On Monday, I went to the gym.
This was a big deal for me. Aside from the two or so miles I walk Monday-Friday as part of my commute, I lead a largely sedentary life. I’m 5’5” and clock in at roughly 225lbs, which mostly means I am a short, stocky, solidly built human. I have a bad back and almost no cartilage left in my knees. I’m not as out of shape as I could be (see: the two miles walked each day), but I’ve been noticing that it is harder for me to get around these days than I’d like, and I’ve started to worry that if I don’t kick my activity level up a notch, mobility issues might become a serious problem. So when I saw that my insurance offered a deal on gym memberships, I figured, why not?
One of the locations in the plan was the Jewish Community Center that’s about .75mi away from my office and right along the bus line I take home. It sounded perfect…until I saw that the workout spaces were gender segregated. I decided to email the JCC and ask if it would be acceptable for a trans guy to use the men’s workout facilities. I heard back from the fitness director a few days later: she said they’d be happy to have me, and that it shouldn’t be a problem, and if I was masculine-presenting, she didn’t think I would need to clarify with the staff which gendered pass I would need, and that I could email her if I had any further questions or concerns.
I finally went in last Thursday to sign up, and while I was there, discovered an extra challenge: I would be using the card from my insurance to check into the gym…the card with my given (very feminine) name on it. I mulled over things all weekend. Sunday, I emailed the fitness director back, stated that I would be coming in the next evening after work, and requested that the front desk be alerted to the fact that a person they would probably take for a butch woman was going to be requesting to use the men’s facilities.
I never heard back. But I was committed to the idea, and I told myself it couldn’t be that bad, right? So I packed my bag Sunday night, and Monday after work, I changed into an athletic shirt and gym shorts, threw jeans and a sweatshirt over them, and trudged to the gym. Once I got there, I took a few deep breaths, walked up to the counter, handed my card to the man behind it, and said, “I need a pass for the men’s locker room, please.”
“I…I’m sorry? I can’t…” the man stuttered and fumbled around.
“I realize that the name on the card doesn’t match that.”
He then looked at my card for the first time. “Right, the name doesn’t match, and…I’m sorry, but I can’t…”
“I haven’t been able to afford to legally change my name.”
“Right…I’m sorry, am I to assume…are you transgender, then?”
“Yes. I emailed the fitness director, K, and she told me it would be all right.”
“You emailed K? And you told her you were transgender?”
“And she said it would be okay?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be…It’s just that we have several orthodox members, and they might take serious issue with…”
“I understand that. But K told me it would be all right.”
“Thank you for understanding. I will call K on her cell phone right now.”
So he did. He called the fitness director on her cell phone. And that’s when things really went downhill.
“Hello, K? This is M. I have a woman here…she wants to use the men’s locker room. She’s a woman…she’s transgender, her name is [given name], and she said she contacted you, and you said she could use the men’s facilities? (At this point I jumped in with, “Alyx. I go by Alyx.”) Yes, she says Alyx is the name that she uses … Really? You’re all right with that? Thank you.”
I wanted to run. But I didn’t. He handed me the men’s locker room pass, and told me where to find the facilities. (If he had been a ’50s housewife, he would have been clutching his pearls, according to the look he was giving me.)
I went down to the men’s locker room, took a deep breath, and held up the little card to unlock the door. Once I was in, I threw my things in a locker, took off the jeans and sweatshirt, changed into my gym shoes, and put in my headphones. I spent a handful of minutes in the cardio room, warming up on an elliptical machine, and about 25 minutes in the weight room, hypervigilant, certain that someone was going to come in and scream at me, trying to focus on the music. I spent rather more time on each machine than I really should have, but I was determined to make it at least half an hour before facing the man upstairs again. Finally, I made my way back to the locker room, and rushed to pull the jeans back on over my shorts and to change back into my regular shoes.
I didn’t interact with anyone the entire time. There was one boy who came into the weight room and looked uncomfortable, but I couldn’t tell whether that was because of me or simply because he was an awkward, gangly teenager.
To his credit, the man behind the desk did have the sense to call me Alyx when I traded him back the pass for my fitness card before I fled the building.
The full weight of how horrible the whole experience made me feel didn’t truly hit me until much later. It’s Wednesday night as I’m writing this, and I still feel like I can’t process the emotions involved. It was…demoralizing. And humiliating. It was kind of like being in gym class all over again. And it was dysphoria-inducing, which, for someone like me, who doesn’t typically experience a lot of intense dysphoria, was a really big deal.
I haven’t decided if I’m going back next week. There’s a part of me that wants to, just to make the man behind the desk uncomfortable. But I honestly don’t know if I have the emotional energy.
An update: the fitness manager got back to me and was extremely apologetic. She’s offered to give me my own locker room key so that I don’t ever have to repeat that experience, and on my suggestion is going to talk with HR about sensitivity training for the front desk staff. So there’s a happy ending. 🙂