Butch in the Locker Room
_As part of my New Years resolution to drop a few pounds--a resolution which has been slow-going, to say the least--my DGF and I decided to join a gym. I've had gym memberships before, and sometimes I've been good about using them; other times I haven't. (Bizarrely, the likelihood that I will use a gym seems to be inversely correlated with the gym's niceness.)
I'm an afternoon or evening workout person. Working out in the morning makes me feel virtuous, with a nice post-exercise buzz, but the habit doesn't stick. Turns out I'd rather loll about in pajamas (on days I work from home) or drive grudgingly to work, down some coffee, and allow my mind to wake at roughly the pace of a banana slug. I covet the virtuosity of Morning People. I spent a brief time as a Morning Person in college, cheerfully forgoing Jell-o shots so I could go to sleep at eleven, wake up at six, lift weights, and run a mile. I have no idea what got into me, and no idea where it escaped to.
All of this is to explain that although I've worked out at gyms in the past, I've never needed to change clothes there. I either change at the office or wear gym clothes under my work clothes. Then right after I work out, I just drive straight home.
But this new gym we've joined has a pool. And for some reason, I have been obsessed with the idea that I want to swim. I do not have a swimmer's physique, nor am I particularly good at it. But surfing is on my bucket list and I need to be in better swimming shape if I want to surf before I hit 40. Also, I recently read Haruki Murakami's South of the Border, West of the Sun (which I liked very much), and the main character is always swimming to clear his mind. Murakami himself also swims, and I am presently a little obsessed with Haruki Murakami, so my burgeoning interest in swimming makes a fuzzy kind of sense.
Anyway, since I don't want to drive home sopping wet after a swim, I need to use the locker room at this new gym. I hate changing in front of other people. It's totally uncomfortable and I avoid it when I can, sometimes even changing in the shower stall. But whatever. I'm an adult. I can handle being embarrassed about my body or my half-nakedness or my brilliantly white day-glo upper arms. Here's the part I didn't anticipate but should have: some women are weirded out by seeing a butch in the locker room. They don't read me as male, but correctly read me as a dyke, and some of them kind of stare and look uncomfortable.
Honestly, I don't blame them. One of the main rationales for having separate men's and women's locker rooms (along with the safety issue) is that people want to be able to change their clothing without worrying about being looked at as sexual objects. I get this. And since I'm obviously a lesbian, some of them probably feel that it's a little like having a guy in the locker room.
Even those who are quite progressive (and there are many of them at this gym), and don't blink at seeing a lesbian couple hold hands on the street may feel uneasy when there's a dyke in the locker room, because it makes them uncomfortable to think I might be looking at them in a sexual way (which I'm not).
So far, my basic strategy has been to try to make myself as small and unobtrusive as possible. I avert my eyes and position my entire body away from the other women. I guess this has worked okay so far, but it still makes me *and* them uncomfortable. And probably one of these days, I'm going to get told, "This is the women's locker room!" I guess I *could* wear tight pink T-shirts or lavender capris sweatpants things to announce my girlness, but, uh, that's not going to happen.
I know I have just as much right to be there as everyone else and yada yada yada. But for me, the issue is not about being ashamed to be a butch or not wanting to hold my head up high, or anything like that. Just as *I* have a right to feel comfortable in the locker room, so do they.
I'd really prefer to allow everyone to be as comfortable as possible. I don't *want* to ignore their discomfort. After all, I would feel totally uncomfortable if there was a guy in the locker room. Not because he looks different from me, or because I think he's going to do anything he shouldn't, but simply because he is sexually attracted to women and I am a woman.
Have any of you other butches ever felt uncomfortable in a locker room? How do you deal with it? Just keep your head down and your gaze averted? Or is there a magical approach I haven't figured out yet?
(Update: Wendi at A Stranger in This Place had a great post on this last year!)
