My Gym Now has “Affirmed Gender” Locker Rooms

I went by the East Boulder Recreational Center this morning as I frequently do and was quite surprised to find that the sign adjacent to the door to the men’s locker room had been updated. It used to say that any child over the age of six should be in the appropriate gender locker room. I never really thought about it before, as it made sense to me and seemed quite reasonable.

Even six might be too old: I recall vividly one time I walked into the men’s locker room and two men were yelling at each other in the shower area because one man had brought his 6yo daughter in with him and she was showering with her Dad. The other man was incensed that a little girl was seeing him naked and accused the Dad of being a pervert for having her in the shower. I pulled in some employees to address the situation and when I left the gym post-workout, I saw the incensed guy being interviewed by a police officer.

But back to the sign. Here’s what’s now adjacent to the locker room door:

children six years old and above should use the locker room according to their affirmed gender sign gym locker

It’s clearly a new sign, there’s a typo on it (it should be “years”, not “year”, of course), but I was actually rather befuddled when I saw it.

What is an affirmed gender?

I found this definition on Welcoming Schools: “One of the first steps that all people – adults or children – take, if they feel that their internal sense of gender and their biological sex do not match, is to socially transition to living in a way that expresses their internal sense of who they are. This can also be called living in their affirmed gender.”

Okay, I get that. I have friends who are biologically male but identify as female, and another friend who identifies as a “zhe”, born female but self-identifies as male. No problem at all, not an issue, and I care for them as I do all my other friends.

But when I was in the locker room after my workout this afternoon, washing off in a communal shower area with a couple of other men and one man’s son, I was thinking about the experience of having someone in the shower area who self-identifies as male — their affirmed gender — but would still have all the biological characteristics of being physically a female.

I’ve been in co-ed hot-tubs where we didn’t wear clothes back in my Berkeley days, and it was no big deal at all after the first experience. That first experience, however, was a bit startling. More recently, I was quite comfortable nude hot tubbing at Ten Thousand Waves in Santa Fe. It’s really not a big deal.

But those were adult-only experiences.

As a father, I then tried to imagine my 11yo daughter going into the women’s locker room — since she’s older than 6, she couldn’t be in the men’s locker room with me as per their rules (and as per what I feel is appropriate modesty) — and got a lot more uncomfortable with the new parameters of which locker rooms are appropriate for whom. What if she was changing into a swimsuit, I mused, and a guy walked into the women’s locker room insisting he identified as female then just sat and watched her change clothes?

family locker room signAnd as it turns out, the Rec Center has a third gym area, a “family” locker, where there are private changing areas. My recommendation to the Parks & Recreation Department would have been to simply change the family locker room to a “private locker rooms” area with extra signage that invited affirmed gender usage.

While it would be nice to live in a world where all of this was moot, that’s not the world we’re in and I think that changing that single word on their sign has opened up quite a can of worms.

To be clear, I honor people’s personal gender identity regardless of their age, but I think that just putting up the sign is not only the tip of a very complicated iceberg, it should also spawn a complex and important conversation. It’ll require more in terms of parameters and constraints to make the change work and I predict a bumpy road along the way, even in Boulder where we like to consider ourselves exceptionally enlightened and progressive.

How about you? Are you completely comfortable with the fluidity of modern gender and with the expectation that you might soon find women who identify as men in the men’s room, men who identify as women in the women’s room, teens and children with similar affirmed genders making the same choices and these same adults interacting with your children when you’re not around?

3 comments on “My Gym Now has “Affirmed Gender” Locker Rooms

  1. As I started your piece I thought, OMG PENIS IN DA LOCKER ROOM! And flashed back to that scene in The Crying Game.

    But I think it’s unfair of us to effectively segregate our Trans club members based on -identity- for fear of a -behavior- I hope we’d find creepy coming from anyone of any gender, affirmed or anatomical.

    Yes, it’s hard to talk specifics about what behaviors are acceptable and what are not.

    But we never had those conversations with generations of young people before–and look how splendidly that turned out.

    So I think what I’d advise the gym is to post a code of conduct on the gym site and at least send an email spelling out the excessively onerous consequences that follow violations-like getting banned from the club for “sitting there watching.”

  2. My partner is transgender and we’ve discussed this. She was pre-op when we met, and has since had gender reassignment surgery. Before her surgery she said it was her fear, and common with Male to Female TG’s with pre-op male anatomy, to be exposed in any public place (including ambulances) because of hate crimes and discrimination. The TG’s she knew would never openly expose themselves in a locker room.
    Knowing this and coming from this perspective, I agree that I would be uncomfortable with a “man” sitting in a woman’s locker room, staring at an 11 yr old getting dressed.
    I think that nudity is more uncomfortable for many in the US verses countries like Germany, and the father showering with his 6 yr old daughte may have been totally innocent.
    For the sake of comfort, I agree with your proposal to have the option of Private changing rooms for anyone who is uncomfortable changing in the “gender appropriate” rooms for any reason.

  3. I’m pretty comfortable with people using the bathroom of their preferred gender identity, although this seems kind of young to make that distinction. Children take a long time to develop their identities. I would probably have said something like “12 years and older” though – a time when kids are more seriously considering who they’ll become. They’re also more of the risks of the world around them. If I had a child born female who began identifying as male, I’d be leery of letting him use the men’s locker room alone until I knew he was old enough to recognize inappropriate behavior, say no, and get authorities.

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