Fires Burning in the Gym

by Iarlaith Ni Fheorais | 28th March 2020

Billions of animals incinerated as I did my first ever 5km. I’d been at the gym stuff for a year, but it was still new to me. Slowly discovering new things my body could do and how long it could do it for. A soft twinky body, slowly bulking up, betraying my gender. Do I really want to be a muscle femme? Needed to stay healthy tho. Death drive. I always enjoyed the feeling of going to the gym over anything else; that high. There was also a high from the response you got from a body ever-changing. Firming up, more defined and palatable. Men were also paying me more attention, which is almost impossible to ignore. I shouldn’t be affirmed by that type of shallow attention but you try and resist. I heard Kathy Acker used to bodybuild and wrote about it. She looked hot. I never read any of the texts of course but it was a significant motivation.

I want to know who thought it was a good idea to have four screens – three playing Sky News and the fourth daytime TV  – lined up in front of the treadmills. At the time it was non-stop coverage of the wildfires in Australia. Unprecedented burning, destruction and displacement. Firestorms. Fire tornados. Firebombs. Was this a new language for what already exists or are these entirely new phenomena? Environmental catastrophe finally matching up to the images of a lifetime of watching cli-fi. I never stopped running tho. I’d never been more fit, running faster and further every day. Whilst I broke through my second wind, 30 mins into the run, families took shelter in the sea, waiting to be rescued as their homes and the sky are engulfed in a luminescent orange glow. No one else seemed to notice. Kylie Minogue’s Fever album blared through my earphones, escalating into euphoric mixes at the end.

As a kid, I was a disaster movie obsessive. I would rewatch movies like The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon, Independence Day... anything that involved the end of the world. It could have been escapism. I’m a meticulous planner, maybe I was prepping. That scene where Jake Gyllenhaal strips to his briefs after diving into the freezing water to call his dad in the New York Public Library could play a part. I would also only watch ‘history’ docs on National Geographic, History and Discovery about ‘lost’ civilisations, especially their collapse. I later learnt they were not lost and that the mystery was a colonial fantasy of the white historians who made these histories and stories scarce. A manufactured collapse. Many of these civilisations have persisted and their ancestors have held onto this knowledge for generations.

I also loved Air Crash Investigation but that could have just been a general moroseness as a child.

I finally moved away from the treadmills and into the weights section. “Shouldn’t get too thin!” There are no TVs there. Didn’t need to run from anything anymore. I got a kick out of seeing the gym bunnies, bursting in their muscled fleshy bodies stare in disgust and surprise as I lifted 120kg on the leg press with my crippled faggoty legs. This is when I first heard of Coronavirus in Wuhan, first from the news and then from my friend and ex-lover in China. He was teaching English to rich kids in Chengdu, about 14 hours from Wuhan. Before he found a good VPN, the only way we could chat was over Grindr, the only app not blocked by the Great Fire Wall. Everything was closing, even the gyms. I begged him to leave, he’d be safe in Europe. He could finally move to London, the perfect excuse. I’d find him a job and he could crash with me if he’d like.

The gym closed two weeks ago, anticipating the official lockdown. I cancelled my membership the week before, it was inevitable. Their desperate emails ensuring us that everything was being disinfected just put me off further. Maybe I could spend that £50 on food I couldn’t afford before. Get thicc and plump. It’s kind of a relief to think all those built, sculpted idolised gays will turn out the same. Unable to run away. As I walked past the gym on the night it closed, I saw a huge burly guy leave, perhaps for his last workout. Defeated, sullen but strangely heroic. Last man off the ship.

The only exercise I get now is walking in Abney Cemetery Park with the dead, looking out to see if it’s still being used as a cruising stop. My housemate once told me she got locked in Abney at night with some friends who were performing rituals. Stumbling through the dense foliage, they came across a naked young shivering twink on the bad end of a comedown looking for a fuck. Abney is that kinda place, full of spirits. 

Published as part of Warm Yourself By My Trash Fire (March – May 2020)

Liquid explores expressions of intimacy in the private and public realms, in our digital and offline lives.