Hitting the gym should be a positive, healthy experience. But what happens when the locker room raises question of gender identity and acceptance?
Planet Fitness, known for a “Judgment Free Zone” policy designed to make all gym-goers feel welcome, is standing by its code after a Michigan customer recently objected to a transgender woman in the female locker rooms, saying she thought the person was a man. The gym revoked the customer’s membership after receiving her formal complaint, and asked her to stop talking about the incident to other gym members, according to news reports. In a statement, Planet Fitness said that, according to their policy, their customers can use the locker rooms (and all other gym facilities) based on the gender they identify with.
While the incident has sparked a national conversation, it’s hardly a new debate, and some forward-thinking fitness studios are already implementing clear policies to make everyone feel comfortable, regardless of their sex, gender, or sexual orientation. (Complaining isn't the only thing you might want to ditch at the gym—You Really Need to Stop This Dangerous Gym Habit.)
“Gender isn't a ‘duh,’” says Sadie Kurzban, founder of 305 Fitness, a dance cardio studio in NYC. Signs on the locker rooms at her studio state plainly, ”For those who identify as female on the gender spectrum,” and ”For those who identify as male on the gender spectrum,” a measure which she says customers have applauded.
“Gender isn't about your genitals. It's about how you identify,” Kurzban explains. “I find these labels silly and a little heavy. I'd rather just be me: exposed, authentic, and liberated from what society wants to expect of me. What I love about 305 is that it allows people to feel this way. We come together in a room full of strangers and we are transformed.”
While some say it's admirable that Planet Fitness is upholding their policy to create an equal gym experience for transgender people, not all gym-goers are on board. In the wake of the gym's decision to kick out the complainer, many other women are canceling their memberships because they say "they do not feel safe."
Other people say offering a mix of non-gendered locker rooms and gender-inclusive locker rooms may be the best approach to making sure everyone feels comfortable. “A mix of both [types of locker rooms] would be a great way to make sure everyone's needs are met. I think the biggest misconception about transpeople is that we all have the same mindsets, goals, and ideas of what equality means,” says Cristov Fejfar, of Hershey, PA. “I would really love to see places that offer more privacy in general, and not just for the sake of trans people. Some people are uncomfortable changing in front of others for a whole variety of reasons,” he says.
Chris Mosier, athlete, coach, and founder of transathlete.com, a resource for trans-inclusive policies in athletics, agrees. “All people—not just transgender people—can benefit from private changing spaces. I think it is important to make sure everyone has access to a safe space to change. This includes having private changing areas within locker rooms, or having family or single person gender-neutral spaces,” he says.
Of course, this goes beyond just working out at the gym and further into the world of sports, which we hope to see advance as well. “Participation in athletics is a fundamental, character-building part of our society. Transgender people need to have safe and comfortable access to athletics,” says Mosier. “No one should have to choose between being able to play sports and being able to be their authentic selves. We need to make space in sports for people who fall outside of our binary system of gender.”
No matter what gender you identify with, a conversation about gender-inclusive policies is a step in the right direction towards gender equality. After all, everyone has a right to work out and take care of their body.