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culture, exercise, gender, masculinity, observations, performance, training

On Gay Men in Locker Rooms: A Knee-Jerk Reaction to (Not So) Subtle Homophobia

As you may well know by now, I tend to spend a bit of time at the gym, which often includes time in a locker room. It follows then, that I have had a plethora of interactions in the locker room as well. Locker rooms are a peculiar space, especially with respect to masculinity. There is no shortage of intellectual work regarding the homoeroticism in sports, sports culture, and historical homoeroticism within masculinity in general, so it should come as no surprise that the locker room is no exception, as it is often before or after displays of masculinity (i.e., sports, strength training, and so on) that we enter locker room. Perhaps then, this is why it becomes such a sensitive space for masculinity. I do not want to downplay the social and cultural complexities contained therein, but instead I would like to offer a few locker room behavior suggestions for my fellow straight males.

Let’s start with a few fun facts about El Fénix:

1) Like many other luchadors and professional wrestlers, I shave my chest, armpits—and sometimes legs—for shows. This practice was presumably adopted from body building culture (aside from other things which hairiness has come to signify, but more on that at a later date). I’m sure that this seems like an unnecessary and bizarre ritual for luchadors to partake in, but classic lucha libre photographs illustrate that it’s nearly as old as the sport itself.

2) Because I regularly crack my toenails during training, I also receive semi-regular pedicures, occasionally during which I will opt for a fabulous color of nail polish. Because cracked and broken toenails are pretty hideous, I figure why not pay a professional to repair them with a little bit of elbow grease and nail polish. My most recent color choice? “Cherry pumps”: red and sparkly, which also happens to match my new blue gear.

3) Despite the standard script for performing masculinity, I generally abstain from a few key characteristics often ascribed to males: I don’t try make myself seem imposing, I don’t find it necessary to maintain unnecessary provocative or aggressive eye contact with other males, I’m usually somewhat soft-spoken, and generally—at least at the gym—I do my best to avoid confrontation.

4) I am fairly well muscled.

5) I have a few large tattoos.

The first three might elicit some questions regarding my sexual orientation. However, stereotypically the latter two are in conflict with the first three signifiers, which is generally confusing for some gym-going bros. Such confusion is not of concern to me, until it makes for some awkward, and perhaps embarrassing, locker room interactions. I’m not interested in giving a short lesson in stereotyping, because I would assume as mature adults we would all be past that, but there are a few things that you can do to avoid embarrassing yourself in the locker room in the presence of someone who is potentially gay.

1) Do not gawk at the signifiers in question. I’m not particularly bothered if someone decides to check me out in the shower, but watching my shiny-red toenails over the course of an entire shower is just weird.

2) Do not hastily cover yourself up. Despite that you think you’re doing this covertly, it’s obvious when it occurs and makes you look like a fool. Face it: we are in a room full of naked dudes, if someone in the locker room wanted to check out your junk they probably already have. Any honest, confident male will tell you—gay or not—they probably have too.

3) Do not amp up your masculinity in order to deter someone who you think might be gay. For starters, such posturing behavior is indicative of someone who is looking to attract a mate, which may give mixed signals if you are trying to dissuade someone from approaching you. Furthermore over-posturing only serves to make you look like a douche bag, and simultaneously illustrates that masculinity is in fact merely a performance.

Dudes: it is remarkably presumptuous to assume that just because someone is a gay male, that they want to or are actively trying to, have sex with you. Your homophobia is immature, ignorant, and is indicative of someone who is not comfortable in their own sexuality, who clearly has nothing beyond a kindergarten concept of gender, and perhaps a tenuous grasp on social etiquette in general. Gay males are not a threat to your masculinity, and are more than likely not hanging around the locker room to stare at your package—so calm the fuck down.

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