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Gymming While Trans

Having to dress like this to go outside generally means having access to a gym is important

Having to dress like this to go outside generally means having access to a gym is important. I also don’t have a more appropriate photo handy for this post 🙂

Almost a year and a half ago, I wrote about how worried I was about gymming while trans. As it turned out, I was actually more scared of approaching it than I originally thought. So I didn’t. I kept paying my monthly gym membership, but never used it again. Eventually, I moved to Jersey City and used this as motivation to just up and cancel my membership. I never once stepped foot into that gym again after starting transition.

Instead of dealing with it, I ran all of last winter outside with no help from the treadmill, which lead to some safety issues during New Jersey Marathon training because of all the snow and ice on the ground. I just didn’t have the strength to walk in there and say “hey, I need to update my membership to reflect that I’m a woman. I’ll also be using the women’s locker room from now on.” I played that out in my head over and over again and I simply couldn’t imagine it being a smooth conversation that didn’t end in complete humiliation.

Skip ahead to a few months ago–November, I believe–and I was finally ready to deal with all of this. I had been wanting to try spin for years and my wife convinced me to book a class with her. I was excited and terrified all at once. I was especially worried because it was an early morning class before work. I wasn’t going to just be walking in, spinning, and leaving. I was going to have to shower and get ready for work there. Eep!

I spent the night before freaking out to my wife about it. I was a complete nervous wreck. “But someone is going to freak out about me being trans!” “I’m going to get chased out of there!” It went on and on while she tried to talk some sense into me, but I couldn’t really calm down about it.

The next morning, when we showed up, I was already dressed for class so I threw my crap in a locker and hopped on my bike. Class was amazing and I immediately fell in love with spin–so much so that I try to do it at least once a week now. After class, it was time to actually deal with this whole being trans in a locker room thing. Luckily, this particular spin studio has an open locker area with private unisex changing rooms, bathroom, and showers. Definitely the way to go. I didn’t have to worry about someone freaking out that I was “in the wrong room” or anything like that. I went about my business and showered, got dressed, did my hair, and put on my makeup. Entirely uneventful!

Life would be so much simpler if every gym was like this, but sadly that’s not the case.

Shortly after that, I decided to join ClassPass which lets you take an unlimited number of fitness classes at hundreds of studios for one flat fee each month. The only catch is that you are limited to three visits per studio per month. Since I like doing spin once a week now, that meant having to branch out to other spin studios. The not so fun thing about this is not all studios have private unisex showers and changing rooms. My second favorite spin studio has women’s and men’s areas, as does the gym I’ve joined since.

Now, I actually have to deal with using single-sex locker rooms and it’s terrifying every time. It likely wouldn’t be nearly as bad if I worked out after work and just threw some sweats and my jacket on and left. But I workout in the morning before work. I have to shower and change there. In a locker room. Full of cisgender women. While hoping no one notices I’m trans and freaks out.

On Tuesday, I came out of the shower all wrapped up with a couple towels and hurried over to my locker. I try my best to not really look at anyone and just go about my business as quickly and quietly as I can without being noticed. Sitting on the bench next to my locker was a middle-aged woman. I looked up for just a second to see this woman staring at me with the dirtiest look. It cut through me hard. Her face was screaming “YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!” I was horrified. I grabbed my clothes from my locker and ran back to a shower stall to change in private. When I came out, she was gone, but my fear wasn’t. I half expected someone who worked there to come in screaming at me.

While looks like that don’t happen every time, I’m still constantly terrified. I keep my eyes down and don’t look at anyone. I try not to talk to anyone so I don’t have to worry about my voice outing me, but other women will occasionally talk to me. I respond quickly and quietly, praying they don’t think anything of my voice.

I always change in a shower stall or bathroom stall or whatever private area is available. Under no circumstances would I want someone to see what’s between my legs. Fuck, I don’t even let people see my stomach. While other women are walking around in their bras, I always have a shirt on.

But that’s sort of the thing here that people freak out about. Politicians, transphobes, and people-who-claim-they’re-not-transphobes-but-are-totally-not-okay-with-trans-women-in-women’s-spaces love to obsess over our genitals. They seem to care more about them than we do. They go on and on about how we don’t belong in women’s spaces (e.g. locker rooms) “because penis.” I’d really like to know how they know what’s between our legs. We don’t go around showing them. I go through great lengths to make sure no one could ever see my genitals.

Despite this, other women get to change out in the open locker rooms. Some women are more private about their changing than others, but there’s always the one or two of them who give zero fucks and are hanging out straight-up naked. That’s cool, I don’t really care much what you do. If you’re comfortable baring all in the locker room, that’s totally cool.

But, here’s the thing, you being naked actually makes me terribly uncomfortable. I’m in constant fear of being accused of just trying to see other women naked. Yes, I’m into chicks, but I’m in the locker room to change and shower. That’s it. I keep my eyes down. When I’m using the mirror, my eyes don’t wander an inch.

And even if I did want to see you naked in the locker room and snuck a peak, do you have any idea how much dysphoria I’d have to deal with for the rest of the day? How badly my body image issues would be triggered? No, you probably don’t have any idea. At best, I’d just completely shut down and be useless for a few hours. At worst, I’d spend much of the day thinking about how much I’d rather just die.

