Trans showers at the gym

I don’t think this story is as easy as some folks might portray it. People are still getting their heads around what it means to be gay, let alone trans. And the notion of a trans man who is still anatomically female going into a male shower room at a gym is something that I can see causing some difficulty.  Is it really as simple as saying, sure let him shower with the other guys?  Maybe, but read the story and let’s discuss this.

First the story, then some discussion:

Pine has been on masculinizing hormones for a year. When he went to the spa on Dec. 9 with a friend, he used the men’s shower facilities. Pine said the manager approached him while he was naked and asked to speak with him.

Both the manager and Pine tell the same story about what happened next.

The manager, who identified himself as John but declined to provide a last name to Windy City Times, questioned Pine about his gender. Pine told John that he was transgender, and John said he could provide Pine with a private shower.

Pine said he did not want a private shower and that he could use the same facilities used by other customers. But, John said, other customers had complained.

Generally speaking, a trans person’s gender is whatever they say it is – meaning, you ask the person how they prefer to be referred to.  If they say male, then they’re male.  That’s fine.

As for the shower at the spa (or gym, same question), say you have a trans man who is anatomically female and wants to use an open group men’s shower at the gym?  Is that ok?  Now what if it’s a trans woman who is anatomically male and wants to use the female showers that may or may not be open showers (meaning, you can see each other naked), though I suspect the locker room is open?

This issue isn’t nothing.  And it’s worth a civil discussion.  In the story above, the person involved was a trans man on hormones for a year, but who, from the story, sounds anatomically female, but clearly would look more male physically because of the hormones.  But he’d still have female sex organs.

health spa

Health spa via Shutterstock.

Does it matter, in terms of a public shower, if the trans person is pre or post opp – meaning, if a trans woman, for example, still has male genitals or now is fully a woman?  And what about a trans person who is pre-op but on hormones, like the man in the story?  Does that change the equation, because it might not be as apparent that he is still anatomically female?  And finally, what about a trans man who isn’t on hormones at all, hasn’t gotten surgery, but knows he’s trans, knows he’s really a man, but still has the body of a woman that he was born with?  Does that change anything?

And then, flip the story.  Make this about a trans woman, who is not undergoing hormone therapy, has not undergone a sex change, and who still looks 100% like a man.  Does that change anything?

We don’t let people of the opposite gender – or more precisely, with opposite sex organs – shower together.  It may be silly puritanism, and it may especially be silly since we let gay men shower with straight men, so it’s not like the rule is to stop people from being attracted to each other in the shower. So what is the reason? It is simply about sex organs, and we want one kinds of sex organs in one shower, and another in another? And even if it is about that, is that a good enough reason?

I honestly don’t know the answer, but this issue does seem complicated and confusing, and I don’t pity the spa owner.  I think he’d have a very bad situation on his hands if women were in the shower and saw a naked person with male genitals walk in and join them. I don’t think the women would assume the person was a trans woman (especially if the person were pre-surgery, and even more so if they weren’t doing hormone therapy).  I fear the women would assume some strange naked man had just joined them in the shower and was going to violate them.  How do you get around that?

Having said that, on civil rights issues, we don’t simply let people’s fears rule the day.  But I’d still like to know how this would actually work in practice – because the women wouldn’t necessarily be transphobic, rather, they’d think a naked man was in the shower with them, and would understandably be afraid.  So what do you do?  And would it even matter if the women knew the person was a trans woman who wasn’t on hormones and hadn’t had sex reassignment surgery, so she looked 100% like man, genitals and all – does that then make this simply about the women’s transphobia?

Maybe the answer is to force all spas and gyms to build locker rooms where no one can see each other naked in the locker room or the shower.  That could be pretty expensive.

I’d like to hear more about this from some trans people, and others who might be familiar with cases like this, and be willing to have an open and honest, civil discussion.  I think this issue is understandably confusing to a lot of people.  Airing it publicly is the only way things are going to change.  So that’s what I’m doing.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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