My local gym that I attend is undergoing some renovations in the change rooms this week. The “Women’s Plus” change room is off limits, so those of us who use that are now moved to the standard Women’s change room. Not a huge difference and really not that big of an issue except for a couple of things that we have in the “Plus” that there isn’t in the standard. Most notably, the small room in that area that is for stretching and light resistance exercise etc. A room only accessible in the “Plus” change room and one of the draws for women who like to have a separate space for abs and stretching essentially. Having worked for many years in the fitness industry, I have heard many times from women who want to work out in a female only space for a myriad of reasons.
So the conversation I wander into today goes something like what I’ve heard for a lot of years… “I hate having to workout and stretch in front of guys. I’m really missing a safe space to do that in…It’s uncomfortable to have to get into certain positions and to feel objectified and ogled by someone who’s looking at you that way… that’s why I love the women’s only area – there’s no one who is interested in me sexually or thinking thoughts like that!”
I’m smiling to myself and thinking how often I’ve heard some variation of this conversation. I completely see the validity in their statements by the way. Absolutely. I have felt uncomfortable in gyms myself – and I’m someone who is very comfortable in gyms usually. I’ve had encounters of feeling creeped on by someone looking a little too long or a little too closely. I’ve actually confronted someone who was staring. I get it. But to insinuate and believe that a women’s only area means that no one is going to look or have “those thoughts”, wrong.
Here’s a shocking fact… gay and bisexual women use women’s change rooms too. Yup. And you know what? When the woman you are naked next to, in your “safe space”, is gay, you probably have no idea. Why is that? Quite simply, we don’t all “look” gay – whatever that means. Which is where we come back to that conversation this afternoon that I wandered into.
I usually don’t invite myself into other people’s conversations but when the one woman said to the other that she was a little uncomfortable changing when she saw a lesbian in the room, I couldn’t take it anymore. I excused myself for interrupting and asked her how she could tell when a lesbian was around. She told me, easy, they have “a look”… you know, not like “us” and she made a sweeping gesture with her hand over her friend and herself and to include me. For the first time ever, I told a complete stranger, who had no business knowing, what my sexual orientation is. Why? To make a point that she had – very wrongly – made an assumption of me based solely on my appearance. I don’t look gay according to her narrowly defined guidelines of what that looks like, so I must not be. She was knocked for a loop and apologized if she offended me and I could hear the beeping as she tried to back out of what she had said. I asked her if she was sexually attracted to, and interested in sleeping with every man that she saw, because after all, that’s the same logic she’s applying here to men and gay women. Of course not, she said. Her friend laughed and pointed out that she never thought of it that way. A few smiles exchanged and I was ready to not have this conversation anymore so on my merry way I went, shaking my head and thinking to myself that it feels like nothing ever changes sometimes.