2/15/2012 12:51:03 am
No way do I keep my head down in the locker room. I walk in the locker room and actually smile big when they look at me. THEN, I change into my bikini to go into the hot tub and make it a point to walk passed them again, even if the hot tub is in the opposite direction! I turn around and will walk passed them a 2nd time to get to the hot tub. I am who i am and if they don't like it, they can find another gym or change in their car. However, I do have to say that I used to walk in the locker room with my head down...I refuse to do that anymore. I am not going to let anyone make me feel that way.
2/15/2012 03:09:06 am
Hm. Well, I don't think they are "making" me feel a certain way. By "head down," I'm not being metaphorical or suggesting that I'm ashamed; I mean that I am literally keeping my head down so that other people will be more comfortable. I am proud of who I am; that's not the issue for me.
2/15/2012 05:42:01 am
Just as they cannot "make you feel" anything, you cannot "make them feel" anything. You are not responsible for their reactions or feelings. If it makes them uncomfortable, then that is something they need to take a look at. As long as you are not being predatory, there is no need to keep your eyes averted and head down. Coddling their emotions actually enables their inability to face reality. That being said, having a buddy to go with helps. It gives you someone to focus on, and helps you simply not see or ignore anyone's discomfort.
11/5/2013 05:41:33 am
I'm in high school and I take weight traning and I get really nervouse changing in front people I'm not out yet out but would like to start to whereing guys undearwear but I'm worried people are going to make rude comments and I where boxers at home . But my friends in that class which makes it even more awkward and I try to go in a different stall then everyone because it's just weird and I'm scared
2/15/2012 01:24:53 am
Well at some of the new YMCA's they have a "family" locker room, which I adore because it never seems to be used! They have huge bathroom/shower stalls and its always empty so I can blast my music and use all the mens shower gel I want! When I am forced to use the regular locker rooms I hold my head up high and avoid eye contact. I've been at this a while and if anyone has half a brain they can tell i'm female, if it makes them uncomfortable they really can't do much because if they kick me out they will have a HUGE lawsuit on their hands for discrimination.... and that would be very bad publicity. lol so keep that in mind.
2/15/2012 02:21:11 am
I think you are okay so far. You have every right to be there and they should know that. You are being considerate of them by staying reserved and not making eye contact to let them know that you are not trying to create an uncomfortable atmosphere, for them and for you. I don't think you should worry too much about it. Keep doing what you're doing and being yourself.
I have felt the same way about gym locker rooms...I really don't want to anyone to think I'm looking at them (which I am NOT). I normally position my self in the corner area where most of the other women don't go and just handle my "wardrobe" changes. I'm sure they are looking at me but I figure we all have the same body parts just different shape....I just happen to have boxers on under my basketball pants!
This is one of those "sore" spots for me. I don't use the women's locker rooms at the gym. The anxiety is causes me even thinking about it makes me kinda crazy.
2/15/2012 03:20:36 am
Love it! Just updated the post to include a link to yours. :)
2/15/2012 03:46:33 am
I just read your post, Wendi, and I have to admit this is something I never thought about. As a femme, there are a lot of things that are just easier for me. No one knows I'm gay unless I out myself, or they see me holding hands with or kissing a woman. This isn't a priviledge I want, and often annoys me.
I decided just not to worry about it. First, there are almost always lesbians around -- I've lived in Santa Cruz and Oakland for the past 15 years and most gym-goers there have been totally okay. Ditto with Berkeley. Weirdly, in SF, I've found more uncomfortable straight women. However, after doing water running classes with some of them, they are now fine with me. I make sure to be friendly and polite and they get used to me. LOL.
I adopt the "face the open locker" eye-contact-avoiding method of changing. Sometimes, if the locker room is swarming with people, or more often, when someone is changing in the locker right next to mine, I'll start to change and stall a little by futzing with my iPod or something until it clears out some.
