call me of trauma informed personal trainer, and you know, I’m definitely not someone who comes from a somatic background. I come from literally an athletic background with the lived experience of being a black trans man. Like, I don’t know how more I can feel trauma in my body than just being who I am on. I know a lot of the people that I serve as clients, also had PTSD. And you know, there came a time during in the pandemic when I was noticing my clients and seeing their response, and noticing that people who were already stressed, were being overloaded with stress.
So, I started looking even deeper into the physiological responses to stress, and really came to the recognition, we are human animals. We are tied into the cycles of this planet, and that is still in our bodies. And these systems of work and capitalism, do not honor that at all. So it’s really understanding of, stress is something that’s gonna happen in our lives. Acute stress is what the human body has actually been evolved to deal with, which means stress in a short period of time, and then it ends. Unfortunately, most of us are inundated with trauma, whether it’s childhood trauma, ’cause I personally don’t know anyone who hasn’t endured childhood trauma, that continues to cycle into our bodies, or just living with things like, I can’t end white supremacy. That’s a threat I can not end. I can not end transphobia. That is a threat I can not end. So how do we learn to cope with these constant influx of threat, that our body only understands that there’s a fight going on?
It doesn’t understand that it’s not like a bear, it has the same response over and over. So, really learning to teach the body when to find rest, prioritizing rest and recovery. ‘Cause I know a lot of times during, especially during COVID, people have this response of like, “Okay, things aren’t going well. “I got to work really, really, really hard right now, “just to get through this period.” And that may actually be counterproductive, because if you’re already in a stress response, hormone cortisol is really heightened. You’re going and putting yourself through a more stressful environment. There’s going to be a point where your body’s so flooded, that it shuts off actually cortisol production, because like, there’s too much of it.
Suddenly you go through that phase of like, wow, I just can’t, no matter how much I sleep, I can’t get up. I just can’t wake up. I can’t feel alert or you just don’t have the ability to sleep at all, because it’s completely cut off it’s melatonin. So, a lot of the work that I had been moving into particular and where I’m looking at, where is the evolution of my training, is how do we restore those cycles in someone’s body, so that when those moments of stress come, that they’re able to handle them? Because I think that the concept of stress management, is insulting for someone like ourselves. Like, how do we manage things that are trying to kill us and may not look like necessarily someone with a knife stabbing us, but could also be that person? How do we manage all these things in our body?
And I think this is really important to super marginalized communities, ’cause we see so many early deaths from diseases, like diabetes and heart disease and cancer, and they’re showing links to the environment that is causing these things. And I don’t necessarily mean about only toxins, but we know environmental racism is a part of the thing. But the fact that we are constantly in a world that does not want to see us live. And this is the way it’s also killing us, is by making sure that we’re constantly in these states of feeling like our lives are about to end, because in reality for a lot of us, that’s the way it feels. So, helping to teach people to be more resilient in their body, so that we can toggle between like being stressed, learning how to down-regulate ourselves, so that we can come back stronger for the fight.
Imara Jones: Yeah, I think that that’s really important. And I know that so many people will relate to everything that you said about the impact of this moment on our bodies and as well, in underscores, than what you said before, which is that if we’re starting to do fitness in this moment, that we need to be extremely gentle with ourselves, that we need to move slowly into it, recognizing that we’re not in a normal time and the things that are impacting us. Thank you so much for coming on tonight. I really, really appreciate you. And not only the groundbreaking role that you have had in our community, actually historic role that you’ve had in our community, but also the way in which you continue to contribute your thoughts and ideas about how to make sure that we’re able to live and to thrive. So thank you so much for coming on.
Patricio Manuel: All right. Thank you so much for having me.
Imara Jones: That was Patricio Manuel, who is the first trans man to box professionally. He is also a personal trainer, and you can see a full interview that I did with Patricio in the documentary, “The Future Of Trans”, it’s on YouTube on the TransLash page. And it’s definitely not surprisingly from our conversation tonight. Worth checking out. You’re watching “Lives at Stake”. So, moving from physical individual health to mental health, we now will turn to a conversation that I recorded earlier today with the leadership team of Violet. Violet helps to connect trans people with competent mental health care services, in a way that recognizes different income levels, different insurance coverage levels, and other intersections that are important to us and important to our mental health. That conversation was with Gaurang Choksi and Kay Nikiforova. And as I said, I did that earlier today. So, here’s my conversation with them. Gaurang and Kay, thank you so much for joining us.