I’m not suggesting people don’t change out in the open if they’re comfortable with that. My only point here is that if the presence of a trans woman in a locker room makes you uncomfortable, you need to get over it. It takes every bit of emotional strength I have to get through each and every time I enter a locker room. I’m scared out of my mind every time.

13 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this. I haven’t been to the gym in a long while since I heard men in the men’s locker room talking about raping women. I am always so scared someone will realize I’m trans and attack me. I also run alone outside to avoid gyms. Some gym that was sensitive to this issue could be making all the trans gym dollars.

  2. I’m really sorry that changing/showering in a locker room is so hard for you. I appreciate your sharing this. People really need to understand that it is harder for transgender people to be in single sex locker rooms than it is for cisgender people to be in locker rooms with transgender people. Thank you for sharing your voice and perspective.

  3. I love all your blogs! I wish everybody could be open minded and supportive of whatever sex you are and not worry so much about penises and vaginas! But, I do have a question! I had a patient at work that I was pretty positive was trans (can’t remember now if it was male to female or the other way around). The chart had the sex opposite from what the person appeared, but it was also a bit ambiguous with their clothing. Is it offensive to ask the patient how they wish to be referred to? If it’s JUST the patient, I can just use a name, but when family chimes in and I have no idea whether I should say he or she? And I also didn’t want to assume the patient was trans and have them not be and then offend them even more! I actually thought of you when it happened! It’s not something many nurses deal with regularly and I know it’s a struggle for you and would hate to make somebody feel insecure with an insensitive comment!

    • Sometimes it is as easy as looking at what the other person is wearing noticing how they answer you questions also facial exasperations can give answers

    • Asking someone which pronouns they prefer is usually not offensive. I notice in your comment you use the word “it” in ways that could be very offensive: “can’t remember now if it was male to female…” Now, I’m sure that if you’re concerned enough to be asking these questions, that you’re probably not the type to refer to a person as “it” – so you’re probably talking about the situation our not aware how this comes across. However, I had to do a double take while reading, so I thought I’d point out the importance of NOT saying certain things, as well. “They” and “their” are safe until you know what someone prefers.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. I am happy for you for conquering your personal battle with going to various gyms but I wish I didn’t have to be for you. People need to realize the points you made here and that being insensitive and rude just makes them look like a jerk.

    I’m glad you were able to gym this winter though because it’s been cold as #$%^. I’m over it.

  5. I very much share your feelings about locker rooms.

    I play roller derby, so I end up using locker rooms pretty frequently, but typically the only other people in there are my teammates, who pretty much all know I’m trans and it just isn’t an issue. However, I have been known to avoid showering after practice at locations where the showers aren’t single-stall with curtains at a minimum.

    The other place I regularly use the locker room is the city pool which I have an annual pass to. In this case, before I even went to the pool for the first time, I asked a friend who had been there before about the locker facilities. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the locker room consists of a large mixed area with lockers and individual stalls to change in. The showers, on the other hand, are gender segregated (though there are additional showers on the pool deck which are not), but I just shower with my bathing suit on (you’re required to shower before swimming; I also shower after swimming just to rinse the chlorine off, but it’s really just a quick rinse).

    I wish all facilities were as inclusive, but unfortunately, I know all to well that’s not the case.

  6. This. This so much in almost every way. I’m still attending the gym in “guy mode.” I only go into the locker room to shed my sweats, boots and jacket. I’m already in my running attire underneath. I wear two shirts to hide that I have to wear a sports bra for comfort and to keep from showing that I have breasts.

    The things we do to cater to transphobic people.

  7. I live in EXTRA crunchy brooklyn, and we actually have a few trans members. Both FTM and MTF, and still, STILL sometimes people are assholes. I’m sorry you have to deal with that shit. It should only matter what you identify as, or barring that, having the locker situation you mentioned above.

  8. Here’s hoping that for every awful expression you see in the women’s locker room, there’s someone there just waiting to give that lady hell for being judgmental, cruel, and transphobic.

  9. ? Just go to the gym for crying out loud! There is nothing to be afraid of. I have four of them. If you are so concerned and its early in your transition or if you dont pass well, then talk to the gym owner on what to do. Once I had my gender marker changed and I was legally female, I didnt care what anyone else thought. I dont pass well, but being a muscular woman in a gym, I think that makes people give me the benefit of the doubt. It helps to not spend a long period of time in the locker room and avoid changing there. I also keep late hours which sometimes is helpful, But this author seems a bit too scared of this. I even used the mens for a long time, its not great, but often if you are just locking up your stuff and getting to work its not like you are in there for long. Dont be afraid of the gym because you are trans, its too helpful to you. The gym is my second home. 😀

    • Hey, that’s not nice. In four years, I’ve never been confronted in the locker room, but even I can remember how scary it was at first. Really, the best way to use the locker room is to just act natural: don’t stay too long, don’t rush, don’t stare, don’t avert your eyes, don’t start chatting, don’t give other women the silent treatment, change your shirt in the open if you feel like it. Seeming suspicious is the worst.

      Even early in, with my terribly deep voice, I once broke to talk with an older lady who knew me from our liberal activists group. She wanted to talk politics, I obliged, and heads turned, but they didn’t complain. Seeing my breasts made it pretty obvious I didn’t need to look at theirs, politics is probably the least sexy topic ever, and if the 70+ year old lady wasn’t intimidated by all 135lbs of gender-ambiguous me, then what did they have to worry about?

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