Whether you are pre-op, post-op, choosing not to have surgery, pre-T or not choosing to medically transition, public locker rooms can be an area of increased anxiety and sometimes dysphoria. We as transgender men should not have to fear public gyms and hopefully this article can alleviate some fears and allow the freedom to access the gym, and ultimately locker room of your choice, whether it be crawling with gym rats or a more laid-back atmosphere.
Always remember, you are just as entitled to use the gym and locker room as every other member. For a long time, I avoided the locker rooms completely because I personally did not feel comfortable using either and that feeling of being in limbo prevented me from confidently navigating the gyms.
I would usually change before arriving or change in the car, and often times would wait hours to shower until I was in the safety of my own home. It was frustrating to know that I couldn’t just go to the gym before class or work and shower without having to go back home like the cis men at the gym could.
If you are a member of a gym and are early on in a medical transition, make sure to choose the locker room that makes YOU feel most comfortable. If you continue to utilize the locker rooms as you go through your journey, it may become stressful deciding when to begin using the men’s locker room after using the women’s for however long. My best advice would be to take a little break from the gym scene so that you do not spark questions or end up dealing with regulars who recognize that you switched locker rooms and become nosey. For the most part, regulars choose to go to the gym at the same time each day, so try switching up your routine for some new faces… it will be like a whole new gym!
You may also choose to transition to home workouts for a little while in order to continue your fitness journey while taking a break from the gym itself. Google has a surplus of home-based exercises you can do with dumbbells or even just your own body weight if you do not have access to weights.
I will get off my soap box as a soon-to-be physical therapist, but I really wanted to continue to promote physical exercise even if you are not going to a gym! There are endless exercises that can be done without any equipment, or with a couple sets of dumbbells.
Never-the-less, this article is for help with navigating public locker rooms and some suggestions to make them a less anxiety-filled space. If you have never been in a public men’s locker room, I am going to warn you… it is very common for men to stroll about in the nude or converse with their buddies while changing. Now, this may not be all locker rooms, but it is something I have seen on numerous occasions and in multiple gyms I have been to.
Another way to avoid eye contact and interactions is to change while facing the lockers or choose a spot in a corner to reduce visibility of body parts you may not want to be seen. If you fear being questioned about your scars, don’t worry too much as most cis men tend to avoid interact in the locker room and will do their own thing, just like you will. If you truly do not feel comfortable changing in the common area, or need to change everything, you can always utilize the stalls or curtained areas.
If you fear that people may catch a glimpse of your scars or ask you questions, simply practice your responses ahead of time. You do not have to answer any questions that make you uncomfortable but having a go-to answer may help reduce some anxiety. You can tell them whatever you feel comfortable with, whether you tell them what they are or lie.
If you want to pack while at the gym, prepare a bag and some underwear ahead of time so that you do not have to be removing it and repacking in the middle of the locker room. If you happen to have two, simply keep one in your gym underwear.
You should never wear your binder while exercising, but if you are wearing one there or changing into one following your workout it may be easiest to change in the stalls. If someone does ask you about it, feel free to tell them it is for back support or to help promote sweat. No one NEEDS to know why you have anything you have, they ask out of curiosity most of the time, so do not feel bad walking away from the situation.
“Never wear your binder while exercising”
Just to re-iterate, DO NOT BIND WHILE WORKING OUT. This can have serious health implications, so please wear a compression sports bra or maybe, preferably not, a binder that is a size or two larger than your normal size. I know that your chest can be an area of severe dysphoria at the gym, so try wearing looser clothes, extra layers, or even a hoodie… plus you sweat more!
As someone who has utilized a public gym pre-op, pre-T, post-op AND post-T, people may make comments and may ask questions, but prepare yourself and navigate the locker rooms with confidence and if you act like you belong, most people won’t think twice about your gender identity, regardless of whether or not you have a chest, facial hair, etc.
One of the most powerful statements someone has said to me is that our brains naturally fill in blanks with certain things. For example, you may think that someone may be able to tell you are trans because you do not have a bulge showing, but most people’s minds will create one subconsciously, so try not to perseverate on things too much. I know, easier said than done!