Gaurang Choksi: Hi, Imara, thanks for having us.
Kay Nikiforova: Thanks for having us.
Imara Jones: Of course. My first question is, why do you think mental health or how is mental health really important for trans and gender nonconforming communities, in a way that’s different for other communities?
Gaurang Choksi: Yeah, absolutely. Kay, do you wanna take this one?
Kay Nikiforova: Yeah. So I think for our community oftentimes, there’s so much additional difficulty with society around us and that can create a tremendous amount of pressure on mental health and on wellbeing. And just having to navigate the systems within which we exist can really exacerbate some of those difficulties. But for me, there’s also a tremendous amount of joy. And so, being able to highlight that is part of our experience, as well as really important, and being able to address both the difficulties and the celebrations, is a really big part for us.
Imara Jones: What… I’m sorry, were you gonna say something, Gaurang?
Gaurang Choksi: Yeah, I was just gonna add from kind of the interviews and the personal conversations we’ve had with our clients too. Another big one is really just, we’re asking individuals to find providers that are best for them and afford fairly expensive providers at a time where there may be other struggles already going on. And so, I would say just the logistics of America’s healthcare system, really makes care difficult to access as well.
Imara Jones: Right. And so, in that, what problem is Violet trying to solve? What are you all tackling with regards to mental health for our community?
Gaurang Choksi: Yeah. For me, personally, and Kay and I, again, we met at Oscar’s, we spend a lot of time together even before building Violet. One thing we really care about, is looking at as clinicians as humans. So we really want to make sure we can actually help people find it, whether it’s a therapist or a psychiatrist, somebody that really sees all of your identities and can speak to all of your identities. So, for us, the way we’re building Violet, it’s to help people find your therapist that actually sees all parts of you. The one thing we don’t want, is to say, “This doctor is great for somebody that has this identity. “Whereas this doctor is great for this identity.” With Violet, people can actually come to us and showcase and tell us about all of their identities, and we help them find the doctor that’s best for them.
Kay Nikiforova: And, you know, oftentimes we talk about seeking mental health treatment. We’re really like the LGBTQ+ community is one drop down. And the community’s not a monolith, and for trans folks seeking care, I have seen just so many members of my community, so many people that are close to me, just not even try to get care, because they were so worried about the reception that they’re going to have from the mental health provider, from the therapist, and people have countless really negative experiences. And so, if you’re coming to somebody with this vulnerable part of you, you know, mental health is a very vulnerable part. We share our stories, we share our history, and to have this negative reception, it really doesn’t make anybody want to seek care. And so, we are going through and rigorously making sure that when a person finally steps into therapy, when they’re able to seek treatment, the person is not only going to be accepting, the person’s not only going to understand them across the spectrum, they’re going to really help them thrive as people and not have the additional stress of having to worry about what my therapist is going to say, are they going to say something negative about my identities? You know, how can they celebrate me instead?
Imara Jones: Does your service, which is designed to make it easy for TGNC people to find competent mental health services that also intersects with other identities, so does that come out of a personal experience that you had? I mean, you mentioned that you both worked at the health provider, Oscar, it would seem to me that after that you could have started any type of mental health service. I’m sorry, any type of healthcare service that you might’ve wanted to, does your desire to enter into this space come out of something personal as well?
Gaurang Choksi: It does. So, both Kay and I are immigrants as well. And along with being part of the queer community, we’ve had numerous conversations about how so much of the healthcare system forces you to pick one part of your identity and receive care just for that one part. And that was something that we thought was always really awkward, where you have to hide parts of who you are and then go to doctors that only support other parts of your identity. So, with Violet, what we’re focused on, is making our clients really feel comfortable and sharing all of the identities that they want to share and finding clinicians that can speak to every single one of those. So our most popular research right now or most common one, is individuals that are part of the queer community that are looking for care from a queer competent therapist, but they’re also an individual or a people of color, who are looking for a intersectionality support. And so, we help our clients with this search, find therapists and clinicians, that are really culturally competent at both the queer community and for the community.
