An earnest gay reader1 wonders how to comport himself at the gym:

My first instinct is to say, “Okay, simple. It’s an occasion of sin for you, so even if you’re okay in the locker room, forget the shower or sauna, or even the pool sometimes. Even if that means you have to drive home all sweaty and stink up your car.”

But then — motivated probably by equal parts pragmatism and desire to feel like I fit in as one of the normal men rather than a leper, even if it’s only in my own mind…all of this bouncing around in my head and pounding heart and hormones…I get sick of running through that script while a straight…guy just skips that whole drama and uses the facilities for their intended use without stressing out.

It’s a big deal. It reminds me of one of the differences in experience between gay guys and straight guys that Brent Bailey points to: how

those gender-specific environments that provide a relaxing, head-clearing respite from sexual temptation for straight people (like locker rooms or all-male Bible studies) are sometimes the most confusing and charged environments for me.

Yeah, me too! This is one of those things that make homosexuality a heavier cross than it would be if it were just about not-having-sex-with-men.

At the same time, though, let’s not imagine we’re weirder than we are. It’s true that straight guys don’t have to worry about arousal in all-male settings, but that doesn’t mean these settings are totally easy for them, either. A few examples:

  • I’ve seen straight guys put on an extra layer of machismo at a poker game just so as to appear dudely enough for the other dudes, until eventually you’ve got masks interacting with masks instead of people talking to people.
  • I’ve also seen guys panic briefly in the locker room because they accidentally had their head turned in my direction and they think that I might think that they were looking at me and MAYBE I WILL THINK THEY ARE GAY.2
  • And guys everywhere, gay or straight, are subject to body envy. I think it’s at least as spiritually and emotionally unhealthy to envy another man’s body, as Men’s Health and their ilk constantly encourage us to do, as it is to lust after another man’s body.

All this is a subset of a larger truth. Time after time, intimate conversation with my straight friends has confirmed that they and I want, fear, love, and worry about the same things as I do. Sometimes the only difference is my residual fear that the things I feel are somehow icky because they’re somehow gay; when it usually turns out they’re not gay so much as male, and not male so much as human.

So, you might feel unsettled when you’re in the locker room, but at least you don’t have to feel unsettled about feeling unsettled. It’s not just you. Peace of heart in all situations is something to shoot for, but most of us aren’t there yet.

1 Standard disclaimer: as is my policy, I obtained the explicit permission of the reader in question before deciding to write this piece.
2 Which is all pretty dopey. It reminds me of what Brett & Kate McKay have to say about what happened to male friendships when people started getting freaked out about The Gay Thing.

10 thoughts on “Locker Room, Part I: Charge

  1. James

    “Peace of heart in all situations”
    During camps, when taking a bath, I would either go super early, or let them all finish and I’d go last, but never at the same time. This morning I saw two girls kiss politely on the lips as they said goodbye to each other. Kissing isn’t a common thing where I come from, espacially in public. It’s usually a sign of great affection between lovers or close friends. In that moment I saw them kiss I thought, this is something I will never have or experience in my life and a feeling of hopelessness and bitterness sets in. Everyday is a struggle for me. Things that may be no-big-deal for straight people becomes something for me to over analyze and be bitter about. I guess I’m one of the people who “isn’t there yet.”

    Reply
  2. JBT

    So my sister got me watching this show on Netflix called Warehouse 13, about Secret Service agents who track down magical artifacts – basically a really fun, light-hearted version of the X-Files. The team has two male agents and two female agents, and we recently discovered that one of the dudes is gay. The girls are both sort of like, “Okay, cool.” But the other guy, Pete – sort of your lovable doofus character, who’s straight but has a very “brother-sister” relationship with the woman on the team – has one of the best reactions I’ve ever seen to a character revelation. He goes, “Aw sweet, finally someone who can appreciate the ‘PACK!!!” and he yanks up his shirt to display his abs. I’m not… totally sure if that’s relevant, but it came to mind. Also, I think more people should use the term “PACK!!!” (as opposed to merely, “pack”) to describe their abdominal muscles.

    Reply
    1. Joey Prever (Steve Gershom) Post author

      Heh. So, I was at a party recently, and was chatting with this girl T., who got out her smartphone and added me on facebook and then went, “Wait — you’re GAY?” and when I said “Yup”, she lunged at me and gave me a huge hug. I don’t really know what that was about, but it was cool.

      Reply
  3. Tom

    Well I’m in my 40s and I still don’t like peeing in a trough. I also never liked peeing in a urinal without those privacy dividers.

    Reply
  4. LaLaLand

    Yea. I totally get where that reader is coming from. Right before dances (in college) was the WORST b/c girls were always wandering around in their underwear asking me to zip them up, or button, or what have you…. I never knew if it was OK for me to stick around. :-( I always felt uncomfortable…. I know it was an occasion of sin, but was it actually a sin? *sigh*

    Reply
  5. Gabriel

    Urinals without dividers are a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Gay and straight men both know this intuitively.

    I’ve had a couple of people get really excited when I told them I was gay (neither of them gay men). I’m mildly baffled by this too; the only comeback I could think of was the line from “A Man For All Seasons”: “If it’s true, is it a matter for congratulation?” Strikes me kind of like being totally psyched that someone is a redhead, except you can’t pick out gay just at a glance.

    Reply
  6. Andrew

    Hey Joey, love the blog. The only downside is that I cannot read it directly in blog readers (like Feedly). Would you consider changing your blog settings so that readers can view entire posts in RSS programs instead of just the first few sentences? Thanks!

    Reply
  7. TheReluctantWidow

    So regarding women who get excited when they find out you are gay, maybe they find you incredibly interesting, easy to be with, and fun and then *bonus!* you are gay so they don’t have the pressure of maybe you will ask them out or maybe they will fall madly in love with you, blah, blah, blah. I really hope you won’t get offended when I say what I am about to say, but I told my priest recently during spiritual direction, that one of the things that I miss greatly about my marriage was the friendship we had, the way we could hang out and talk about things other than just our kids, real things like books, politics, theology, faith, and how much fun we had together. I said, “what I really need is to find a guy who will come hang out with me on my patio after the kids are in bed, have a drink with me and talk about real grown-up stuff. It’d be best if he was gay so there wouldn’t be any awkward developing of feelings for either party.” My priest roared in laughter because I think he was a bit shocked I would say it out loud but gay men really do make the best boyfriends if you don’t want a romantic relationship.

    Reply

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