Just us guys

How upset some guys get about sharing locker rooms and showers with gay guys would be funny if it didnt lead so often to harassment and assault.

I just want to ask them a simple pair of related questions: are mobs of women you don’t know throwing themselves at you, trying to jump your bones? If not, why do you assume that every gay man is going to be trying to force themselves on you?

There’s an answer, but it isn’t a very pretty one. The truth is that the kinds of straight guys who are weirded out/uncomfortable/angry1 at the thought of having to share a locker room, shower, or even a gym with gay guys know how they treat women they are attracted to. They assume that all straight men think that way about women, so they also assume that all gay men will think that way about them.

And they don’t like it2.

That’s not the only source of their discomfort. There’s also the loss of the “just us guys” environment—a space where guys are safe to be guys. A place where they can scratch where it itches, can make inappropriate jokes, and generally be uncivilized. It would be easy to point out how a little less uncivilized behavior, along with less affirmation of a lot of sexist attitudes, would be a good thing in the long run. And I think it will be a good thing over time.

But there is also some value to that safe place. Just as it is valuable for women to have safe places to talk about their issues without guys like me saying, “Hey! We’re not all like that” or other guys “man-splaining3.” And it’s valuable for gay people to have safe places to talk about our issues without other people insisting they’re “not all like that” or trying to “str8-splain.”

Guys need places where they can be guys.

Now, I’m the first to say that a lot of what currently is presumed to be “guys just being guys” is awful and needs to change. Even when I was participating in several sports back in middle school, there was a certain amount of dread that fell on me whenever it was time to go to the locker room, or go out on the field. Any time you screwed up or failed to be as good at something as another guy, you were called a faggot, or queer, or pussy.

And that was only the nicer coaches5.

The mean coaches and the other kids called you c*cksucker, bitch, and c*nt—in various combinations. One of my middle school tormenters was fond of “c*cksucking, sh*teating fag.”

Guys of all sexual orientations and abilities are harmed by those notions that equate masculinity with athleticism, sexuality, and competitiveness. This notion enforces the hierarchy that equates the amount of respect one is entitled to is determined by the degree to which one possesses those masculine traits (which means that women will automatically never be able to expect as much respect as a man). Even the guys who have found success by embracing this notion have done so by contorting their personality in various ways, cutting themselves out of a lot of what’s great about being a person along the way.

So shaking up that definition is a good thing.

But it doesn’t have to mean that all distinctions between masculine and feminine are going to go away. It doesn’t mean that those of us in the LGBT community think they should6. It just means that there are a lot of different kinds of guys—lots of different ways to be a man. And all those different kinds of guy can hang out and be one of the guys, and all of the guys can be okay with it.

At least I hope so. Because my husband hates it when I start talkin’ about football, and I just need somewhere that I can…

1. Angry in this case is just code for afraid. Guys aren’t allowed to be afraid, so our subconscious transforms the fear into anger.

2. One would hope that this discomfort would help some of them to see that maybe they should start thinking of women a little differently, no?

3. mansplaining: condescending, inaccurate explanations delivered with a rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation4.

4. Some people define mansplaining exclusively as that sort of condescending explanation by a man to a woman, especially about topics related to women’s rights, and so on. But a lot of mansplaining is guy-on-guy. And none of us are immune. Guys are socialized to be confident and assertive, no matter what.

5. The coach who taught Sunday school and who made you put a quarter in the swearing jar on his desk if he heard you say “hell” or “damn” used “fag” so much, you began to wonder if he thought it was a punctuation mark. And don’t get me started on the teacher who was also a pastor.

6. I suspect some trans people have more to say about that than I possibly could.

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