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Peloton’s Jess King On Showing Up For The LGBTQ+ Community

The beloved out and proud LGBTQ+ instructor is celebrating the community, both on and off the platform…
 
By Christopher Turner
 
At-home fitness has changed rapidly in the past year, and Peloton has led the way with its top-tier virtual classes and beautifully shot streaming content. A big part of that success can be attributed to the diverse group of instructors who motivate both on and off the bike.
 
Jess King is one of those instructors: the former dancer has undeniable charisma, a closet of glittering outfits, and an endless amount of energy that inspires and pushes you to the end of that sweat-inducing class. IN caught up with King recently and chatted about everything from how she started with Peloton, to how she picks the music for her classes, to living her life authentically, to how she and the platform are celebrating Pride. Oh, and she shares the story of how she met her fiancée.
 
Let’s talk Peloton! How did you start with the company?
I started here seven years ago. A producer on a show I was working on said, ‘Hey, there’s this thing called ‘Pedal-ton’ and I think you’d be great at it,’ but he said it was indoor cycling, so my initial reaction was that I don’t do that, and I’d never done it before. My mom is also in fitness as an aerobics instructor, a trainer and a bodybuilder, so I was like ‘I’m not my mom! I’m a dancer, I’m an artist!’ Then I realized I’m also broke, and I had promised myself a Year of Yes, so I took the meeting with Ryan Engel and John Foley. John took me through the concept and the model, and it was new and exciting. I had this feeling of ‘I have no idea how he’s going to accomplish what he says he’s going to, but I believe him.’ I was interested and I wanted to do it, so I made the transition from dance to fitness. At the end of the day, I’ve always been an athlete and musically driven. I had also been teaching dance for 15 years, so it really wasn’t that far of a leap – the main difference was that now my feet were clipped in.
 
How would you describe a Jess King class? You know…for someone who has never ridden with you.
I wish I were more predictable – I’m not! I’m giving you something that’s authentic, genuine and in real time based on what I’m going through, where I am in my life, what’s relevant and how I’m feeling. What you can always bank on, though, is a very challenging workout. I have a hard time scaling back. I’m always pushing myself to the edge. So you can anticipate that unless the class is designed to be low impact or for advanced beginners, it’s going to be somewhat challenging.
 
I spend a lot of time on my music and you can bet that it’s also going to be spontaneous. I might start off with a ’90s pop song, then somewhere in the middle we’re rocking out to Metallica and we finish with Aladdin’s ‘Friend Like Me.’ It could journey all over the place based on the intention and how I want you to feel in that exact moment. I use music to create a story and to really move myself – and everyone else – from one place to another, so we’re all going through this experience, this journey, together. You’re going to end up somewhere you did not start off, that’s for sure.
 
I love moving my body, I love being in front of the camera and I love the fact that I am moving with thousands of people at the same time – our community is 5.4 million members! We’re this giant heartbeat. I always say that Peloton gets the absolute best of me. I am my favourite version of myself when I am in front of the camera and moving with our members. So bottom line, you can expect tons of energy, challenging workouts and eclectic music!
 
How do you pick the music you play in your classes?
I want each song to make you feel like ‘Oh yeah, I remember this!’ Or you have this nostalgic experience and it really motivates you. The music is always going to match the intensity of what I’m going for. I’m someone who has an aversion to riding off-beat so my cadence, my RPM, is always going to be matching my BPM. I’m also an EDM house head. I love house music – that’s my thing! I pride myself on my house playlists and I often collaborate with DJ John Michael on those so that the mix is fluid and feels like you’re out at a party.
 
I spend a lot of time – hours and hours – curating my playlist to find the right music. I take it very seriously. For me, music is the most important factor; it’s the connective tissue between the movement, between each other, and it keeps us all synergistically in the same rhythm and the same flow. Then when the lyrics hit, that matches the way you’re feeling or unlocks something inside of you or allows you to tap into your emotions. We’ve all had that moment where you’re like ‘ahhhh’ and the music moves you. I did a RENT run to kick off Pride Week this morning, and I don’t even know if I coached the class – I was like, ‘I’m just going to push play and we’re going to run and sing along to the best soundtrack of any Broadway show that’s ever existed.’ Music is so important to me.
 
