Topless in the Locker Room – Part II

topless-at-the-gym-2

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“.

 

10 thoughts on “Topless in the Locker Room – Part II

  1. mmayfaire

    I understand your feelings about the ladies locker room. I have never felt comfortable there. In High School and College it was a nightmare and the reason I stopped being involved in team sports. Your experience at Loehmann’s was mirrored by mine at Lord and Taylor in Plantation, Florida. That huge horrible open room with mirrored walls. I think it scared me for life. I do all my shopping online.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’ll shop places that have all gender changing rooms, but mostly I also shop online. It took me a while to get used to returning things, but now I order away and if it doesn’t fit/look good I send it back. I’m a big believer in free returns.
      I’m very good at ignoring how uncomfortable I am, so I put up with the group locker room in college sports. I finally decided that it is not better to try to force myself to use the women’s locker room than to accept that I really don’t want to.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It isn’t always easy to find the right image, but that is actually women using the shower in a public bath-house. My gym has curtains on the showers, but it still feels like I’m showering in front of everyone else.

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  2. S Fred L

    I sympathise! Swimming is my thing, and I am less and less inclined to go to the pools that don’t have gender-neutral changing cubicles. The most convenient pool has gendered changing and there are cubicles but they don’t have doors – when I go there I use the women’s facilities and feel deeply uncomfortable. I’m more inclined now to go out of my way and use the poolside, unmarked cubicles at a different pool.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for sharing what you do. I’m swimming in board shorts and a rash guard this summer, but only at a lake and at the beach – both places I’m arriving already in my swim clothes. There are some outdoor public pools where I live, but no all gender changing areas – and you have to shower before you enter the swim area – so you have to go through either the men’s or the women’s locker room.

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  3. mostcurious

    As always, the more you write, the more comfortable I feel saying, hey, me too. I lucked out on the department store front as by the time I was a child, most dressing rooms had doors, but locker rooms, man. I opted out of HS sports due to the stress of locker rooms and undiagnosed asthma.

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  4. Lesboi

    I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a big open changing area like you mentioned but the thought of it freaks me completely out! I’ve stopped going to the gym and when I do work out, I do it at home now because I’m equally uncomfortable in both lockers. I’ve never even tried going into the men’s but the thought of it just is too much for me at this point. Maybe one day I’ll feel ok with it. Lockers, in general, have always been very stressful places for me and I’ve always avoided them. When I did go to the gym I only used the locker room for the locker part to keep my personal items like keys and wallet while I worked out and went home to shower and dress for the day. It makes the whole thing a lot more time consuming but easier mentally.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The open dressing room was particular to a kind of discount store before there was electronic theft prevention, although it was also part of Loehmann’s culture, so they kept it until they closed.
      My gym locker room doesn’t have any real privacy except in the bathroom stall, and I’m not into changing there. If my apartment was big enough I’d consider working out in it too, but I like working out in the gym – so long as I don’t have to get naked at any point while I’m there.

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