Shirts vs. Skins

My kind of locker room.

My kind of locker room. Getty Images.

Another visit to the gym and another epiphany. In my previous post I wrote that I feel physically safe in the women’s locker room, but not emotionally safe. I try to ignore my emotions. It is machismo.

I use the women’s locker room because I think I should be strong enough to handle it. I think I should have a thick skin and not be bothered by how out-of-place I feel. That changing at home is wimping out. Because I don’t want to let the girls with the pony tails chase me out of the playground again. It is grade school, redux.

I also realized that I want to change and towel off like a guy, not a gal. I want to wrap the towel around my waist, not around my chest like a strapless little white cocktail dress. I don’t want to look like a woman, even in the women’s locker room. Even though I’ve never used a men’s locker room, I know that guys don’t wrap like that.

Not me. Not Gracie. But I'd wear the green towel that way.

Not me. Not Gracie. But I’d wear the green towel that way. Getty Images.

If I brought a beach towel I could put it over my shoulders and cover everything in a more neutral way (thank you to Mary for sharing your coping mechanisms).

I’ve only seen a few women completely naked at the gym. It is a breach of etiquette to stroll around the locker room naked. It is a breach of etiquette to look at someone while they are changing, especially if you can see anything. Especially if you are a butch lesbian or a masculine genderqueer person with a vagina. Better to be stared at than to be caught staring.

I count on the gym to ring my male chimes, and the locker room gets in the way of that. I work out in a heather gray T-shirt and navy blue shorts. No spandex, no capris, no neon, no big logos. I like having muscles, and even though I am not on testosterone, I have pretty decent back and shoulder muscles (for a girl). I am solid for my size.

If it would do any good, I’d hang upside down from the gym bars to gain a couple of inches or a shoe size. I’m stuck at 5’4″ with a size 7 US men’s shoe. Unfortunately, neither the gym nor testosterone can help me there.

When I first started using free weights, the trainer told me “don’t round your back, straighten it out.” I was bent over at a 90° angle, and even though I was looking in the mirror, I could not figure out how to shift from a rounded back to a flat back. I could not isolate any of the muscles. I could not manipulate my body. Now I automatically check my alignment from my head to my toes. Everything feels connected.

My first time back in the gym after top surgery I took it really easy. I dropped the weight down and worked out with dumbbells and kettlebells for flexibility and form. My second time back I dropped the weight but did my regular work out. It felt right except for the bench press. I couldn’t “find” my chest muscles. I could move the bar up and down (20 lbs. less than usual), but I couldn’t feel my chest muscles contract. I was all arms and shoulders.

I didn’t have the guts to wriggle around and flex my pecs in the gym mirror. I waited until I got home. I took off my shirt and stood in front of the mirror and took some deep breaths. I tried to flex. Nothing moved except my shoulders. I clasped my hands in front of my chest, breathed in, tensed, and squeezed, and they moved.

My pectoral muscles look lopsided (from top surgery), but they are there. I flexed a dozen times and then it clicked. They contracted on demand. I’ll be able to build them back up in time for the summer, even if I’m swimming with the shirts instead of the skins.

Notes: Here is a good explanation of why testosterone doesn’t make you taller, from a FtM site in Australia, and here is a twenty-minute movie about a stealth trans man caught up in a shirts vs. skins basketball game.

14 thoughts on “Shirts vs. Skins

  1. butchcountry67

    cripes I don’t even use a gym or a public pool, I’t’s an odd and sometimes scary feeling when you can’t feel your chest muscles at first, things that used to move don’t it can be unnerving at first, but it doesn’t take long for your brain to realign with your body

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I know. I can barely remember when I first started to work out – and had never thought of my body as anything but arms/legs/head etc. and had to start thinking about biceps, triceps, lats, etc. Now I am so used to it that it was a shock to lose the brain muscle connection (I had a loss of muscle after having knee surgery from muscle isolation/atrophy from being on crutches but the muscle memory was there) but I’m working on getting it back.
      I’m still working on the pool thing. I love to swim but somehow a lake or the the ocean (Saskatchewan is landlocked?) seem less formal about swimwear.

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      1. butchcountry67

        we have a lot of lakes here, but I don’t get to them often. you’d think that after 20 or so years I wouldn’t be so self conscious , but I am

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  2. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC)

    I do the two towel approach. One around the waist and one slung around my neck draping down to cover the chest. Peace.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      My gym must have the smallest towels (to make it useless to steal them unless you want to dry dishes). The over the shoulders doesn’t quite cut it. I’m going to “invest” in a couple of beach towels as an experiment.

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      Reply
  3. J.D.

    “It is a breach of etiquette to stroll around the locker room naked.”

    It sure wasn’t at the Y I went to in the late 1970s when I was 12. It seemed there were a lot of women who made a point of flashing as much as possible. They’d stroll out of the shower carrying (not wearing) their towel. They’d start with their socks when dressing and would delay putting on a bra until after they had blown dry their hair and put on makeup. It was horrible. I’ve always been the one who changes at home or waits for a private cubicle. I’ll probably do the same after top surgery.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think times have changed – older people are comfortable prancing around but a lot of the women in their 20’s seem overly modest. But at least at my gym (most women between 25-40) there is an attempt to cover up. I remember as a kid going clothes shopping with my mother to a department store with open dressing areas for the women – everyone could see everyone else change – and comment on how they looked in it. Haven’t seen one of those in a long time.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Brave or foolish – I’m not sure which. I was talking about this with Donna and I realized I am much more likely to get a “this is the ladies room” when I am fully clothed and on my way in than when I am naked/towel wrapped – so it is probably just the potential for stares and my own self-consciousness that I need to get over. I don’t feel like my top surgery is anything I need to hide. Swimming is the next hurdle.

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      1. The Final Rinse

        The funny thing is that for whatever thing that a person is self-conscious about, there are a bunch of other people walking around that don’t even realize that they are supposed to be self-conscious about tha thing.

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  4. Mxtrmeike13

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences! Thankfully they have a family changing room at the Y here in Madison, otherwise I’d all but refuse to go to they gym. You’ll teach to teach me how to do that pec-flexing thing. I still can’t figure it out!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      http://amanandamouse.blogspot.com/2014/05/keeping-fit-with-rudolph-valentino.html

      You are welcome. So here is how I flexed. If you look for the picture in the above post of rudolph valentino clasping his hands in front of his chest as if he was an opera singer going for a high C – assume that pose. Breathe in and clench/press your hands together and hold the breath for a second or two, you should see your chest muscles contract. There is a lot of silly stuff for teenage boys if you google “how do I flex my chest muscles”.

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  5. Tea With Ess

    I’m so envious of you for being able to go to the gym at all, Im still prohibited to do any weightlifting or even swimming! The only thing I can do at the moment is my stretch exercises and I can feel my muscles fading away for each day that passes. It really sucks!

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  6. Jamie Ray Post author

    Hopefully you will be allowed to resume exercising soon. The good thing is that muscles come back pretty quickly and that 6-8 weeks after you resume you should be back in shape. Meanwhile you’ve got enough on your plate – you probably get a work out just picking the baby up and down all day.

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