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.