Transgender at the Gym: Tips and Experiences for the Gym and Locker Room

More than just a tagline, Planet Fitness proved its “judgement-free zone” this week. A woman from Michigan has had her gym membership to Planet Fitness revoked after repeatedly complaining to other members about a transgender woman in the changing rooms.

In their statement, they said that “Planet Fitness is committed to creating a nonintimidating, welcoming environment for our members. Our gender identity nondiscrimination policy states that members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity.”

The recent Planet Fitness decision is a great step in the right direction for transgender inclusion in the gym and the locker room, which has often been a difficult place for trans people. Far too often, trans folks – especially trans women – are told to use the wrong facilities, compete with athletes of our assigned sex, or worse, harassed or simply turned away. In other recent news, transgender athlete Chloie Jonsson is suing CrossFit for $2.5 million in damages after they told her she would not be allowed to compete in the CrossFit Games in the women’s division.

While progress is happening, it is slow, which means we as transgender folks need to take extra precautions when in the gym and gym changing rooms.

 

Transgender Gym Advice

Get a feel for your gym

Some gyms (like Planet Fitness) make not judging others a huge part of their business model, while other gyms can have a more aggressive, competitive feel. No matter which locker room you are using, it is best to have a feel for your gym’s atmosphere. That means knowing the layout of your changing room and the types of people that go to your gym. Keep your gym membership card handy in case you are approached by staff. In the end, remember that you are just as entitled as anyone else to use the gym and locker room, and stay calm and confident.

Depending on your gym environment and how comfortable you feel, you may have to consider avoiding the locker room altogether. If you’re able to, change clothes before you arrive at the gym and leaving personal belongings at home or in your car. You can also change and shower at home if that makes you feel more comfortable.

Choosing a locker room

For those of us who do not pass or are androgynous, choosing which locker room to use at the gym can be very stressful. For your personal safety, it’s best to stick to whichever locker room you more closely present as or are read as in your daily life.

Switching locker rooms

If you’re a transgender woman who has been using the men’s locker room at your gym for some time and wish to make the switch (or vice versa), you might raise some questions from the gym staff or other members.

What some folks do is take a break from the gym for a period of time and work out from home, then go back a few months later presenting as you wish to make the transition a little more unnoticed. Or, you could change your routine, going at a different time of day to avoid crossing paths with any regulars who might approach you about the locker room switch.

Of course, it’s always easiest to start fresh at a new gym, but money, location, and other factors might not make that possible.

Changing and showering

In most locker rooms, men’s or women’s, the folks inside are going about boring business of changing, showering, or grabbing their personal belongings. Most folks won’t really notice you.

Trans women in the women’s room

  • If you’re pre-HRT, pre-op, or non-op, change in a single-stall or private area, or try to stand facing your locker for more privacy.
  • Most women’s locker rooms have private curtained or stalled showers. Check out the facilities and see how comfortable you feel.
  • Wear a long towel around your body to and from the shower. When you get to your locker (a full-length one, if possible, is best!), leave the locker door open for more privacy. You can leave the towel on your body to dress your top half first. If you have a longer shirt on, you can use that to hide your lower half as you dress, or pull your underwear on under the towel as well.
  • If you wear breast forms and wish to switch them from your bra to a sports bra, remove your bra and place it in your gym bag. Then, inside the bag, switch the forms to the sports bra, then put everything on in one fell swoop – you’ll need a pocketed model for this to work most easily.

Trans men in the men’s room

  • In most men’s changing rooms and showers, guys tend to keep to themselves and avoid eye contact. Blending in and going about your business should hopefully be a bit easier.
  • If you’re pre-T, pre-op, or non-op, change in a single-stall or private area, or try to stand facing your locker for more privacy.
  • Never exercise in a chest binder! If you are wearing a binder, take it off and switch to a sports bra in a private area (use a bathroom stall if you need). If you’re able to take your binder off over your head like an undershirt, you could do that and put your sports bra inside your workout shirt, then slip both on at the same time. It’s two quick motions and no one should see your chest or sports bra.
  • If you want to pack at the gym, try wearing your packer inside your underwear, and choose a pair of buttoned boxers or underwear made to carry your packer. They can move around easily without proper support, and you don’t want it falling out in the middle of a set. 🙂
  • If you’re changing underwear in the locker room and moving your packer from one to the next, you can put your old underwear and packer into your gym bag, make the switch inside your gym bag, then put it all back on in one fell swoop. That way your packer never sees the light of the locker room.
  • Pick clothes that are easier to get into and out of quickly, like boxers instead of briefs, or pick looser shirts and tanks over tight athletic shirts.
  • Some men’s locker rooms have “gang showers” with many shower heads in one space and limited privacy, so before you hop on in, check out the facilities. If you’re pre-op or non-op, you might not want to shower publicly.
  • If anyone should ask you what your binder is, tell them it’s a post-surgical garment or back support device. No one should bother you more about it, but prepare your response just in case.
  • If anyone should press you about top surgery scarring, you can lie about it if you wish. Trans guys have used all sorts of excuses, from shark attacks to freak accidents to (mostly true) gynecomastia surgery. Prepare an answer ahead of time.

Dealing with questions

If someone approaches you believing that you are in the wrong locker room, assess the situation. If you do not feel safe in any locker room setting, walk away, either until you feel it is safer, or permanently.

If a staff member approaches you, you could ask to speak with the person in private to explain your situation. Some gyms are trans affirming and have no issues; other gyms may require you to use the wrong facility. It’s then up to you to try reasoning with them or to try to find a new gym where you are more supported.

If you have legally changed your name or gender on identification, keep an ID card handy so you can produce it if needed. Also, it’s good to be familiar your state’s rights or policies about transgender athletes and locker room/changing room laws.

Have some tips we missed or want to share your gym experiences? Tell us in the comments!

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