By Christopher Cudworth
I’m a member of XSport Fitness clubs. The chain is based in three states and does a really nice job of keeping their clubs clean. Which is most appreciated, because another club in our area recently had its hot tub shut down a second time because two club members came down with Legionnaire’s Disease.
OK, yuck. But it’s not all that surprising given the number of people who cycle through a health club on a given day. Wiping down equipment, cleaning mirrors, checking the chlorine and chemical balances in the pools and hot tubs; those are all really important aspects of keeping a club safe and clean.
Respect. And gratitude.
I don’t take the help for granted. I tell them how much I appreciate what they’re doing. If they’re emptying towels I say thank you. If they’re cleaning the bathroom or even moving cardboard boxes I make mention of their efforts. From what I can see, people who work at clubs work hard.
A month ago I stopped by the front desk to tell the staff how much the cleanliness of the club was appreciated. “Tell our manager,” they said, pointing to the buff guy in the corner talking with a customer. So I stood and waited for him to finish the discussion and shared the compliment. You could see a combination of relief and joy on his face.
As you can imagine, so many people make a habit of complaining rather than paying compliments. There’s a feeling of entitlement, we must suppose, that comes with paying for a club membership. My companion teaches swimming at a regional club that has a door marked EXECUTIVE LOCKER ROOM. I’m thinking, “What the hell? The regular locker room is not good enough for some people?”
Guess not. Perhaps these executives grow accustomed to special treatment on the order of a golf club locker room, where shoes are polished, towels are handed to you and the entire experience is one of pampering and private displays of wealth.
Having come through some rough locker rooms in my time, and showered with coldish water after a 15 mile run in 8 degree weather, I personally do not feel the need for an EXECUTIVE LOCKER ROOM to make me feel like I’m important. The important thing in life is to feel healthy, strong and self-assured no matter how much you make or how much you can afford. And you should appreciate and respect everyone else who is trying to better themselves in some way. But some people make it pretty hard to do.
I think back to a moment when the President of a company where I once worked asked me a question. “What’s the best running shoe?”
I began to explain the difference between the various types of shoes, and asked how much he ran when he interrupted me and said. “No, I mean what’s the most expensive shoe?”
Well, if that’s how you measure your experience and your quality of life, one can’t really really be helped. Starting from a position with such a closed mind, one only arrives at the conclusions that match your worldview.
It’s the same with the health club experience. Everything you need is all there. The weight machines. The free weights. The gym. The kettle balls and exercise balls. The treadmills, spin machines and ellipticals. All you need to get fit and stay fit is there for the using with your basic membership fee.
And then there’s the people. That’s why we really go to the club. It’s a social way of working out.
Of course many people use a personal trainer. I’ve done so myself for instructional purposes. There is much I do not know about appropriate form and the breadth of exercises available to build core strength and such. So I don’t view such work as elitist. Personal trainers also vary by type and method, so it’s not like you’re buying a commodity of some sort. There’s a relationship there as well. It’s not some non-human investment.
But again, it’s the basics I’m after. Thinking back to my first real personal trainer, it had to be a gym teacher in 7th grade by the name of Mr. Davis. He was a strong disciplinarian who taught us that personal hygiene came first in the locker room. You washed your stuff and did not wear your underwear to gym class and then back to regular class. If you screwed up he made you write long lists of words to teach you not to forget your lock, your jock or your soap in the shower. Everything was about order and good habits in the locker room. That’s where your fitness program began.
He also worked our asses off in gym class. We did gymnastics for one thing. It damn near killed you some days, but you learned how to use the equipment and took risks on jumping the pommel horse. Or the pummel horse as we called it sometimes. When we missed…
Earning your stripes.
Mr. Davis implemented a fitness program where you had to earn the color stripe on your shorts. There was Red (the lowest) White (the middle) and Blue. That top rank was tough to achieve. My downfall was pull-ups. I could only manage six with my skinny runner arms. Missed the Blue stripe by two points or something. That taught me a lesson about total fitness.
Locker room scenes.
The locker room experience greeted us every day upon our return from whatever tough workout Davis had us doing. We were 7th graders however, and sometimes things got a little strange. One of our classmates was quite well-endowed even at that age, and one morning the entire crew of boys got to teasing him and wouldn’t you know it, that dong went erect from the attention and pandemonium ensued. The kid started dancing around the shower waving that monster back and forth and people were clapping and falling down at the hilarity of it. Mr. Davis came hustling to see what the fuss was about and man did that scene end in a hurry.
But here’s the thing. I learned years later that Mr. Davis was actually gay. Yet at no time during any of the many lessons he taught us was there any sort of physical or emotional contact that was inappropriate. Mr. Davis took his job seriously. The lessons he taught me have lasted my whole life through. Lessons of personal discipline and character. Of taking seriously the preparation needed to succeed in sports.
His requirement that we all do a 12:00 time trial also taught me that I was a runner. And for that I’m eternally thankful to Mr. Davis. I may have learned it some other way, but the feeling of circling that track on a wan fall day and knowing that feeling of full-on effort sticks in my mind to this day.
No threat. And have faith.
So it offends me to hear people insinuate that having gays in the locker room or in leadership positions is somehow an automatic threat to heterosexuals. It’s absurd.
I will acknowledge that I have been approached by gay men over the years. Only once in the locker room, but many times in public as well. Is that anything but a compliment, really? A polite “I’m not interested” is all that is required in such circumstances if you do not want the attention.
Evolving as people.
I view homosexuality as a completely natural product of human evolution. So it’s not like it’s a total surprise that gays exist. Nor is it a contradiction of my religious faith to accept gays as fully equal members of society.
