Are Gay Guys Checking You Out in the Locker Room?

AP Photo/Eric Gay

NBA player Jason Collins, left, in 2009. Collins recently came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated op-ed, the first active player in a major-league sport to do so.

As the first active member of one of the major sports leagues to come out as gay, NBA player Jason Collins’s announcement yesterday has generated praise from gay-rights supporters. Predictably, it has also prompted dire warnings about gays in the locker room from homophobes like the Family Research Council’s Brian Fischer:

I will guarantee you ... if the ownership of whatever team is thinking about bringing him back, or thinking about trading for him, and they go to the players on that team and they say 'How do you feel about an out active homosexual being in the same locker room, sharing the same shower facilities with you?' they'll say no way. I don't want that. I do not want some guy, a teammate, eyeballing me in the shower. 

This seems to be a concern primarily among men—women, for whatever reason, aren’t half as scared of lesbians—but it’s a common refrain among homophobes trying to stoke gay panic. The gay-shower scenario comes up whenever public discussion turns to gays in sports, and it was also a concern during the debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell,” with some members of the military suggesting separate showering facilities for gay and straight soldiers. For those who don’t fear gay people, it may seem a bit juvenile or downright paranoid—for guys like Fischer, it’s as if the mere gaze of a gay guy has the strange, infectious power to rob you of your masculinity. But one can understand how the idea generates mild discomfort even among guys who are pretty accepting.

First, let’s state the obvious. For as long as there have been sex-segregated locker rooms—and, if we’re talking about the Romans, public baths—gay guys have been showering with straight guys; it’s a natural consequence of using sex as a proxy for sexual orientation. The only difference now is that, at least in the military or on sports teams with openly gay members, you know who’s gay. You’d think that homo-haters would prefer to know where the threat is coming from, but the point is that same-sex harassment in locker rooms should be no more a problem with openly gay athletes than it was before. It would be silly to say that no guy has ever been hit on in a locker room, but as far as I know this has not been a widespread problem in any of the major sports leagues; having a colleague who’s had the courage to be honest about who he is won’t change that.

Which brings me to the main point: As a gay man, I can assure you that we’re probably less likely to look at your junk than your fellow straight guys. Rather than engage in the typical bro-to-bro bravado at the gym—I’ve never witnessed towel-snapping fights so often portrayed in movies, but I have seen guys shout boisterously across the locker room, pat each other on the back, and comment on each other’s bodies (“dude, what’d you do to get those pecs?”)—I and the gay friends I’ve spoken to do our best to keep to ourselves. Frankly, we find this behavior sort of terrifying. Part of this is no doubt a vestige of our closeted high-school days, when we’d stop at nothing to avoid being found out (as a lanky teenager with no eye-hand coordination to speak of, P.E. was a special challenge). But I’ve also come to see it as a means of showing respect for the comfort of others. I’m aware that even the most gay-friendly straight guy doesn’t want to be ogled in the locker room—who does?—and do my best not to give off that impression.

This is precisely what a Department of Defense working group found in recommending how to implement the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In addition to posing a logistical nightmare, the group predicted that creating separate facilities for gays and straights would stigmatize gay service-members and that concerns about integrated showers were based on stereotypes about gay people as predators. Gay service members, their report said, have “learned to avoid making heterosexuals feel uncomfortable or threatened in situation [sic] such as this.”

Despite the plot lines of countless porno flicks, anyone who’s a regular gym goer can tell you the experience of sweating and heaving in the weight room or cleaning up afterward in the showers is hardly sexual. Gym tunnel vision sets in. With your iPod playing “Final Countdown”—or in my case, the soundtrack to Les Misérables—you’re ensconced in a prayer-like state of isolation. Church time isn’t for cruising, and for most of us, neither is gym time.

Allowing gays and straights to share locker rooms begs the question of whether we should stop segregating these spaces by sex altogether. If gays can shower with straight guys, shouldn’t straight guys be able to shower with women? In principle, this seems like a reasonable conclusion—until you take into account our current gender and power dynamics. Women are regularly victimized by men; this includes not only being disproportionately the victims of sexual assault and rape, but everyday harassment like being cat-called while walking down the street. Like all-women’s colleges, sex-segregated changing facilities provide women a sanctuary from these pressures. So long as our culture puts up with and encourages such behavior, women should be able to keep the boys out of the locker room.

Note that in the scenario above, we’re not talking about men needing protection from lecherous women. Similarly, it is not straight guys who are bullied, become the victim of hate crimes, or have discriminatory laws passed against them. The most ridiculous thing about the gay-shower scare tactic is that it paints straight guys as helpless sheep when in fact—in the locker room and in life—they have most of the power. Unless we’re talking about an all-gay sports team, trust me: Straight guys, you have nothing to worry about.

Comments

The conceit of some heterosexuals! Gay guys that I know, are self-effacing, polite, and choosy. Before worrying you're going to be the subject of unwelcome advances from gay guys, first check yourself out (honestly) in the mirror! If you're not exactly being hounded by straight women, chances are you're going to be pretty safe in the changing rooms! As a woman, I wouldn't be too phased by sharing facilities. We're used to being demeaned by straight guys, being the victims of unwanted comments, being judged by our looks and physical attributes. If we're to have communal facilities, I would only say, you'll have to excuse the shavers in the shower, and please remember those bins are for sanitary products.

As a gay man that swims daily and showers at a public gym, I would be dishonest if I said I never saw another guy I found attractive in the locker room. However, I can honestly say that I have never imposed on a straight guy by checking them out, staring at them, making an advance or doing anything that might make them uncomfortable.