Kay Nikiforova: And on my end, it’s tremendously personal. You know, I’ve tried to seek care and I’ve not always succeeded and it didn’t amount to anything. For me, having been in the healthcare space and the tech space, you know, leaving that we could be doing anything. And I think some of the best, or at least the most important ideas are the ones that come not only from a good idea from the health perspective and system perspective, it really comes from something that we both experienced. And so intimately, so this really is coming from our experience, not being able to get the care that we want. And even having experiences of not telling my providers my pronouns, because they were the only person who I knew that could do that procedure and I was really worried about losing them. And so, it wasn’t a pleasant experience, and yet to get care, I had to strip away all of these parts of myself and that felt terrible, but I didn’t know anybody else. And so, I don’t want anybody to go through that experience. We don’t want other people, you know, I mean, Gaurang has some stories about PCP’s, and you know, we talk about these on a daily basis, what it’s actually like.
Imara Jones: On that point, in what ways is Violet working to ensure that mental health care services and the ability to seek competent care is accessible to everyone? We know that there’s a range of possibilities in terms of whether or not insurance covers mental health services or not. Some people have insurance, some people don’t have insurance, there are all these different types of insurance types. How does your service seek to bridge or ensure accessibility?
Gaurang Choksi: Yeah. We spend a lot of time talking about that, because to your point, healthcare in the U.S. is really broken. Some of these prices are just egregious and it turns a lot of people off, and especially members of the queer community, that really there is economic barriers to accessing care. And so, one thing we’ve been doing is, every single clinician that we’ve had and make sure is a really strong fit for our platform, meaning they’re culturally competent. We also ask them if they want to give back to our community through discounted slots. And so typically these are called, Sliding Scale Slots and we formalize them. And so, now on our platform of the therapists we work with, they offer slots as low as $25 a session. And what’s been amazing is seeing the feedback from the therapists themselves. We’ve had individuals tell us that, “Hey, typically I’ve worked with individuals “from the corporate America lifestyle “and it’s been amazing actually working “with other individuals from the queer community “that I can actually reach “and learn a lot from the client themselves.” That’s the feedback that providers have shared with us.
Kay Nikiforova: It’s also important to provide subsidized care and additional free support, specifically for TGNC folks. One of the things that we’ve had almost since the beginning, is they’re running to support and skills group, that meets every other week and it’s completely free. It’s for the community. Folks can sign up, it’s run by an incredible GTMC facilitator. And people come and get support. And I think right now during this time, we’re not able to go to the places where we oftentimes seek support. I’m not able to go to a community center. I’m not able to go to my . So it was critical for us to be able to offer something, but also offer something free, where people can just show up and get support and get community and get the skills, and to be able to bring that out into the world. We also have kind of a micro-community around that, where people are super engaged on a daily basis, sending resources, talking to one another. And it’s just been really amazing to see and something that we feel really passionate about providing.
Imara Jones: And how do your providers, the clinicians, feel about this particular service, that is to say, what do you think has attracted? I understand what’s attracted users or people seeking care to join and be a part of your network, but why do you think clinicians seek out and want to be a part of Violet?
Gaurang Choksi: It all goes back to our community. Therapists have been inundated with startups reaching out to them, especially with the pandemic happening and all of these mental health startups coming up. But the feedback we’ve heard was, they haven’t seen other startups that are explicitly catering to our community. And something that they really love is, we send them exactly the clients they want to work with. So, we have one specific therapist, who came to us and highlighted that, hey, he wasn’t actually looking for additional clients, but because of the fact that we wanted to send him exact members of the queer community that he wanted to work with, he opened up a few additional slots to work with those clients. So, for us, it’s a 100% about the community and the therapists love the fact, that we’re able to help them connect to individuals that really deserve care within our community.
Kay Nikiforova: And we often get feedback of, “I don’t work with anybody. “I have enough patients.” And yet, they want to partner with us to be able to provide care to members of the community, that they might not be able to otherwise. In addition, when we actually get to know our therapists, I mean, we know a lot about them, you know, about their lived experience. We asked their pronouns, we asked her identities, we asked for, you know, who they feel comfortable working with, you know, and that’s really important, because I mean, I do clinical work and I’m very rarely feel like I’m seen as a person. You know, it’s just kind of this like dropdown. And so, it’s really, really important to be able to be seen as a whole person coming into this clinical interaction.