I have read the Bible cover-to-cover several times. I have studied the balance between what the Bible says about important issues such as abuse of wealth and power, religious legalism and especially controlling the behavior of others in the name of God, which is what Jesus so hated in the religious leaders of his day. There’s a strong lesson in that, so lost on modern day zealots in religion and politics.
I have also read the passages about homosexuality many times over and now place them in context with laws that we no longer abide by in Leviticus, Deuteronomy and even the New Testament. Enlightened religious believers fully understand that the Bible was written in the context of a relatively primitive society without access to science, medicine or evolutionary science that now drives our understanding of everything from microbes to the infinite sea of stars beyond our world. There is no heaven but what we can conceive in our hearts, and the Kingdom of God is wrought here and now, among us. Or else there is no faith.
It is a highly ignorant brand of faith that cannot grow past ancient misunderstandings about former health laws and social mores based on fears. Plus the Bible shows that Jesus said absolutely nothing about homosexuality. So if it was not a threat to him or his vision of embracing love, then we should do as he says and find ways to love one another. Period.
Where we are.
The question that needs to be raised about gays as it pertains to the locker room is whether fear over homosexuality has led, to some degree, to a nearly complete lack of use of locker room facilities in high schools and middle schools across America. And what does that mean to actual physical education?
When high school kids go to gym class these days, they largely do not use the showers afterward. They seem to prefer to go back to class all grunged up rather than take the time or be seen using the showers. Frankly most kids probably make the choice to not play too hard rather than get sweated up and have to go back to class feeling like a wet rag. That means physical education classes are being compromised by attitudes of fear or shyness about the locker room. No wonder childhood obesity remains a problem!
Are kids that self-conscious that they do not want to be seen naked in the locker room? Is high school teasing and bullying that profound that kids cannot shower together and be objective about it? I truly doubt it.
Old norms. Good practices.
Hitting the showers was simply the norm 40 years ago. No one thought twice about it until the early 1980s when a wave of conservatism swept the country with Ronald Reagan, the control-obsessed Yuppies and a whole host of religious zealots like Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed complaining about social issues including homosexuality.
Probably liberals also contributed to the locker room problem with complaints about kids suffering blows to self esteem on fears of being seen naked. But conservatism especially contributed to making high school locker rooms into “NO GO” zones for kids. Fear of gays.
The commonality of the locker room was actually something of a great equalizer. Sure, it could be harsh for some. Heavier kids do have to put up with teasing, and other body types as well. I can recall a conversation in 7th grade with a fellow classmate who told me he was constantly teased that his penis looked so small under his rather fat belly. I told him flat out not to worry about it. That was none of their business and he’d best find ways to accept his body as it was, and work on it if he was not happy. He thanked me for that advice. We were 12 years old. Some common sense never changes.
But the real problem wasn’t that kid. It was all the kids who saw fit to tease him. There needs to be an aggressive, solid reform movement to equalize the locker room. But we can’t do that when we’re held back by patently false religious attitudes that fears nakedness as a rule of morality, and accuses homosexuals of an “agenda” by practice. Conservative religion is killing the potential for a healthy locker room.
The entire idea that people are under threat somehow by being seen naked or semi-clothed is, in the grand scope of things, a product of a fearful worldview poorly reconciled to the basic facts of humanity. Divorced from our evolutionary history by religious zealotry and fears about homosexuality, we are forced into narrow compartments of human existence. Rather than accept our mutual desires to better ourselves, society gets distracted into thinking that the equality of others is a threat to their own existence. But athletes who live and breathe in locker rooms know that it’s the person inside that counts.
We need more locker room common sense and a few more nude beaches to boot. Some segments of America remain so uptight about supposed moral standards the entire concept of what constitutes normal locker room existence has been warped out of proportion to the point that it is spilling into public discourse. That fearful undercurrent is driving a wedge through the very heart of American openness and tolerance. Those latter attributes are the values that most make America what should be.
Leadership role for athletes.
You may not have expected this brand of enlightenment from the locker room. But I write about it because athletes truly can provide important leadership to society by their example. It happened with black athletes in the 50s and 60s, leading to greater racial equality that exists today. Recall that there were fears of even drinking from the same fountain as “colored people.” It sounds quaint and frail to make such recollections today. Yet those attitudes were anything but harmless. People were murdered as a product of racist attitudes.
Sports and the locker room really can contribute to greater gender equity, understanding of sexual orientation and open attitudes toward gays in society. The NBA and NFL are still close-minded about gay players of course. But are we surprised? Consider the normalized hazing that goes on with rookies in football. These immature antics are the product of poorly developed social constructs, with fearful, controlling behavior at the heart of it.
If that’s the pinnacle of sporting attitudes in society, our culture truly is regressive, insecure and repressive. And sure enough, that’s how it is.
The Naked Truth.
So next time you’re in the locker room, consider the millions of people who work out each day. Man of them are gay. But get this, they’re not staring at you any more than the straight guy or gal in the locker room.
Humans are curious beings. We’re visually oriented. Whether you admit it or not, you notice other people in the locker room. If that strikes fear into your heart that you might be tempted somehow, then you still haven’t grown up. Have you?
Nothing anyone can do will “make you gay.” Being gay is a natural, normal outcome of genetic makeup. It’s been that way for thousands of years. But if you can’t handle evolution as a reality, then get the hell out of the locker room. Because everyone else is trying to evolve into better human beings by working out, accepting other human beings for what they are and living their lives with real purpose. If that bugs you, then stay behind in the past. Because while you have a right to that opinion, it would seem that you really have little to contribute to the betterment of society. If it does not promote equality for all, then it is a lie about the human condition.
Perhaps it’s finally time to pick up a towel on this issue, and go shower in peace. You don’t need the Good Book to help you lift weights, and you don’t need it to make you feel secure in the locker room, either.
(Note: no commercial endorsements or interests are associated with this blog topic or its mention of commercial properties).