Male only spaces where a transman is unquestionably welcome are unquestionably uncommon. Many transpeople avoid places like public pools, team sports, gyms, bath houses and other gendered spaces, especially ones that involve getting naked in front of other people. Our bodies are marked, some with scars and others with parts that stand out in their difference. I know I am one of very few who feels that I can access the gendered space within the public swimming pool and gym, and I have a very specific way of going about that. I take risks many people trans or cysgendered (being of a sex and gender that match, and always have- someone who isn't trans or intersexed. I use this term instead of "normative" because there doesn't need to be anything "non-normative" about being trans) folks living in marked bodies never would. I recognize that for many people the thought of entering such a potentially judgmental, vulnerable space is the trigger to large amounts of anxiety. I also venture into these spaces with the awareness that I could find myself there at the wrong time, with the wrong person, and be in a very dangerous position. I play through the scenario almost every time I take the right turn into the mens space.
It's a quiet night at the pool, one man rinses the chlorine off of his hairy body and another ties his shoes and tucks his towel into his bag to leave. I tuck my shoes into a locker, and take my board shorts and neoprene binding tank top into the bathroom stall to change. I find it interesting that in any womens changing area I have ever been in there are accommodations for self conscious individuals who'd rather change out of the judging eyes; but here in the mens changing room I slip into the disabled bathroom stall setting my clothes on the toilet paper dispenser as they come off. The man from the shower strolls over to the sink stand and starts his evening ritual, brushing his teeth, cleaning his ears, whatever else men do at the sink of the pool changing room- he's standing there naked, if it was morning he'd shave. He sings to him self and happens to look over just as my lulu lemon super tight sports bra binder top falls from the toilet paper dispenser to the floor, visible below the stall door. He stops singing and stares in my direction, waiting for the door to open. I sense the tension and tuck my tits neatly into the neoprene top and tuck all my clothes together to stash in the locker. As I try and slip past me he throws out some comment, maybe it's "shame your bra fell on the floor faggot", or maybe something more in my face, "you're in the wrong place lady." Or just something silent, a comment played out with a fist or a foot slipped in my way. Maybe it isn't one guy, maybe its a group of them, younger than me and outsizing me and outnumbering me, with a point they need to prove.
This hasn't happened and hopefully; being that this is the west coast and that I have yet to see the changing room anything but bustling at anytime of day my luck may hold. I don't say too much, rarely strike up conversations, because despite the passability of my voice, I am new to this. I don't know the social code of the mens room. I try to not look at anyone's cock, or make eye contact. But I do listen. I learned a lot about body image, growing up, what my body may some day look like from the shower room time I had as a young girl. I never had that experience of learning how to be a man, until now. I am becoming familiar with a number of reoccurring characters, and their lives and interests.
The men who bathe in the mornings always seem to be talking about the poor markets, the troubles in the world, politics and economics. These men have watched CNN and had their coffee before I have finished my last dream and are on their way out of the pool by the time I am hauling my sorry ass across the street and into the cold water for the rude awakening to brake the hangover. There's one older Irishman who always enters the changing room like its a party at the seniors center with all his best naked buddies, "Hello, hello, how are you all today? I'm great, it's the rest of the world that seems to be having problems!" I once heard him recount the story of returning from war, and becoming a man. He had been serving in the force and when he returned home, still at the tender age of 18 he got off the train and started the walk home. He was stopped on his way and asked where he was headed.
"I'm going home to see me mum."
"No sir, if you are man enough to serve your country you are man enough to come out to drink to it."
He reckoned that first sip marked the beginning of his life as an alcoholic, and he didn't make it home to see his mum that day.
I hear about the stock market and I hear languages I don't understand, I hear men asking each other about their wives, their kids and early retirement. I hear war stories and see fathers helping a son tie his shoes. This men only, let's get naked and chat space is my incubator for the male experience. I study it like the eggs we hatched in my kitchen when I was 14. Watching, listening, and keeping my eyes down and being very nonchalant yet cautious about everything.
I study. I learn.