Imara Jones: And lastly, right now, Violet is not yet nation wide or available in everywhere across the country. And so, I’m wondering what the plans are for increasing your reach and making this service available for everyone?
Gaurang Choksi: Yeah, absolutely. I will by saying we’re pretty young. We’ve been around for just under a year, and we really wanted to get New York, right? New York City is the home to the most amount of queer folks. And we knew that it was the best city in the world to actually figure out how to best help our community. And the last 12 months have really taught us a lot. And so, we’re slowly starting to think about what other markets to go to and what other, frankly, how do we use technology more to actually reach and scale more members in other cities around the world?
Kay Nikiforova: And specifically for trans folks, we have people coming to our support group and skills group from across the country. I think we even have somebody from Canada. You know, so people were already being involved to reach people, and now we’ve also rolled out some library resources. We’re going to be putting out more and more content for books to be able to read at home, while we’re able to scale on a larger basis.
Imara Jones: Amazing. Amazing. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to join us for “Lives at Stake”, our last “Lives at Stake”. And thank you so much for the role that you’re playing to try to make mental health services more available, accessible, and easier for our community. And I know that I speak for a lot of people, to say that we wish you all the success in that and look forward to your growth and what more you’re able to do.
Gaurang Choksi: Thanks Imara.
Kay Nikiforova: Thank you so much for having us on.
Imara Jones: Thank you. Thank you so much. That was a Gaurang Choksi and Kay Nikiforova, of Violet. You’re watching “Lives at Stake”. My name is Imara Jones, I’m the Host. Make sure that you continue to send us your questions, comments, using the hashtag, Lives at Stake, wherever you are watching us. And we’ll be sure to fold those in to our program. Our last interview, our last interview of our last show, is tonight with Luca Page, who is the Founder of Radically Fit, a gym in Oakland, which is open to all genders and all bodies.
Radically Fit has a range of classes that match either your gender identity, as well as interests, and provides array of accessibility options to make sure that fitness is as widely available as possible. And so, I’m thrilled to talk to Luca Page tonight, about what it’s like for trans people to workout in groups and settings that are conscious of who we are and what our needs are. So, Luca, thank you so much for joining.
Luca Page: Hey, Imara. Thank you for having me.
Imara Jones: Of course, of course. What made you start Radically Fit? It’s hard to find another gym or space like Radically Fit in the entire country. And so, that means that your idea is unique and what made you decide to start it?
Luca Page: Yeah, so I think that while the idea is unique, the need is not. There are so many queer and trans, black people of color, bigger body than fat people, and disabled people, who are left out of the spaces where we move our bodies. And for me, it was definitely like a community idea. People in Oakland had been looking for a space like this for a long time, and there was just a really obvious need for it here. And as we’ve pushed through and moved forward, it’s clear that there’s an obvious need for this everywhere in the world.
Imara Jones: And when you founded Radically Fit, how did you make sure that TGNC people of all income levels, of all fitness levels, knew that it was a space for them? How did you communicate that?
Luca Page: Yeah, so I think just through a lot of very intentional marketing, communication and representation. So we, in all that we do online, on Instagram, on our website, even through our marketing for our merchandise, we make sure that the bodies that we are providing represented. And then additionally, making sure that the people on staff are also being representatives of those that we are inviting and making this space for.
Imara Jones: Yeah, I think I saw a video in which someone said that one of the things that brought them in and that always makes them feel welcome, is the fact that in your logo even, there are different body types that they see themselves in even the local representation of Radically Fit. So that brings them in. What advice do you have for trans and gender nonconforming people, all backgrounds, who want to begin their fitness journey, unlike with Patricio that’s individual, but this is group and maybe not everyone has a space, like Radically Fit that’s available to them. But what do you say to a group of friends that wants to start working out together and reinforcing group fitness?
