For the longest time I felt afraid about the public shower / locker room setting. Part of my fear and shame came from body-image issues, as I was the “fat kid” most of my life. Part of my fear also came from my same-sex attraction — the fear for potential arousal.
In middle school and high school, I avoided the locker room as much as possible. If I did have to change, I picked a locker that afforded me the least opportunity to be near other people.
I was curious how the other guys looked but also ashamed and scared to be around them or be seen in my nakedness.
Living in the undergrad dorms at a conservative Christian college helped me see other guys less mysteriously, as some of them were more casual in their nudity. But I was still leery of the showers in the student athletic center. They were completely public — no stalls — with multiple shower heads sprouting from the walls.
After I came out to my closer friends and began to process my sexuality, I saw distinctions between just being “one of the guys” and attraction related to my queerness. Not every guy was an “attraction-trigger,” after all. I knew this in my head but was uncertain how this might play out in reality.
After I finished undergrad, before my wife and I moved away from school, I played racquetball one day with my then best friend, and we planned to have dinner afterward. At various times in our friendship, I felt some level of attraction toward him.
Attraction for my best friend was still there in this particular instance, but not hugely. He was much more a dear brother and friend in my mind. I felt like I was in a good space mentally with him.
After we finished playing racquetball, we returned to the locker room. We were carrying on a conversation, so rather than wait in the toilet stall or linger near the lockers while he showered (my previous way of avoiding nakedness), I said a quick prayer and decided to shower at the same time as him. After all, we had been talking before we started showering, so I just continued the conversation as we moved toward the showers.
What problems could possibly come up?
I saw him naked!
My best friend stood in full stark glory in front of me. And I was okay. I wasn’t going to bad places mentally or suddenly desiring to pounce on him. We just continued the conversation.
I relaxed, and everything was okay. No arousal. No awkwardness.
And then it happened . . .
No sooner had I begun to relax, the entire basketball team came in from practice. I was suddenly surrounded by very sweaty, muscular, athletic, naked men.
The situation made me want to laugh. I had been so concerned about arousal with my best friend, but in that moment — probably because the situation was too absurd for words — nothing happened. And also nobody in the locker room pointed out the fat kid in their midst.
I was just one of the guys in the locker room that day — naked and unashamed.
That moment was healing in so many ways. It took away the mystery from what one of my closest friends looked like, showing me I could keep my brother as my brother. He knew of my same-sex attraction, but he treated me like any other guy. He made me feel safe with him because he didn’t put me in a special attraction-based box.
I felt supremely loved!
That moment also helped me feel safe around other guys in general, as nobody could see the giant, neon “Queer Kid Here!” sign I thought must be constantly flashing over my head.
I still look in the mirror sometimes and wish I were a healthier weight. But I don’t hate my body like I once did.
I was accepted as a man by my best friend. That day with him demystified the locker room and nakedness for me. And it helped redeem some of my self-esteem.
Since then, I’ve experienced a few other shower/ locker room scenarios where other friends who, despite knowing my story, have been fine changing in the same space as me.
In these settings, my friends don’t see me as Ben, the queer guy; they see Ben, their brother in Christ.
I am more than my sexuality. I am a redeemed man, created in the image of God.
What has helped you deal with body shame? Have any instances with nudity in the locker room or otherwise helped you better navigate your masculinity and sexuality?