First and foremost, it would be against my value system to disrespect someone else by invading their comfort zone with covert leering or overt lewd conduct. Being naked in any situation, especially a public shower or locker room is a vulnerable experience. I would always treat others as I would like to be treated myself.

Second, the vast majority of straight men don't attract me. Like many of my gay friends, I have a narrowly defined type and you're not it. Straight men I've observed don't seem to operate under these limits. I often see them sexualizing any female that moves, thin or fat, young or old, if it has T and A with a pulse, they will joke openly with their buddies about how they will "take a piece of that". I suppose they project their own proclivities onto gay men and think we want to sleep with all of you. I have seen the most ugly overweight obnoxious balding straight guys (who know deep inside that a really beautiful woman is totally out of their league) think that any gay man they come across wants to have sex with them.

Third, if you actually were attractive in a straight public setting, I'm more concerned with being ridiculed than getting a vicarious high by secretly checking you out. Maybe this is a legacy of gay ridicule growing up in junior high and high school gyms, but showering with straight men intimidates me. I don't want to do anything that will trigger their paranoia and lead to hazing or attack. Therefore, most of the time I keep to myself and religiously keep my gaze away from anyone's body and especially their private parts. That is not true of most straight men I observe at the gym. They talk, pat each other on the back, comment on each other's progress in building ripped muscles. The shower without any hint of intimidation and often swagger through the wet areas with adrenalin and machismo from working out.

Lastly, I would say that many straight guys seem to have very fragile egos hidden under all the hyper masculinity playing competitive sports or working out at a gym. If you are comfortable with your own sexuality, then you are not threatened by someone else's. Straight guys often demean women by sexualizing them or calling them sluts or whores. They often accuse someone of being a fucking queer or faggot to dehumanize them as human beings. All of this is about judging others and putting someone else down to feel morally superior and better about themselves. This base conceit and sexual grandiosity makes any man appear really unappealing, no matter how physically attractive they might. be.

I’m a straight guy. I’ve always known I was straight. The fear that I might "change" never entered my mind. Therefore, it’s been easy for me not to care what anyone else’s orientation might be.
My experience with homophobic men is that their "logic" is anywhere from self-contradictory to non-existent.
I ask them whether they think gay men are tougher than they are. They say, hell no, gay men are wimps. Then what, I ask them, do you think you have to fear from a gay man? What would you do if a gay man hit on you in the shower room? "I’d put him in the hospital! I’d fuckin’ kill him!" And you don’t think the gay man knows that? Mortal terror has this oh-so-peculiar way of destroying the sex drive.
Finally, when they talk about how excited they’d be to be in a women’s shower room, I ask them to take a look around at the women they see in any public place. All of them, not just the ones they find attractive. Then imagine them naked. Few of them wouldn’t appeal to these guys.
So, in summation: homophobic men, take a damn chill pill!

Given my age and the old belly flopping out I'd feel appreciative if a gay guy checked me out. So what. Look but dont touch
Of course I' a real flamng liberal with many gay friends. Hang out at their fav gay bar in balitmmore most friday nites. Lots o f hugging, some on the neck light kissing also - its all about showing respect and a litle do as the romans do scenario

The people most scared about gays checking them out are almost certainly the ones who fear their bodies response would be automatic - in the crotch area

Its called exposure of REACTION FORMATION -- look it up on wiki

BTW when to drop the soap? when some anti gay loudmouth is spouting off. Make sure he sees it and watch to see the reaction.

While I appreciate the perspective of the article in that it marshalls some strong points I still think there's some additional honesty that needs to be added. First of all, there is an answer to the question and that answer is YES! Straight men check each other out too and are also frequently curious about the anatomy of other guys although probably not for the purpose of minor sexual gratification. This fact has already been confirmed in studies. However, all gays are not equally respectful of the privacy rights of other men in the locker and shower room and anyone who works out on regular basis knows this is true. I'm not sure how I feel about the "why not" arguments for gender neutral locker rooms but I will say that giving me a rendition of the power dynamics and sexual predations of straight men against women doesn't cut it because it avoids the central question. The question is do straight men have a legitimate interest in not being viewed as sex objects in a vulnerable locker room or shower situation. I say they absolutely do. I'm not sure about how we deal with that but ignoring their personal privacy rights by saying "don't worry about it" or "get over it" doesn't seem honest based upon my experience. I can say that within the last 10-15 years there has been an increasing tendency to use the locker room for storage of gym bags and personal items only while you're working out and if you can wait to shower then that's what you do. (That's also a result of the prevalence of cell phone cameras ) As social openness about sexuality becomes even more common we are going to have to get used to wrangling with some uncomfortable issues even if we don't like the discussion.

Puleeeeze! As a gay man, of course I check out the dudes in the showers. I am gay, not dead. However, most straight guys are worth a glance, let alone a second look. As the article states, one learns to do this discretely and without alarming the observed. One does one's best to avoid the uncertainty principle, that is having the observer affect the observed. The straight guys that seem to fear having a gay man check them out are almost universally the ones I do NOT want to see naked. However, if Mario Lopez was in the shower with me, I sneak a peak or seventy.

The rules seems to hold at the SF Pride Parade, too. All the guys wandering about naked should be covered with a blanket and the cute guys we all want to see strip down keep their pants on.

I can say as a gay guy I very very rarely check out other guys in the locker room. When I'm in the locker room I normally feel slightly embarrassed and self conscious (like how a naked straight guy might feel a little embarrassed and self conscious in a locker room full of women).
Also I consider it rude to be basically visually raping the locker room guys.

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