Let’s talk about how Peloton celebrates identity and representation. Personally, I ride with the #PelotonPride hashtag, and it surprised me how a hashtag could bring people together, especially through the past year. Can you talk a little bit about how little things like this help bring the LGBTQ2S community together?
Tags are special because you have to choose to be a part of it, and that means it matters and means something to the member. So when you find other people who have sought out the same tag, it’s a collective vibration, a collective connection of values and energy. Knowing that you’re not alone and you have this team of people within a larger team is powerful and significant.
 
I would also like to point out that we have a non-binary option when you create your profile so you can pick from male, female or non-binary. It’s really important that our community, the LGBTQ+ community, and our non-binary family members, feel seen and feel like they have a place. Peloton prides itself on being diverse and that’s so important to the fabric of who we are – that we’re multicoloured and that every identity is represented within the Peloton umbrella.
 
Given that we’re a virtual platform, what’s interesting and different is that you’re not just scrolling, tapping and liking, but you’re actively participating and we can gauge your metrics, we can gauge your participation, and you’re pouring energy into it. When you ride together with a tag or ride together as a community, not only are you saying ‘I’m part of this community,’ but you’re contributing your life energy into it. Yes, we’re feeling that within Peloton, but it has this ripple effect in our local communities as well – in our neighbourhoods, within our homes and within our families. That’s what makes us a global community: we come together on the Leaderboard, and what we create together then extends into people who aren’t even part of the Peloton community. I think that’s powerful.
 

How is Peloton celebrating Pride 2021?
I make it a point to celebrate Pride 365 days a year at Peloton by being out, by being proud, by talking about it, and by creating content in months other than June. It’s important to me to celebrate this community, to be loud and to be heard, because representation truly matters and I don’t take that responsibility lightly. I’m so proud and excited that Peloton takes the time to put a lot of energy into celebrating this month because it means so much to so many of us, but also that it extends beyond just June.
 
Peloton has honoured the diversity of the experiences and uniqueness that form our LGBTQ+ community with music, themed classes and a new apparel collection this Pride Month. We’re highlighting the power and creativity of Pride with themed workouts and music moments featuring icons and rising stars within the LGBTQ+ community, including our RENT Artist Series, which I’ll be teaching!
 
To support the safety, mental health and well-being of LGBTQ+ communities, we’re also donating a total of $100,000 to four global organizations, including The 519 in Toronto, as well as The Ali Forney Center, London Friend and GLADT. These organizations protect and foster the journeys of individuals in LGBTQ+ communities across the world, and we’re proud to partner with them in their mission.
 
Outside of the studio…you’re engaged! Congratulations! What’s the update on wedding plans!
I feel like Sophia and I need to actually have a conversation about this because it keeps coming up and we don’t have plans right now! We don’t have a date yet, but most likely it will be some time next summer. We wanted to get out of this ‘great pause’ chapter and we did not want to modify the way we wanted to celebrate. We’ve been together for over six years now, so nobody is going anywhere, you know? We focus so much more on how we express love every single day and how we show up for each other every day, that a wedding for us is more about giving back to our community and giving everyone we love a chance to gather and hold space in that public way.
 
How did you two meet?
We were both in the same show in a New York City nightclub called The Box, which is also when Peloton came into my life. It’s this seedy, burlesque nightclub and my whole life has come from this place – I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined that something beautiful and profound would have been born from this underground nightclub in NYC.
 
I walked in one day for rehearsal and she was on stage. Turns out that she was the emcee of the show and I was a dancer. I had never been with a woman before, ever – not even messed around – but there was something about her. It’s interesting when anyone meets her, they’re always like ‘Ohhh, I get it now’ because it doesn’t matter how you identify, there’s something about her energy that pulls you in. Kind of like a sex symbol, almost like how Prince was, when you see her, you’re just like ‘I want to be near that.’ I was so ignorant and naive, and walked up to her and was like ‘Hey, do you want to hook up?’ and she was like ‘What? No! Why would I want to do that – I’m not your experiment!’ Then I had a moment of ‘Oh, that was rude, I should not objectify people like that.’ That was awful.’
 
