On Knowing When to Commit

I’m giving my notice today: if Equinox doesn’t #committosomething and end its ties with Stephen Ross, and by extension the Trump government, my 12 years as an Equinox member will come to an end. Here’s why:

The real shock of the ongoing Equinox scandal is that we are all so shocked. We had collectively no idea that our super-corporate, super-slick, super-expensive gym could ever have any kind of financial or ethical ties to right-wing politics. How, we wondered, could a beloved big business like ours…be a lot like any other big business which survives and profits through investment and development orchestrated by the kinds of people good at such things? —And by “such things” we have to understand that we’re talking about the ruthless, mercenary, prioritization of making money over such wasteful pastimes as social justice.

Shocking indeed.

So Equinox is a company partially owned by a bigger company, The Related Companies, the board of which is chaired by a Trump supporter, Stephen Ross, who is responsible for raising tons of money for Trump and politicians like him who endorse policies of racist, misogynist, violent hate, not to mention every kind of abuse of human rights and of the planet itself.

Members didn’t know, nor did instructors, trainers, maintenance workers, or managers. Except now we do know.

Now what?

Equinox leadership has been scrambling for damage control, assuring members in recent days that our gym’s mission remains the same, to promote both health and community, to celebrate diversity; they insisted that our gym is aligned, financially and ideologically, with values of inclusivity, and positivity. “No company profits are used to fund politicians,” they insisted, in an astoundingly clueless press release issued last week, especially not through the channel of a “passive investor” like Ross.

Members everywhere aren’t buying it. Ross is the CEO of The Related Companies, which in turn is a minority investor in Equinox, so while the latter might have a fair amount of autonomy in terms of its brand and stated values, the former is hardly “passive.” If no company profits—that is, profits from the thousands of dollars each of us pays in fees every year—are making it to Ross, and thus to a political regime inimical to most of its members, Equinox has been slow to offer proof. In response, social media have lit up with threats to quit, to boycott, to vote with our feet and our wallets.

This should be an easy decision for me, really: I’ve already got a lengthy boycott list, and it should be no trouble for me to take my business elsewhere in this case.

So why am I dragging my feet? Why are you? Why does deciding what to do with your gym membership suddenly matter so much? or does it?


I joined my local EQ when it was still under construction in 2007. Moping around the city in the winter after my marriage disintegrated, I was ready to indulge myself a little, upgrade from my functional but unlovely urban gym, distract myself by working out, maybe meet some like-minded people, though I was skeptical of the latter: I’d already been a gym-rat for long years of my life, and had been consistently dismayed by how closed off and unwelcoming my fellow exercisers tended to be. But the sales manager assured me that this new gym, Equinox, would be a family, a community, and in an unfriendly Boston February 12 years ago, that sold me.

And it wasn’t an empty promise. Somehow, the people at that branch of a big chain really were more sociable, more open. Members talked to one another. After being in the same classes with a couple of women, we were brave enough to start chatting on the way to the locker room. Another woman who we’d seen regularly joined in. Soon we were going for drinks and hotdogs together; we invited the instructor of our dance classes; he invited other members—the next thing we knew, we could count on seeing friends whenever we went to the gym.

I hated EQ’s advertising campaigns for a variety of reasons, but I couldn’t deny that when they said “it’s not fitness, it’s life”…increasingly, it was. Sunday mornings, when other people would go to church, we were all at the gym together, taking a kind of communion in spin class, of all things, with our erstwhile drag-queen instructor in the pulpit of what I called Our Lady of Perpetual Vanity; instead of tea and cookies in the church basement, we went for mimosas over brunch. Fit and fun, so urban, so work-hard-play-hard. We loved it. We had accomplished a rare thing, creating connectedness in what can be a pretty lonely city.

In recent years, our #fitfam has become a bit frayed around the edges. Beloved instructors have been promoted into management, and we don’t see them as often. Some of us had to move away for work; others got married and moved to the suburbs; injuries sideline all of us with regularity. We’re getting older. Things change.

But worst of all, the world has changed around us. Fear and violence are pressing in on all sides, it seems. How wonderful it would be if our gym, our community, could be a refuge. For as long as I’ve been there, we’ve all believed that it has been. And now it turns out that may not be true —the threats are everywhere, after all.

If you’re not a fitness person, you might not see the big deal here. If your principles matter, take a stand, you might suggest. It’s easy. A gym’s a gym, right? You don’t like how it’s run, find another gym.