Thanks for this post. I don't have a gym membership, but I am a nanny who has to take a little girl to swimming lessons every week. I'm not required to enter the water with her, but we do go in the locker room before and after her lessons to change her. If it were just me doing my own thing, I'm pretty confident changing and going about my business. Navigating the locker room with a toddler as a butch is a bit different. They have questions, point out body parts, etc. I've been very careful not to follow her pointing with my eyes nor try to find out who she is talking about when she asks questions for the same reasons you mentioned in your post. I also don't avoid questions either because I don't want this little girl to be self-conscience about her body early on. I do notice that I speak loudly to her in the locker room so everyone knows I am a woman and that my main priority in the locker room is taking care of her. I've definitely gotten backs turned on me and scowls but I have gotten positive comments such as, "You have great rapport with her!" I'm hoping I get more and more comfortable with locker room trips. The little girl I watch isn't stopping swimming lessons anytime soon.
I thought a while before commenting as I may get a bit of bad press here. I avoid women's locker rooms. Not because I am ashamed of my body, you can take an eyeful of my furry legs and boxers all you like :) But, if I were brutally honest, put me in a room of semi-naked women and my mind probably would involuntarily turn to exactly what the straight girls are concerned about. The locker room should be a safe, non-sexual place and even though I would behave impeccably, just having the odd tweak of appetite seems inappropriate. Please tell me I'm not the only self-confessed, smutty-minded, middle-aged tart reading this!
2/15/2012 08:37:46 am
Locker rooms.....so many thoughts. Even at my age, I love my body. Clearly I am a woman, clearly I am a lesbian as my pride feather tattoo on my shoulder boldy proclaims.
I am SO glad you mentioned this today.
2/28/2012 08:56:18 am
I love it! And I just followed you on Tumblr, too. Thanks for sharing!!
2/16/2012 10:34:25 am
Oh man, I used to obsess about this, and then I got over it by reminding myself of two things:
2/16/2012 10:59:44 pm
The locker room is a tough one, and I think that just about every butch has felt it. I use a locker room for my job, and first day on my trainer walked me to the doors to both the men's and women's and said, "Well which one you gonna use, yo?" Feeling slightly defeated, I slinked into the women's room. Everyday, women I work closely with move into different parts of the locker room when I come in. Every once in a while, someone will ask if I am in the right locker room. I've realized that this is just one of those things that will never be comfortable for me, just like getting blood drawn or wearing women's clothes. It doesn't mean that I can just NOT do it my whole life, or that there is an easier solution. Right now, locker rooms suck, but its okay because I don't have to live in a locker room.
2/17/2012 09:16:39 am
Geez, I could have written this. Thanks for making me feel not alone. I actually don't go to the gym, but recently got a tour of one and felt all of this just walking through the womens locker rooms and showers. I looked straight ahead and got through there as fast as I could. I felt like I was invading their privacy even though I was respecting them as much as I could. I kept waiting for someone to scream "Man in the lady's locker room!" and have them all start beating me with their shampoo bottles and flicking me with their wet towels (Ok, now we may be heading into fantasy territory- lol) Shows how much society f#@k$ with our heads when it comes to this...or how much we f#@k with our own heads. I feel the same when in a lady's bathroom. It sucks. It somehow helps to know you aren't the only one feeling these things though, so thank you for writing about it.
2/19/2012 05:39:42 am
i feel this as much in the public washroom as in the locker room.
2/20/2012 01:06:37 am
This strategy of yours has been my strategy in locker rooms and public washrooms, as well.
2/23/2012 04:49:28 am
Thank you for writing this post!
I usually walk around with my head down and go out of my way to avoid looking at anything that is not mine... clothes, lockers, boobs etc. I don't want to make women uncomfortable but that's as far as I'm going to go. I care but only to a certain point. If i'm not looking in your direction why should be uncomfortable?
9/10/2012 12:40:32 pm
I walk in with the rest if the girls and just get changed. I have been told to use the Male Locker Room but I just say, "I'm in the right place... Because I'M A GIRL!" Then I continue getting dressed. No questions asked for a while.
2/12/2013 03:35:20 am
I know I'm late with this comment, and I am incredibly young compared to most of your readers, but I was reading through (most) of your old blog posts and found this one.
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