Luca Page: I think that really a lot of what it comes down to is community. So, making sure that you’re building spaces, and whether that’s your own gym or going to the gym with folks that you feel safe with, creating that community for yourself, to be able to not only feel safe in, but to also show up with other people in and create that communal bond around moving your body and around healing your body. So, that can be done in a physical space, that can be done, like now that we’re all in our houses, that could be done by picking a time that a group of people can get on the computer and work out together. It can be going for a walk with your friends, but just really centering that around your community.
Imara Jones: One of the things that you’ve said as well, is that we need to make sure that we understand this link between mind, body, and spirit, for us and our fitness. Can you talk about that? How so much of the way that Radically Fit is designed, is that it’s not only about exercises or squats or jumping rope, that there is these other things that you think are essential.
Luca Page: Yeah. So, there’s definitely a foundational array of mental and emotional health, and moving the body, what it does molecularly in terms of creating endorphins and having you sleep better, and just moving through life in a way that feels really empowered, is so important for your mental and emotional health. There is also the aspect of community building. So being around folks that you feel comfortable with, that you feel like you see yourself in, and that you’re kind of building space with, is another aspect of bringing that mental and emotional component in to the overall experience of fitness. And for us, that means really ensuring that the most marginalized people within even our queer community, are the ones being centered and the ones that we are giving the most access and ensuring that they are able to come in and take care of their body, but then also their mind and spirit.
Imara Jones: And I also think, I’m also wondering if you can talk about something that the true suicide, which is the importance of starting small. Another story that struck me from your entire experience as Radically Fit, is someone who described that they, when they first walked into your gym, could barely walk from their car to the entrance of the gym. And that within six months they had a really big change. And I think that, again, we think that we have to be a certain fitness level to start fitness, but that’s not a part of your philosophy. And I’m wondering if you can just touch on that as well.
Luca Page: Yeah. Yeah, when I heard Patricio stating that, I was like, yes, that’s exactly like a really wonderful and key piece of advice to give people that are just starting out. And they’re right, like, in the media we are inundated with kind of this push to get to a specific goal and a specific time, and if you don’t do that, you’ve somehow failed yourself. And really the goal is making sure that whatever you’re doing is sustainable, and that with anything, is starting off small. So just like you would start any other kind of practice in your life. You can’t go from zero to a 100 in a week. That’s just not possible for your body, it’s not safe for your body and it’s not sustainable for your body.
So, there is definitely a huge importance in slowing down and also really picking things that you feel good about. You feel called to, the kind of exercises that make you want to come back and make you want to build this as a life practice. I know exactly who you’re talking about, in that video, and that person who made that pretty big leap in her life, definitely started out really slowly and coming to the gym when she was able to and coming to the classes that really felt good to her. And within, you know, a longer period of time, she was able to see those really big changes in her emotional health, mental health, and her physical health.
Imara Jones: Wow. And for you personally, what has Radically Fit meant for you? Like, this is not only something that you’ve started, but it’s also your life and you’ve been on a journey during the time that you’re in, have been doing Radically Fit. And I’m wondering what the connection has been for you as well as being a part of this project and at this point in your life?
Luca Page: Yeah, that’s a very deep question and I could talk a long time about that. But I think that really specifically to me, as somebody who grew up in a bigger body their whole life and as somebody who kind of watched myself transition into my queerness and into my gender nonconformity and into my transness, also being a person of color who grew up with white parents, in a white neighborhood and really exiting all of these things that I saw as my identities and moving forward in a way that felt so much closer to who I am and who I want to be.
This gym and this community has also provided that mirrored back to me. And being able to see other people of color, other masculine of center, trans and gender nonconforming people, other queer people, just being together and working towards this really beautiful community of healing, has been such an astronomically amazing gift to myself. And I’m so grateful that I’m able to be a part of this community.
Imara Jones: Right. Well, I also want to tell people that, you know, we’re in a virtual world right now, so even though Radically Fit’s in Oakland, you can go to their website and see if there is something that interests you in terms of working out or your fitness journey. Lastly, I’m just curious, what do you think is the future of Radically Fit?
Luca Page: I think the future of Radically Fit is going to be really continuing to serve the Oakland specific community, and also continuing to spread our message across the country, across the world. And most importantly, we’re here to deconstruct the white supremacy and the patriarchy that reigns so intensely in the fitness culture and in diet culture, and break those things down and show people what body positivity and fat positivity really looks like in this industry. What centering black and brown people, queer people, trans people and disabled people, looks like in this industry. And making sure that we’re helping other people create spaces like Radically Fit, because while Radically Fit is really unique and amazing, it should be everywhere. And we want to make sure that we’re helping other communities be able to build this for themselves.
