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?
Some things that have really help me face and work through my body shame and fear is intentionally putting myself out there and allowing myself to feel the discomfort and anxiety. I grow when I’m uncomfortable and challenged. So in locker or changing rooms I push myself to change right out in the open instead of going into a curtained stall if they’re available. In restrooms that have no partition between urinals (HUGE pet peeve BTW ), I intentionally pick the one right in the middle of the line up instead of shying away to pee in a stall. I’m also involved in a lot of men’s organizations and retreats where public nudity happens a lot and even though it still makes me cringe, I’m loads better than how I used to be.
I too have recently allowed myself to lean into the emotions associated body images issues. As a recovering addict I used to nullify these emotions with whatever vice was available (food, porn, drugs, etc.) Every time I would feel inadequate in my body whether that be feeling overweight or feeling less masculine than other men I would “medicate”
I’ve started “leaning” into these emotions in order to get to the root of why I feel shame in my body. It isn’t easy…sometimes I feel like my emotions are all over the place, but I suppose that’s part of recovery.
I’m still not to a place where I feel
comfortable being naked with other guys. 1. Because I feel shameful in my body. 2. I’m afraid my mind will start lusting after seeing other naked guys. 3. I’m afraid I might have a physiological response in seeing these other guys naked.
Maybe one day I’ll get there, but for now I’m just not ready to experience nakedness with another man.
I’ve found similar environments helpful. I think part of it is the
safety of knowing that it’s a public space, in the light, and that I am
just one of the guys there.
Can I ask what orgs and retreats these are at? I’d love to explore them to overcome my own struggles. If it’s better to email I can send you mine.
Thanks for this post! Recently, I was shirtless with one of my best friends. He’s a Christian brother and wonderfully masculine. I was concerned at first because I doubted my motives, but in the moment, I was like “I can’t possibly lust after him! I love him in Christ way too much!” That, I think, showed me that I can love with a love stronger than lust. It gave me an opportunity to live as a man and not as a greedy broken boy.
Recently I’ve been exercising alone and naked. This has helped me profoundly in accepting my body as a man. Early on in adolescence, I began to view anything testosterone-related as evil. This included my own body. Working out naked has helped me confront my own physical masculinity and enabled me to tell myself that God made me a man-so stop running from that!
I’ve also found that I love being naked (I’ve not totally figured out why). My question for anyone else is, if you love being naked, even alone, why so, and do you think it is a good thing?
What a fantastically written post, Ben! Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your experiences on your journey to Christ.
I can absolutely relate to the powerful feeling of acceptance when you’re treated as “one of the guys”. It almost surprises me at times when my straight friends who know about my sexuality seem to not care at all (in similar scenarios of changing/showering and even including things like big lingering hugs and physical touch). It shouldn’t surprise me though. I chose them as friends because I know that they’re good Christlike men. If anything, I need to change my own assumptions about how they will react to me. It’s funny that even though I wish not to be put into a box that I unfortunately catch myself doing so to others. I’m working on it though :).
It’s so freeing to realize that we’re so much more than our sexuality. It’s just another beautiful part of what makes us us as children of God. I absolutely loved your final line that spoke to that. God is with us and He is the way. Keep up all the great work, Ben!
-Your Brother in Christ
I also still wonder if people treat me differently when they know my story. I think for the most part, it’s actually been more like your own experience, people giving long hugs. Asking me about how ministry with other sexual minorities is going. My sexuality is a piece of my story, but it’s not the lense they view me through. I’m glad you’ve found that as well.
I’ve also had similar healing experiences. Still tackling body shame and still trying to figure out the best relationship to nudity in general, but overall I feel like it has an important place for me in my life not only as a gay/SSA believer but as a man.
In the yobbers group I’ve shared a few times about one of the more healing experiences I’ve had, where myself and a group of like 12-15 guys, all friends or acquaintances, went to a spa and hung out for a few hours. Being part of a community of men in a safe and also completely open environment like that helped me feel more deeply connected to my masculinity, my friends there, and my body.
It’s not for everyone, but in the right context I think experiences like this can be helpful and healing
That sounds like a really life-giving and healthy experience.