So, she forced me into friendship and I really didn’t want that. I thought I had enough friends, I wasn’t interested in more than a hookup, and it never crossed my mind that I would fall in love. But after a year of friendship, I realized that I did have a deeper connection and deeper feelings for her, and I decided that I’m absolutely not going to deny myself love solely because it showed up in a different package. Everything I had ever wanted in terms of how she made me feel – safe, seen, loved, adored, treasured – was so healing for me that it was something to overcome in the beginning; my own judgment, my own limiting beliefs about what I should or shouldn’t do. What was so real was the way that I felt for her, and that love being reciprocated, so after a year of friendship and four months of courtship, we took it really slow, but we started dating. It was so scary at first, but so incredibly beautiful and rewarding. I’m so free-spirited and there’s a rebellious part of me that really likes the thrill of carving my own path and doing things my way.
 

For those who don’t know, Sophia is a musician…so I have to ask: what’s your favourite Sophia song?
This is an easy one because she wrote a song to propose to me with, called ‘Everything About You.’ There’s also a music video that we filmed when we were on vacation in Nicaragua a year or two earlier – I didn’t even know what it was all for and then she put it all together in this video and showed it to me at our engagement party and it was incredible. I don’t like surprises, and this is probably the only surprise that has ever moved me like that.
 
She’s also part of this band called Brass Against and I cannot get enough of her cover of Tool’s song ‘The Pot.’ Her vocals, the way she just goes for it, I just can’t get enough of listening to her sing that track.
 
And stay tuned…I have to do a shameless plug!…she just recorded a new album, so I’m sure I’ll have an updated list of my favourite songs soon.
 
What do you want people to know about you that they might not already know?
What don’t people know? I have a problem with keeping anything in – I talk about everything that’s going on in my life, I’m not very secretive.
 
I often hear that I’m intimidating, and I want people to know that no matter how my energy may or may not make you feel, that I am safe. If you ever want to approach me, if you ever want to come talk to me or confide in me, know that I am a safe space and a safe person to do that with. I genuinely find it very hard to judge people, only because I used to be the most ‘Judgmental Judy’ ever. Then I realized that being judgmental and critical of others was a reflection of my relationship with myself, and I committed to do my work around that, to become someone that was accepting, empathetic and understanding to myself and others. My energy is big and unapologetic and understandably a lot for some people, but if you lean in, you’ll realize I’m a good listener and I care deeply for the people in my life.
 
What’s next for you?
Sophia and I have started a cooking show called Ooo, Mami and we want to continue doing that. We’re having a lot of fun building it: we played around with one that was more of a telenovela, we just did one that was a Battle of the Bowls cookoff contest, and we might lean into a little Lucy and Ricky kind of idea. We’re playing around with how we want the show to evolve, so I would stay tuned for that.
 
We also just bought a house! This is such an amazing, huge project. We’re both very creative, very artistic, and we’re both very opinionated, so it’s going to be a really fun process and collaboration to create a space that’s uniquely ours.
 
And stay tuned for the wedding at some point!
 
If someone could only take one Jess King ride…which one should it be?
I haven’t changed my answer to this in a very long time: the one ride that I stand by with my whole heart is the New Year’s Eve episode from the Jess King Experience Season 2. It’s not because of anything I said or did, but because of the way I felt in that ride. There was something magical about everything that went into the experience, and it’s the most free, the most beautiful and the most authentically me I’ve ever felt in a class before. The lighting is amazing, my costume is amazing and DJ John Michael is amazing. If a 45-minute ride intimidates you, this is your call to action.
 

 
CHRISTOPHER TURNER acted as guest editor for this issue of IN Magazine. He is a Toronto-based writer, editor and lifelong fashionisto with a passion for pop culture and sneakers. Follow him on social media at @Turnstylin.
 
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