03 May An Open Letter to the Man in my Gym Locker Room:
I think you’re a terrible person.
I want to be forthright and tell you that I was the person who reported you to the front desk this week, for the way you behave in the mens locker room at my gym. I have seen you in that locker room every time I have come to workout, but have yet to ever see you anywhere else in the gym; I have never seen you do any actual exercise.
You just come to gawk. You spend hours in front of an open locker trying to look busy or distracted while men come and go around you. When I saw you this week trying to covertly take photographs of men changing their clothes, I was done with you. I told the general manager who you were and then stood by and watched as you were asked to gather your things and leave the building.
I spoke later with a friend who pointed out that it was ironic that I had probably seen at more men changing clothes in that locker room than any other member the gym had ever known. Which isn’t entirely false. The difference between our actions can seem murky, but I promise you there is a defined line between someone who happens to see someone else naked (while he himself is also changing clothes), and someone who comes into a space solely to take advantage of the vulnerability that goes along with that space. David Flemming’s essay for ESPN illustrates this in far better detail than I ever could here:
NFL teammates spend at least 20 hours together in the shower each season. Without the use of horse blinders, it would be virtually impossible for Vilma, or anyone else, to go more than 20 minutes without a penis, or six, crossing his line of vision. Nether-region glancing in showers is so commonplace, according to scores of athletes interviewed for this story, there’s even a crude term for when the eyes linger just a tad too long: meat peeping.
Visit any locker room now or throughout history and administer sodium pentothal, and you would find that every player knows exactly which player has the largest, and smallest, penis on the team. You could start in Greece — birthplace of the Olympics and the gymnasium (in Greek: “to exercise naked”). In Roman community baths, it was customary for men to stand and applaud when a well-endowed peer entered the water. In a recent book on masculinity and sports, British sociologist Chris Morriss-Roberts wrote: “The activity of checking out each other occurred irrelevant of sexuality and the type of sport; all participants noted that they looked at each other’s [penises] in the locker room.”
Men already have so many socially unacceptable emotions regarding their bodies and the experience of communal nudity; that you would come into this space with the primary intention of violating any perception of security they might have is absolutely deplorable. It betrays what an insecure and tiny man you really are inside. And while I am so ready to try to understand insecurity and to make room for the misguided ways we all try to find gratification, I think you are undeserving of understanding.
Rick and Morty is a far more brilliant show than anyone gives it credit for, and Rick’s speech to Jerry about the true nature of Jerry’s victimhood is applicable to you in its entirety:
“You act like prey but you’re a predator. You use pity to lure in your victims. It’s how you survive… You survive because people think, ‘Oh this poor piece of shit, he never gets a break, I cant stand the deafening silent wails of his wilting soul.'”
You are a predator. Your weak posture and floor-fixed gaze makes you appear to be unthreatening and ignorable. You pretend to be a comrade – a brother – in this space, but you are lecherous and exploitative of the moments when better men than you are duped into believing they are safe. You look down and away when you are caught, and spend (what must, in total, be hundreds of) hours pretending to stare at your phone, day after day after day, endlessly scrolling through nothing. Because what you want to see isn’t on your phone.
This activity has nothing at all to do with gayness or homosexuality – yours or mine. But you are the reason straight men are still afraid to change near less straight men. You are their fictionalized “gay guys will try to see my penis!” boogeyman, come to life.
Your behavior is undignified and beneath your station as a man. That you would choose to be the reason young men try to change their clothes under their towels, in order to preserve modesty that they are entitled to (whether society thinks so or not), is mystifying and cringeworthy. Especially in a city like New York, where literally any fantasy you have about any type of man or any type of situation is yours simply for the discovering.
But it isn’t about these men, or their bodies, or taking photos so that you can touch yourself to them later.
It’s about your pathetic exertion of perceived power over these men. It’s about taking something from them without their permission. It isn’t about how big their penis is, or how round and muscular their ass might be. The infinite nature of the internet and the innumerable billions of photos of naked men that already exist tell everyone that you don’t really care about these specific men and their bodies. What gives you the charge you are after is the fact that you know they don’t want this and that you’re doing it to them anyway.
Male privilege allows me – and likely all of these men I’ve spoken of – to remain relatively unwounded by your repugnant actions. The imbalance of power between the genders gives me exception that I might not have without being male. If I were a woman who was experiencing your intrusive voyeurism, I might feel personally threatened. The implication might be that you intend to do something else, later; to follow me home or find me online.
As a man, I have the luxury to simply not like it. To think you are pathetic. And I do. I think taking advantage of your brothers to gratify your desire is loathsome.
You have no power over me, and no excuse for treating others in this way. I won’t hide under a towel or turn away to cover my genitals from you like these other men do when they notice you.
But if I see you in that locker room again, we’re going to have a talk.