I think navigating things like this in the context of safe community is far better than trying to navigate it solo both from an accountability standpoint, as well as a building into larger Christian community.
For me, I don’t want to feed the idea that only another SSA man can understand what I’m thinking and feeling. I’ve got straight friends with body shame. And to have an experience like that with them let’s us see that while there are some differences in how we see life, we are all men created in the image of God.
Oh how I relate to a lot of this. Having always been the “fat kid” growing up, I would always head to the bathroom stall to change. Never would I shower with anyone. I was never secure enough in myself for that, let alone my attractions coming into play. The older I got the less I cared about other guys seeing me naked in the locker room. Especially now that I work out, it’s kind of inevitable. But thankfully for me, the locker rooms I’m at has private showers, so the only time I would have a chance to see another guy naked would be while changing.
Being the former fat kid (but somewhat currently husky) I am still concerned about my overall health. I am in the gym roughly 3 times a week at present. From when I was at my heaviest, I am down to about 50 pounds. About 15 pounds from my goal weight.
While there are individual shower stalls at my gym, people still change in the locker room. It isn’t much of a distraction anymore.
Chris, do you still think of yourself as the fat kid, or do you see yourself differently now?
I understand the mirror / aging thing Mike. Everything begins to droop and we end up looking like melted candles. The former glory of the temple is lost, but hopefully the temple is also a more spiritual place than it has ever been since the main idol (self) has been brought low….too much analogy…sorry
Yes, Isaiah 53:2, 3
When I was a young man, the locker room was a place of both wonder and fear. I did not like getting naked in front of other guys, but I did enjoy them doing the same in front of me. Junior high gym class was my first experience with this. We were all required to shower after class. This is circa 1971.
Dan Di Giocomo (not his real name) seemed to be a fellow traveler with me, but without fear. He would stand at the first shower and face the entrance where he could view (and check out) every guy that walked in. He was always the first in and the last out of the shower. I think Danny had a problem early on. Mostly, no fear and voyeuristic intent.
Some trepidation about public showers is good in my opinion. The voyeurs like Dan and guys that actually enjoy strutting their stuff need to be outed in a civil way, but also in a way that they know everyone is on to their intentions.
Locker rooms should not be sexual places, but sometimes they are and even well past junior high / middle school. My advice is be careful. People like Dan are in the locker room and the spa and their intent is not good.
But then, maybe I’m just paranoid…
I know there are unsafe people out there. I suppose I feel safer in public settings. I am not responsible for other people’s choices/intent. I am responsible for my own.
If there is a known voyeuristic person, I do think polite challenge is okay, or avoidance I suppose.
Grateful for your vulnerability here, Ben. I imagine the locker room conjures up myriad emotions for many in our community. For me, the outward disconnect with the other guys and also the inner body shame. I haven’t consistently been in a gym/locker room in a few years, but I did appreciate the times I could enter those arenas as an adult with some redemption from middle/high school. Even if “redemption” just meant nobody bothered me and I could exist without fear.
I empathize with the phrase “exist without fear.” That is a good way to describe it. Up until college, I avoided the locker room. In grad school, and now going to the gym regularly, I find myself more and more comfortable in these spaces. I have a straight friend who knows my story and lifts with me and doesn’t seem to feel the need to “guard” himself from me seeing him. That makes me feel very safe and affirmed.
I enjoyed your post Ben…it brought back memories of a time in my life that is hard to talk about, but I’ll share a little of that time. After high school, my parents thought a certain school might be good for me…so off I went. I almost didn’t survive…
The school was really like a Christian boot camp…and the rules were daunting and challenging, to say the least. They covered everything. For example, for men, no facial hair was allowed…even sideburns. And…no hair was allowed that would touch your ears. For clothing, only dress shirts that had buttons on them were allowed. No casual pull over shirts…no blue jeans – only dress pants with a belt. However, they did allow jeans only on Saturdays before 5:00P. A tie had to be worn to dinner except Friday and Saturday. No sandals were allowed and socks had to be worn at all times, as well as undershirts. One had to dress at all times so your underwear could never be seen. No short pants for guys…no jewelry of any kind…
With such complex rules, I lived in fear I might make a mistake and thus be hauled off to the dean’s office. I fell into a deep depression and discouragement, but had to keep that hidden as depression was a major “sin.”
