When I’m in a gym frame of mind, I pencil in my workout time and I don’t let anything else get in my way. I pre-pack my gym bag with shorts, socks, a T-shirt, sneakers, and a charged iPod. When I’m in a gym frame of mind I feel strong and solid. I don’t hesitate or find excuses to avoid going.
I didn’t go back to the gym after I came back from New Mexico. It took me six weeks to get around to it, and when I went back, it didn’t feel right. Not the first time, not the second time. The third time I realized that I didn’t want to go into the locker room to change or shower. I forced myself to do it. I wasn’t avoiding working out, I was avoiding changing in public. I was avoiding being naked in a women’s space.
For 15 years I have steeled myself to walk in and out of the women’s locker room. I tried to convince myself that not only do I have a right to be there, but that I should keep going until it stops bothering me. That I should exercise my right to use it.
I am more aware of being transmasculine in female gendered spaces since I had top surgery. I want the gym to be a place where I don’t think about my gender. While I am comfortable on the gym floor lifting weights, I don’t want to keep pretending that I am comfortable entering that locker room. I’d rather change and shower at home, even though it is less convenient.
The first open dressing room I encountered was at Loehmann’s in Riverdale (The Bronx). My grandmother and mother shopped there for deeply discounted designer dresses, and brought me along. There were racks and racks of dresses. Loehmann’s had a large communal dressing room with no partitions and no privacy. The walls were lined with mirrors and a few pegs to hang up clothes. I’d seen my mother and grandmother struggle to get into girdles, and wrangle the hooks on their bra’s, but I’d never seen a room full of women in foundation garments wriggling in and out of cocktail dresses. I was mortified. Embarrassed. I wanted to go home.
There was no place to look without catching a glimpse of a woman getting undressed. I received an unwanted education in the variety of bra’s, girdles, panties, and hosiery available to women of all sizes and ages. The women chattered away as they tried on dress after dress. Unsolicited opinions were offered on size, cut, color, original price, and the appropriateness of the outfit. There was a possibility of finding something fabulous, but no one wanted to make a mistake; everything at Loehmann’s was final sale. I was vaguely aware that I was supposed to enjoy this.
I avoid the locker room during peak hours. The undergarments that women wear have changed, but my feelings about them haven’t. I feel odd pulling my T-shirt on after I come out of the shower. My boxer briefs are clearly not panties. Even my athletic socks look out-of-place. I don’t know where to rest my eyes. My discomfort is the same discomfort I had as a child, except that this time around I’m in charge. Last year I wrote “Topless in the Locker Room” to convince myself to tough it out. Today, I’m throwing in the towel and showering at home.
Notes: This post “Even Lumberjacks Deserve Lotion: Gender in the Locker Room” is a great description of what it feels like to be gender non-conforming at the gym. The author is a member of the same gym chain that I go to (NYSC).
Loehmann’s went out of business in 2014. It is memorialized in Mara Menachem’s post “Everything I Learned, I Learned in the Group Dressing Room at Loehmann’s“.