One Gay Man’s Response to “Panic in the Locker Room”

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Here’s the article in The New York Times.

Michael Sam, a college football player, came out gay. While the response from the world of sports has been mostly suppportive, some have expressed fear and frustration, namely, how can a straight man expect to share a locker room with a gay man?

The New York Times op-ed columnist provides some answers to that question, but the article took my thoughts in a different direction and to a place of personal fear.

I work out at the gym five days a week. For every day I work out, I’m in the locker room twice. That’s ten times a week. Every time, I dread it. Every. Time.

As a gay man, I’m afriad somehow the other men will know I’m gay. I am there to work out, and I don’t want to deal with conversations about my sexuality. I don’t want to deal with awkwardness or ignorance. I don’t even want to deal with affirmation. So I never speak to anyone in the gym locker room*. I never make eye contact. I skip the shower if I can get by with it. I’m in and out as fast as I can change my clothes. I’ve approached locker rooms this way for as long as I can remember, junior high, high school, and now as a middle-aged adult.

My reluctance to participate in communal nudity has nothing to do with a damaged sense of body image. Anyone who has met Sister Ann Wenita Morelove knows that I’m not self conscious about my body. Honestly, it wasn’t until dressing with a room full of queer nuns that I felt comfortable getting naked in front of a group of people.

I remember the evening well. A group of Sisters were together getting ready to go out for an evening of ministry when I turned around and there was somenun completely naked. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought about how I was going to get out of my street clothes and into my habit. Others begain to disrobe as conversation continuted and folks went on, unconscous of self, seemingly without a thought to the various stages of nudity surrounding them. There was a freedom to it that I had never experineced. Looking back, I realize I was experiencing for the first time a safe locker room setting.

I realized in that living-room-turned-locker-room, that I felt safe. In that safety, there wasn’t any risk involved in being nude because there wasn’t anything for those present to find out. Those Sisters knew me and accepted me. There was nothing to fear.

So think about that, Michael Sam teammates. Realize that he is quite possibly much more frightened about what you are thinking about him than you should be about what he may be thinking about you. Give him a smile or a pat on the back in that locker room. You have nothing to fear. Make sure he knows that, too.

*Wouldn’t you know it? I had a long and enjoyable conversation in the locker room the afternoon of the day I posted this article. The anxiety and fear is deep in my psyche. Often there is no bases for it, yet there it remains.

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