But we have history, me and my gym. There are still familiar, beloved faces there, and good memories. Friends. My former marriage, my job, my gym: in that order, those have been the longest commitments of my adult life.

So I’m dithering over this choice, debating with others about what it might mean to cancel our memberships, because it actually will mean a lot. For one thing, it will hurt me. More importantly, if I and other long-term members quit, we could hurt our friends. If this boycott really works, beloved instructors, managers, trainers, and maintenance people could lose their jobs.

Except—

—Many of us have been drawn to Equinox because of its stated commitment to LGBTQ rights, and yet some of the profits from our labor and fees go to someone who hates us. Many of the women who clean up after us are immigrants, and there’s a good chance that if they’re not illegal, they know others who are…and some of the profits from their labor go to a man who hates those women; or if he doesn’t hate them, he’s still willing to pass those profits on to his friends who definitely do”, friends who would sanction deporting those women, and putting their children in camps. While I and people I care about attempt to be healthy, to find a little refuge of wellness and friendship while the world is on fire, a man who profits from our membership (from our community) hates us. He might object that “hate” is strong word, but the political friends that he supports would strip of us of our human rights at the first opportunity. That seems a lot like hate to me.

So it’s not just a gym. As Equinox has insisted all along, #it’s not fitness, it’s life. That is: this isn’t a trivial decision about a trivial purchase in a life defined by purchases. This place has mattered to me; my values also matter to me, and I can’t be afraid to take a stand for those values.


Many Equinox members acted more quickly than I have, dropping their memberships last week. Others have decided to stay, arguing that a boycott won’t make a difference.

One objection I’m hearing—from friends who are members, from staff—is that a boycott doesn’t really do anything except harm the people at the bottom, the people we care about. Giving up my membership, they say, would be hurting them more than it would some fascist fat cat, insulated by money, privilege, power—and would change nothing. But the #GrabYourWallet campaign, started in the wake of the 2016 election to target over 100 large companies for their business and political ties to the Trump family, has had a real effect. There are currently 15 companies on the boycott list (Equinox and Soul Cycle having just been added): 89 other companies have dropped Trump connections over the last couple of years. If it’s just me boycotting, or just you, then sure, that won’t do much; if we all boycott, that might force changes, namely Equinox severing ties to the Related Companies. It takes 45 days for a membership cancellation to go through—we could leverage a lot of corporate policy in that span of time.

Another objection: I vote, I volunteer, I donate time and money—I’m doing what I can; I’m doing enough already.

Apologies for being difficult: but are you doing enough? I know I’m not. I know plenty of people whose lives are already too precarious for them to risk doing anything. I also know plenty of people who aren’t doing anything but living lives of insulated comfort. So what might constitute enough of an effort for me has to be doubled or tripled to be effective on behalf of those who are unable to do enough, or those who just won’t.

If we were all doing enough, the world would look very different at this precise moment.

The final objection: if you worried about how ethical a given company is, you’d have to boycott everything, and that’s just not realistic.

Think about that last claim for a minute. Take it to a logical conclusion: you’d have to boycott everything…

Indeed.

You’re right—look into the people behind the goods and services and most institutions that we pay for in exchange for comfort in our lives, and—surprise—you’re going to find people who are amoral at best, actively contributing to violence and bigotry at worst. And I don’t want to see what “worst” looks like. Surprise: the very framework of our lives is rotten to the core. So, to protest, to challenge that framework and demand meaningful change—that’s not realistic…because?

Because you know that part of the protest would involve, at a minimum, discomfort and inconvenience, and maybe you’re just tired and stressed from working too hard, and not earning enough (working for whom, again?) to have the energy for that kind of disruption.

Because you’re afraid that if I, you, and everyone we know really wanted to do enough, we’d have to go far beyond boycotts: our actions would change our individual lives, and have consequences for the lives of others. You might hurt other people’s feelings. You might get in trouble. Once you start protesting violence, hatred, the rape of the planet, the incarceration of innocent children, you might get fired (by that same corporation that you’ve been loyal to all along). You might lose your health insurance. You’d be confronted with the fact that you, like those on whose behalf you’d protest, don’t have that many rights, or all that much safety.

When you put it that way, you’re right, cancelling a gym membership is a trivial action. One person boycotting here or there is not enough.

Because: if we honestly face up to just how much peril we’re in, we should all drop everything that doesn’t matter and take to the streets, to protest, to demand a different world, to start living a different world, one that might be a little less comfortable than what we’ve known, but which would be a lot more kind, just, safe, healthy.

You’re right: it’s not fitness. It’s life.

Commit to something.

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