Imara Jones: Absolutely. Well, Luca Page, thank you so much for coming on tonight, for your leadership and creating Radically Fit, and for giving us insights about how to get radically fit in our own lives and are just sending you and your entire team and everyone who’s associated with the gym all the best. Thank you so much.
Luca Page: Thank you.
Imara Jones: Thank you. That was Luca Page, who is the Founder of Radically Fit, a gym in Oakland for all genders and all bodies. You are watching “Lives at Stake”. Well, before we close out tonight’s show, I just wanted to acknowledge that we’re all at the same time, experiencing news, that Cicely Tyson, the legendary actress, passed today at the age of 96. There’s so many tributes that are flowing in to her. They are well-deserved. And so, we want to acknowledge her and her passing in our program, because it’s occurred right now, the tributes and the acknowledgement of that in real time. So, this is the last time I’m going to close out “Lives at Stake”.
It has been an amazing journey over the past year. When we started this show, we had thought it was going to be totally different. We thought that it was going to be in a studio with a live audience, and that there would be a range of topics that we had to be able to embrace, that weren’t only about the world’s coming to an end seemingly, and a lot of pain and death and suffering, but also centering joy and so many brilliant parts of our community, but that’s not the year that we had last year, and that’s not the show that we did. We did a show that we thought was going to be relevant to the audiences and the communities that we wanted to reach. We did a show that we had to produce remotely, figure out how to do that remotely from New York and from other places, and broaden the scope of the show to be national as well. And so, there are lots of ways in which the reality of 2020 changed “Lives at Stake”.
But as I said at the beginning, we’re also incredibly proud of the work that we’ve been able to do, the people that we’ve been able to have on, names like MDM Moore, and other people that you may not have known like, Luca Page, and highlighting all the ways in which our community was responding and stepped up during an incredible year 2020. And during that helped to change the world, we think that it’s only fitting that as a program and a video program with so many different resources, that we end with a retrospective video of all the work that we’ve done. I wanted to just thank you again for watching and I hope that you will come on this journey to take a look back at “Lives at Stake”. This is the first time that I’m seeing this video as well. So, without further ado, a look back at “Lives at Stake”.
Alok Vaid-Menon: Moving beyond the gender binary, is not about erasing your right to be a man or a woman. Rather, it’s about saying that man and woman are two of infinite options.
Samantha Allen: If you just see another trans person doing something that you didn’t know is possible for you, it unlocks potential for you.
Katelyn Burns: But it really does make a big difference for trans people to be in the room when these policies are being discussed.
Phillipe Cunningham: You know, one of the things that I think that folks don’t recognize about trans folks, is that we have a true asset, having lived multiple lived experiences.
Devin Norelle: We all have this assumption that we know what a trans person would look like. But honestly, we don’t, I don’t look like you, you don’t look like me, and I obviously don’t look like any other trans person.
Elisa Crespo: There are times when you’re too trans and times when you’re not trans enough. But for me personally, I’ll just say that I don’t run away from the fact that I’m trans.
Indya Moore: I’m just always thinking about community, especially when there’s a systemic shift of some sort, ’cause you know, our community’s the last to be sought out for, until the last to be looked after.
Elle Hearns: My favorite quote from Marsha’s, you know, “I might be crazy, but that don’t make me wrong.” And I think a world that’s consistently telling black trans people that we’re wrong about everything, that we’re wrong for wanting more for ourselves, that we’re wrong for wanting more for our community, that is a relatable thing that we wish we had the freedom to just exist in like Marsha did.
Mojo Disco: You know, as far as my trans community or anyone who falls under the umbrella of trans, I want them to feel hope. I want them to feel purpose. I want them to feel royal in being invited into that moment.
Imara Jones: That was “Lives at Stake”, a look back over the last year. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate you joining us and appreciate you and your lives. We’re sending you all the best into 2021. I’m Imara Jones, signing off for, WNYC’s, The Greene Space and TransLash for “Lives at Stake”.
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