Anything that gave one pleasure and enjoyment was to be avoided at all cost. I had begun masturbating soon after I became a teenager and found solace in such during those dark times at school. However, I learned to be very discrete and lived in terror that my roommates might catch me in the act and report me.
Marriage and family were lifted up almost to the point of idolatry, and anything that hinted of one being gay was grounds for immediate expulsion. i remember the dean of men getting up in a men’s chapel and railing against guys that used a hair dryer as it was a sign of a “gay spirit.” If I remember right, such was banned soon thereafter.
I transferred to another Christian school after two years there…it would prove to have some new challenges. the first school doesn’t exist any longer…well it does as the physical location is still there, but they have changed the name to a university and it is 360 degrees different than when I was there.
In the years since, God has had a lot to teach me. It was quite a revelation to me to find out I had a Heavenly Father who loved me and cared deeply, and that I was His workmanship and His thoughts towards me were “precious” as it says in Psalm 139. I still struggle with body image and body shame some days…and the journey doesn’t have a final chapter yet. As it says in Philippians, I’m confident in this, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ. Those words helped me survive…
That’s a lot to work through. Thank you for sharing.
I appreciate the Philippians reference. While some healing and good happen in this life, I also am reminded that we only get pieces of that now. We are in the Kingdom of God now. But it’s now, and also “not yet.” The full consummation of what will be in Christ is yet to come.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV
I resonate with this post so much! I’ve always had body image issues and have used food to cope with stress. I think it’s awesome that you were able to not sexualize a shower experience you had with a dude you found attractive! I struggle so much with fear that I might have a physiological response especially if I did find the dude attractive. I envy the freedom you’ve experienced through this!
Thanks for your own vulnerability there!
Food is still sometimes a coping mechanism for me. I am able to moderate that more now.
I still need to be aware of my attraction. There are definitely guys at the gym who I find attractive. Thankfully, I usually lift with a friend, and that helps me stay focused on what I am doing rather than letting my eyes and mind wander.
For the most part, that isn’t as much of a struggle as it used to be, but it is definitely ongoing. I am glad for the people in my life who walk with me and help people keep me accountable.
They’re certainly times I’ve been more or less happy with my body. Sometimes it feels like trading one set of difficulties for another. And so we keep looking to God. Sometimes in desperation, sometimes with vexation, but hopefully with praise that we’re reminded of our need for him.
As I said, I feel comfortable now. But they’re always things that I could improve on if I wanted to take the time.
I loved the locker rooms, I am proud of my body it’s not hot looking at all, but being naked I love
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Ben, thanks for your post. Good stuff. I haven’t really had a problem with body shame. But this blog took me back to my freshman year in high school-in the locker room. Never had this problem before, but I unexpectedly got fully aroused on my way from the lockers to the showers. I didn’t know what to do-so I ducked into a toilet stall to calm down, covering up as best I could. One of my buddies must have seen my growing attraction and poked his head over the stall and razzed me-hey what’s going on with you! Oh man, how embarrassing. I couldn’t leave without a shower and I eventually made it to the wide-open public shower room, but I was at half-mast. Pretty noticeable and another of my friends just came to the door and kept staring at me. I assume he was probably SSA himself. So began my reluctance to get naked in locker rooms. I didn’t know I was SSA at that age, all I knew is that I really enjoyed seeing guys and thinking of penises-I thought it was just normal teen guy stuff trying to figure how to be a man. Little did I know! So, last year I finally came clean on my SSA and I’m getting help. As a part of what I thought would be best, I cancelled my gym membership. My cardiologist told me I couldn’t do that-I need the exercise-so back I went. I really am doing much better than I ever have in the locker room. I haven’t gone full mast since that fateful day-I think it scared it out of me. But, I have devised a way to keep myself from erroneous thoughts. If I see a guy naked or his penis I just look into the eyes of Jesus and I pray for that guy. The lust disappears. God is helping me, but the trauma of that day still haunts me as I enter another locker room!