I went back to the gym for the first time in three months. My surgeon cleared me on January 15, but then Donna went into the hospital. I’m just starting to feel comfortable leaving her alone for a few hours at a time.
The truth is, I was avoiding the women’s locker room. All of my adult life I’ve steeled myself going in and out of bathrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms. I brace myself for the challenge. If you see something say something. I don’t apologize. I have the right to be there, but I don’t fully believe I belong there. I feel like an interloper.
It was my luck that the first day back, and as I was entering the locker room after my work out, I ran into a work friend of Donna’s. Carol was dressed in her street clothes and packing up. I was in shorts and a sweat soaked T-shirt. We chatted in front of my locker and then I sat down and fiddled with my lock and waited for her to put on her coat and leave. It was awkward. If I hadn’t just had top surgery, I might have stripped down. I waited. I was anxious.
Lots of women have locker room anxiety. They are shy about being naked in front of other women. They deal with it by arriving in their gym clothes and then going home and showering. Others opt for the modest multi-towel changing technique. They never show anything between their shoulders and their thighs. They shimmy into their bra and panties while remaining covered by towels. Other women change in the bathroom stall or shower stall, behind closed doors.
It feels physically safe for me to use the women’s locker room, but I downplay the emotional danger. Being able to enter women’s spaces is a privilege I am not ready to give up. Not until there is an all gender alternative.
When I first started letting myself blur the boundary between butch and transgender, I would try to remember to wear a sports bra and women’s underwear on gym days instead of a binder and men’s low-rise trunks. I kept “forgetting” and then stopped trying to remember. I got used to it and then it seemed normal.
I am comfortable in the weight room, even when it is crowded, even when I am lifting less than everyone else. I’m in my own world.
I’ve been stopped by women, and by men, on my way in to the locker room. I’ve had women do a double take when they came in because they weren’t sure they were in the right room. Some women are uncomfortable with butch lesbians in the locker room. Some women have a hard time figuring me out. That is their problem, not mine. I can defend my right to be there. There is a big bold F on my New York State Driver License.
I spend as little time in the women’s locker room as possible, but I like to shower after I work out. I sweat; I don’t perspire. I walk to and from the shower with one towel tied around my waist, and another hugged against my chest. Even after top surgery the gym towels are too small to wrap all the way around my chest. I dry off and get dressed quickly, facing my locker. I don’t primp in front of the mirror.
Still, I feel out-of-place. This is not unique; a lot of people on the trans spectrum avoid the men’s and the women’s locker rooms because they don’t feel safe in either place. I would like my body to be seen as just another body, and for all to assume that I know where I am going and that I belong where I am.
Notes: This is an account of what happened when a trans man used the men’s changing room at a NYC public swimming pool.
Unrelated to the above post, last week my local public radio station (WNYC) aired a segment on gender neutral college students. They opened up the phone lines, and you can hear my comments at the 7 minute mark (you can fast forward the player), here.