I recently joined a gym for the first time. Before this, I had access to a mini-gym at my workplace. I used to love going in there around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, after the lunch crowd had been herded back to their cubicles and before the after-workers started milling in. I had delightful solitude, light jazz playing, and never had to think about who was staring at my breasts.

Now I belong to a large, cushy club. In addition to weights, machines, aerobics classes, and on-site massage therapists, there’s also a hot tub, full bar, and internet access. However, the only question I remember asking during the sales pitch (which wasn’t much of a hard-sell… I knew what I wanted, and I bought it) was, “Are the showers private?”

No.

Damn.

I joined anyway, but it’s a big pain in the ass not being able to shower immediately after working out. If the place had so much as private shower stalls with curtains, I would shower there. According to the salesman, and I didn’t check this out for myself because I can’t figure out how to do this without looking like I’m peeping, it’s “prison style” (my words, not his): that is, one big open showering area. Think I’m taking my phallically-challenged self in there? Not on a bet, buddy.

As I said, I got into this on my own volition. The shower question was important, but the other factors: convenience to work and home, hours of operation, classes, etc. outweighed the problem of having to change into dry clothes to avoid chafing on the 20-minute drive home where I can finally shower.

Do you remember having to change for physical education classes in school? If you were anything like me, this was a traumatic experience. It was a matter of getting into and out of clothing as quickly as possible, offering as little as possible opportunity for anyone to see me even partially undressed, and while avoiding even the appearance of looking at anyone else’s nakedness. In my high school, even though we were all firmly instructed to shower after P.E., no girl in my class ever did. We’d generally avoid sweating too much in P.E., then change back into our school clothes, Aqua-Net our mall claws (a genre of late Eighties/early Nineties girl’s hairstyle, contemporary with the mullet’s heyday, which challenged gravity and common sense), and go to our next class. I don’t know if the boys showered; I never asked. I couldn’t even tell you why we didn’t shower. If we’d all just done what we were supposed to, no one could have laughed, but for us, nakedness was just too shameful or embarrassing. No one risked being the first to go into the shower, another prison-style affair, so no one showered. As far as I can tell, no girl in the history of that high school ever showered after P.E. class.

Dressing out in my new gym is a similar experience. Not wanting to attract attention to the scars on my chest or the secrets in my Fruit of the Looms, I change in the same posture I did in high school… hunched over a bit, facing the lockers, avoiding looking at anyone else or into the large mirrors on every available wall.

Men’s locker rooms are a whole other species of locker room from girl’s locker rooms in high school. The men seem to glory in their nakedness. It doesn’t even matter what a man’s body looks like– he still takes a seemingly exhibitionist pleasure in walking about in the nude. Old, fat, grizzled, pasty-complexioned, emaciated, sagging, or young, muscular, and tanned, they all wander about for what seems to me way longer than necessary. A friend of mine who uses the same gym reports seeing one man blow drying his pubic hair with the complimentary hair dryers. Every day, I see men standing around talking to their friends, fixing their hair, brushing their teeth, and ambling from the hot tub and back, completely naked. If I seem to be boggled by the sheer amount of nakedness going on in the locker room, it’s because I am. Contrast this with my description of the girl’s locker room in high school, and perhaps you can understand why. Further contrast this with my own desire not to be discovered as a transsexual in this very heterosexual men’s-only space, and you’ll pat me on the back and silently marvel that I even change clothes in there.

As a transperson, gaining access to a men’s or women’s space previously denied me has been a thrilling, terrifying experience. The very fact that I’m in there says I’ve arrived, I now pass, I am accepted by others as a member of the gender with which I identify. Once there, however, there is always the danger of being discovered, known as a transgressor. I don’t think I have to elaborate too much on what the potential consequences are. In perverse moments I wonder what would happen if I were to saunter into the shower myself and begin lathering up. Would they stare? Say anything? Yell? Shove me out? Sexually harass me? Go to the management? I go to nude beaches, have been in bath houses, attended small nudist gatherings. It’s more than the revelation of my transsexual body, it’s the infiltration of a men’s space by someone with an arguably female body, however modified. We transfolk can talk all we want about whether a pussy on a transman is a “girl’s part” or not; I’m betting the guys in the shower haven’t had much consciousness-raising and that their thoughts will be somewhere not far from “Hey! There’s a girl in here!”

So things change, things stay the same. I’m still not looking, only instead of not looking at breasts, I’m not looking at dicks. In another ironic twist, I am terribly proud of my body. I worked hard, paid a lot of money, and have endured a lot of pain to get it. Even being in the gym is part of how I’m working for my body, working up the sweat I avoided as a girl in high school. By other people’s standards, I was probably a lot nicer to look at when I was 14 and ashamed of chicken pox scars on my stomach. As I get more confident, I’m not huddling so much anymore. Sometimes I get a real fuck-it attitude about the scars on my chest. I adopt the same sauntering, no-hurry walk as the other men in the locker room. And, when I’m pretty sure no one’s looking, I face the mirror, flex, suck in my gut, and admire myself. The scars ripple over my chest, and I actually like what I see.