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Six years ago, I arrived in Portland from Los Angeles. I came for the rivers, the rain, and a slower, greener life. Portland delivered what I sought, but also plummeting vitamin D, a bouquet of mysterious allergies, and drained adrenals. A crashed thyroid gifted me 30 extra pounds. Suddenly I was crawling toward bed at 4 p.m., and even a walk to the bus stop made me lightheaded. And, like so many Portlanders, particularly women, the past year’s relentless news cycle has left me feeling overwhelmed, exposed, and weak.

So this fall, I headed to Liberation Barbell. Opened in September, Liberation feels safe, and that’s by design: while everyone is welcome, the gym’s mission is explicitly feminist. Trans, nonbinary, and queer fitness enthusiasts (and beginners!) will feel at home in the clean, bright Foster-Powell space.

I showed up for my first day of Body-Positive Weightlifting 101—a six-week introductory course—after a sleepless night with a new puppy. A dry-erase board listed the workout (dead lifts! air squats! push-ups! ring rows!) and some of Liberation’s founding guidelines: “Be kind. No diet talk. Respect your boundaries.” I also found I was the only student. “Everyone’s sick,” said gym co-owner Lacy Davis (pictured above, lower right). “But stick around and we’ll make it painless.”

I did, and got a staggering deal—a one-on-one personal training session that mathed out to an easy $30. (It wasn’t totally painless: my boyfriend had to lift me off the toilet the next day.)

The class has since filled out—it’s capped at 10—and each session begins with introductions: name, preferred pronoun, maybe favorite snack. I feel seen, but not watched—that queasy feeling that’s come up for me at traditional gyms. Liberation is sweaty, and supportive. Strength comes from community and diversity, and both are here: all sorts of bodies, including one amazing, gangly preteen. We’re all getting stronger together every Saturday.


In conjunction with Portland Monthly’s Oregon Woman issue, our second annual Woman Up event (May 12–13) will bring together experts from across the city—and state—for a weekend of wellness and a celebration of the bold women shaping Oregon’s future and those who’ve paved the way. Get tickets!

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