Showering Sans Penis
At an ISNA presentation in San Francisco, Brynn Craffey wondered how intersexual children, if assigned male in spite of having a diminutive penis, would deal with “the locker room problem.” It happens that Brynn was an acquaintance, and I knew that he was an FTM transsexual, and had decided against genital surgery. “How do you deal with the locker room, Brynn?” I asked him. You could almost see the light bulb go off over his head as it dawned on him that he himself deals successfully with “the locker room problem” on a regular basis. While there are important differences between an adult like Brynn—who can choose to brave the locker room or not— and a child, I found Brynn’s story fascinating, and asked him to write it up for Chrysalis readers —Ed.
Showering “sans penis” in the YMCA men’s locker-room presents a few logistical challenges. Every time I pull it off, though, I feel such a thrill and sense of accomplishment.
It’s surprisingly easy. Attitude is everything. When I pad, barefoot and dripping in swim trunks into the crowded shower-room, first thing I do is check in with myself. Am I feeling utterly self-confident? Am I totally convinced of my right to be there, even without a large, dangling member between my legs?
In other words, do I feel legitimate penetrating this traditional male sanctum without first paying homage to our culture’s binary notion of gender by spreading my thighs to the surgeon’s scalpel?
Most of the time, the answer is a resounding yes! I thread my way down the center aisle, a lone “post top-surgical” female-to-male transsexual who eschews bottom surgery, surrounded by naked, penisequipped men. On my way to a nozzle in a far corner, my feelings run the gamut. Curiosity: Penises fascinate me no end (pun intended). Entitlement: This is where I’ve belonged my whole life, dammit! And caution: Don’t let my transgression be discovered.
I glance right and left out of the corners of my eyes. Is anyone paying me undue attention? I maintain a blank facial expression and avoid gazing long on any individual. In two years’ transition from living as a woman to living as a man, I’ve mastered the fundamentals of heterosexual male locker room etiquette.
I give myself permission to bail at any point. If I’m uneasy, even if I don’t know why. If someone’s crowding me. If I can’t claim a corner nozzle. Or if I simply lack the nerve. I’ll not drop my trunks that day. I can always shower with them on—a lot of guys do.
For me, the decision to shower or not rests on being true to myself in that it depends on listening to my inner voice. It’s a minor variation on the theme of my coming out as FTM only to discover that “hermaphrodite” more closely approximates my gender identity.
My physical form, like my life, is far too diverse to be neatly categorized as either female or male. I love my testosterone-induced “in between” genitalia and am uninterested in lower surgery. Top surgery, however, was lifesaving. As was starting testosterone injections, developing secondary male sex characteristics and living publicly as a man.
There’s more than just my male side, though. The peak experience of my life to date has been bearing, birthing and raising my daughter. In short, mothering. I’ve no desire to disavow that traditionally “female” experience, even as I say that to live the second half of my life as a woman would have rendered me suicidal.
For me, encompassing these seemingly contradictory gender characteristics is both easy and natural. Hence, my comfort with the label hermaphrodite. Granted, I’ve come to this identity as an adult and thereby avoided the distress of growing up physically different in a culture that demands conformity. And, unlike most intersexed people, I chose the terms under which I submitted to the surgeon’s scalpel.
These distinctions are huge. On the other hand, I wrestle with similar identity questions and logistical issues as those who were born physically intersexed. Some struggles, such as those involving my self-esteem, are private. Others, like showering at the Y or coming out to potential lovers, operate in a more public realm. In every case, I strive to remain faithful to my truth by listening closely to my heart.
Thus, if for any reason I don’t want to shower naked, I don’t. But most of the time, after checking in with myself, I want to. Which brings me back to showering strategy.
Second to attitude, positioning is critical. The YMCA shower is laid out on a rectangular plan, with nozzles spaced roughly every half-meter the entire length of the room. Only two corners afford privacy—the other two are compromised by proximity to an exit. If the two safe corners are occupied, I’ll position myself at a nearby nozzle, start my shower with trunks on and move over when a corner becomes free.
If done casually, this maneuver goes unnoticed. Remember, gang, showers inspire modesty. If anybody notices that I always choose a corner, I imagine they chalk it up to shyness or assume my dick is smaller than theirs. Which it most likely is. No problemo, as long as no one sees how different my genitals are and tries to bar my entry into male space.
Once I claim my corner, I drop my trunks, keeping my back to the room at all times. Even if a guy is showering inches away at an adjoining nozzle, he can’t see my crotch as long as I face the corner. If I need to turn, to rinse off soap for example, I cup my hand over my genitals as if cradling them—a common enough gesture in the showers.
When I’m done, I securely wrap my towel around my waist—don’t want it accidentally slipping—and walk to my locker. I’ve dressed at my locker with as many as four guys inches away, all of us putting on or taking off clothes. Again, the key to success is to choose a corner and keep your back turned or towel on. Pull up underwear under the towel.
Locker room etiquette dictates that straight men not check each other out. While we all know they do, when crowded elbow-to-elbow the big concern is to avoid being checked out or— worse—get caught looking. Everyone’s too preoccupied about themselves to pay much attention to anyone else. This may be the single way that the perversity of homophobia works in favor of FTMs and others with non- conventional genitalia.
I believe in challenging homophobia —and I do in other venues. Likewise, I want to overturn our culture’s dominant male/female gender paradigm. However, I prefer to choose my battleground and the YMCA locker room is a place I’d rather just slip in and out unnoticed. Showering there serves as subversively inspirational for myself and my friends—a way to circumvent the gender police rather than confront them head-on.
And it’s fun. Dare I say, “good clean fun”? As I stated in the beginning, I get a thrill every time I pull it off, both from a subversive place and for the simple reason that I’m in the men’s locker room.
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