Your Sensitive Sunday WashPost: Feeling the Pain of Being 'Genderqueer at the Gym'

If it’s the Lord’s Day, The Washington Post is observing it again as LGBT Day. Splashed on the front of the Sunday Outlook section is this, in large capital letters: “GENDERQUEER AT THE GYM: If your identity seems ambiguous, asks law studient Marion Cory, which looker room do you use?”

Like Sandra Fluke, Cory is a law student at allegedly Catholic Georgetown University.  Cory didn’t feel that even liberal Washington is progressive enough, and neither are gay gyms:

Yet, even in an ostensibly liberal, open-minded city such as Washington, gender policing abounds.  The gym is the place where people work out to become more like the skinny, toned women or perfectly muscular men in advertisements. Women do cardio to shed unwanted pounds, and men pick up free weights to groan and stare in the mirror at their reflections — frantically working to become ideal models of their respective genders.

I identify as “genderqueer” — blurring the line between man and woman. For example, I love my masculinity, and trying to get big at the gym is just one of my avenues for expressing it. I appreciate my femininity, too, particularly my ability to access vulnerability and express emotions freely. Calling myself genderqueer is about gender fluidity, not necessarily about sexual orientation. It’s about expressing a more authentic self. Existing in the gray area, I feel less confined by false notions of how I “ought” to be.

So, for the people like me who don’t quite belong in either category, trying to blend in at the gym can be as difficult as doing dead lifts with a torn hamstring. But even while the gym tries to keep me prisoner, it can also set me free....

When I lived in Philadelphia last year, I tried using a gay gym, thinking it was bound to be more sensitive to gender expression. I was disappointed by an environment that catered to men and lacked accommodations for women or transgender individuals....

The gym invites me to expose my unfettered masculinity without apology. I’ve discovered an unparalleled sense of affirmation when I catch a burly fellow watching me perform my 10th pull-up, awed by the unfamiliar sight of a masculine girl training her body to maximum performance.


But the gym can hurt, too. Most people don’t have to think too hard about which locker room to use or weigh its potential for hostility. For me, the women’s locker room is a difficult place. I’m stared at by confused youngsters or gawked at by a feminine mob of elliptical addicts. There is trauma every time I change in front of women because of a supposedly shared identity.

The way I express my gender places me in the borderland between the men’s and women’s locker rooms. I don’t feel I belong comfortably in either, so I choose the one I’m most acquainted with through years of obedience to the gender I was assigned at birth. I am always conscious that, even though I may feel like it, I am not just one of the guys. Off campus, at the smaller gym in my apartment building, I frequently work out alone, and I can breathe a little easier knowing that I don’t need to be on the defensive.

Maybe someday I’ll round up the courage to walk confidently into the men’s locker room, but for now I opt for the slightly easier route.

The prison in her childhood was the Scouting movement (imagine where the Scouts are headed next):

I was the kid who longed to be in the Boy Scouts just as much as any other boy in my class. I had already come up with lots of ideas about how to build the fastest, coolest pinewood derby car, and I desperately wanted to earn a Wilderness Survival badge. But instead I had to practice cooking and learn dance routines in the Girl Scouts. In all of the pictures from those days, I am wearing a serious frown.

Cory concluded that we’re all transgendered, decimating the feminist argument that cooking isn’t female and auto mechanics aren’t male:'

We all transgress gender norms. For some of us it is in big ways — boys wearing fabulous pink dresses or someone transitioning to a gender different from the one a doctor assigned at birth. For others, transgression can be modest: the man who takes pride in being a great cook or the woman who changes the oil in her husband’s car. If we embrace the innumerable identities and expressions of who we are, locker rooms won’t be the only places that feel safer for us all.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis