I went back to the gym after taking two months off. As soon as I entered the New York Sports Club, I remembered why I hadn’t been back. I didn’t want to use the women’s locker room. There have been several critical moments in my transition where parts of my routine that I could previously tolerate suddenly became unthinkable. Where my ability to dissociate snapped. Where the cognitive dissonance broke the sound barrier.
Every time I entered the women’s locker room I steeled myself for a question, a comment, or a dirty look. Unpleasant incidents are not unusual when you are butch, gender non-conforming, queer, or transgender. I thought I should be strong enough to handle the occasional negative reaction. That it was their problem, not mine.
I expected that as my dysphoria decreased, as I became more comfortable in my body, I would feel more entitled to use the locker room. Instead, the opposite happened. I felt increasingly out-of-place there. I was forcing myself to do something that felt wrong. To me. I was actively misgendering myself.
I need to go to the gym. Regularly. By any means necessary. It makes me feel strong and solid. It helps me keep my weight down. It gives me a more masculine profile. It keeps my anger in check. There are no negatives attached to the gym, except the locker room.
The obvious answer is to stay out of the locker room, even though it it more convenient to change and shower there. Do what the straight men do (to avoid being cruised). Wear work out clothing to the gym; get sweaty and shower at home. Don’t worry about looking gross.
It felt a little strange to put my sweatpants on over my shorts. To put my sweatshirt on over my T-shirt. To put my down jacket on top of everything. It is only a ten minute walk to the gym. My ankles got cold because there was a gap between the top of my no-show socks and the bottom of my sweatpants. My shorts rode up and bunched around my crotch. I felt like the Michelin Man in diapers.
I took the sweats and my jacket off. I put the pile of discarded garments on the windowsill. I did my warm ups in my shorts and T-shirt. It was not a glamorous solution, but it was way better than using the locker room. It will be easier in the spring. Fewer layers.
I was dripping wet by the time I finished. I did some stretches. I dried off with the tiny towel the gym provides and I put my sweatpants and sweatshirt back on. I didn’t care how sweaty and gross I looked. I didn’t care about walking home in the freezing cold. I cared that I worked out without feeling like an interloper, without worrying if someone was going to call for security or say something sarcastic. I cared because I’m never going to use the locker room again.
Notes: This is a link to the Change Room Project, an art project which was on display earlier this year at the University of Toronto. The project’s goal was to raise awareness about the anxiety and fear that some LGBTQ people experience in the locker room. There is also a 6 minute podcast about it from CBC Radio here.
When I listened to the podcast, I started to think that I should reconsider, and try to find a way to reclaim my space in the women’s locker room. Then I realized that I’m past that point, and that there is no turning back.