What follows is one of the most bizarre stories that ever happened to me…
I was in college, going for my bachelor’s degree. I like to swim, and I like to use the sauna. Fortunately, my university had a pool facility along with a dry sauna in the locker room. This was great since I was overweight and trying to get into a shape that was not round. The men’s locker room had two shower rooms; one was the traditional “gang” shower room, and the other had individual shower stalls with curtains.
One day I was using the gang shower after a workout, and two somewhat fit guys came in and joined me. The one guy took a shower head that was on the opposite wall, while his friend, a blonde dude, took the shower that was two heads away from mine — essentially putting him right next to me in a rather large room. He could have chosen any of the other walls or stood next to his friend since the rest of the room was empty, but this guy chose to stand next to me.
He had six-pack abs, blonde hair, and was a handsome dude. As you can see from my profile pic, I am blonde as well, so this guy was in a way a representation of what I have always wanted to look like.
I said to myself, “One day, I will look like that.”
Then I went back to showering.
A short time later, the guy called for my attention.
I looked over and he said to me in sign language, “Hey, are you gay?”
His index finger and thumb rested on either side of his chin, making the word in American Sign Language unmistakable.
“No.” I answered.
“Did you look at my dick?”
There wasn’t much I could do at this point. His friend, who was hard of hearing, turned around to watch the conversation that unfolded, clearly understanding that the situation was tense.
I acknowledged that I looked in his direction and glanced at his penis, but explained that my focus was on his abs — that he is strong and I want to look like that one day.
“But you looked at my dick.”
I explained that I am not gay, I am just scared (i.e. nervous) in locker rooms.
“Well if you’re scared then go use the private showers.” He said, pointing in the direction of the private shower stalls.
The thing going through my mind at this point was that if this guy is so concerned that someone is going to glance at his penis, then he should go use the private stalls, and not walk up to people butt naked.
But I didn’t want to argue, so I basically apologized to prevent the situation from escalating.
We all concluded our showers and returned to our respective lockers.
I saw his friend again in a lounge near a cafeteria on campus sometime later (weeks or months), sitting with what was probably his girlfriend, and we both noticed each other. He looked at me from across the room, clearly recognizing me, and I just kept walking.
Before this incident, I had a fear of locker rooms. I would walk into an actual locker room and be fine, but I was afraid of the locker room as an abstraction. I was afraid of the idea of being in a men’s only space and having someone walk up to me and ask “What are you doing here? You’re not really a man. You don’t belong in here.” As of this writing, this is a fear that I still have.
Having something very much like this fear come about in real life was not a good thing.
Culture, History and Communal Bathing
Years later, one thing that helped me to overcome this fear of locker rooms was visiting Korean Spas, a form of traditional family-friendly Asian bathhouse, (along with a Russian/Jewish sauna I visited once). Korean Spas are segregated into a men’s section and a women’s section where visitors bathe in the nude, scrubbing down in a shower and then visiting various hot tubs and saunas.
This is very relaxing, and really not a big deal after the first minute. It also builds a lot of confidence. For me, if I can hang out naked with a bunch of strangers on a Saturday, then talking to people at work or giving a presentation on Monday is a lot easier.
Later, spa-goers put on t-shirts and shorts to visit the coed area, where there is food, bubble tea, movies, etc. These are incredibly relaxing places to visit and are a great way for Americans to normalize the body. As one friend told me, visiting Japanese onsens and Korean spas will show you that “no ‘body’ is perfect.”
For many cultures, especially those in East Asia and northern Europe, communal bathing is a cherished tradition. It seems (to me) to be associated with colder climates but was also practiced in ancient Israel. Until fairly recently, American men had their own traditions along these lines.
But that is a story for another article.
Sufficient to say, same-gender communal bathing has been the norm for most cultures for most of history. Only in the last generation or so has this been regarded as abnormal, even in the United States.
Fortunately, there has been a resurgence of this practice.
The entire situation with the guy in this locker room was totally bizarre. It’s not acceptable to be creepy in a locker room. A sauna or a gym locker room should be a safe space for men to not have to worry about being approached in a sexual or aggressive way.
But if you are walking around naked, even in a locker room and someone glances discretely but respectfully at your penis, you have no grounds to complain. It’s not like a urinal, where you have semi-privacy. It’s “out there” for any guy in the locker room to see. And we all have one, it's not like you are somehow special in this regard. It’s really not that big of a deal.
Other guys are going to see it — it’s there! To expect everyone else to close their eyes to cater to your boyish comfort is unreasonable.
Also, honestly, as Kevin Frye points out, guys look (even if they are not consciously aware of it). There are even studies that show that men tend to check out the assets of other men. I think that guys who never look at another man’s package are probably in the minority. And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as it’s kept in its place.
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There are a million other thoughts I could write on this topic, but one thing that I can say is going to Korean Spas years later really helped me to gain a lot of confidence.
Men Check Out Men and It’s Time We Admit It
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32
Visiting a traditional family-friendly bathhouse is not enough to give a man a complete sense of being a man, for that dragons have to be slain, and many quests have to be achieved. But visiting a Korean Spa can do a lot to shed a lot of the unhealthy and ungodly stigmas that American men, especially those from my generation, have about their bodies. But again, all of that is a topic for another time.
For me personally, this has helped me to see that my body does not have to look like Brad Pitt’s to look good. But I still have a lot of dragons that I have yet to conquer, and quests that remain undone.
Concluding Thoughts on Manly Confidence
At the end of the day, I only have one life to live. And if I want to live that life to the fullest, I cannot cater to the opinions of everyone out there. (I guarantee there will be ignorant people who will want to give me a hard time in the comments section.) Noticing that another man in a locker room also has a penis does not make me gay. I like women — the kind who were born without a penis.
Because of my weight, I often feel like I am not good enough — like I am not as much of a man as other men. Combined with often being isolated, this is not good for confidence or mental or spiritual health and well-being. As a Christian, I want to take better care of myself than this, but it is not easy.
Yet as a Christian and a rational man, I need to disregard other people’s floating opinions and focus on the facts. The fact is that God says I am a man, and He said this by giving me a man’s body. Even if every man on Earth were to tell me that I am not a man and that I do not belong in a men’s locker room, it would not change what God has decreed, and next to what God has made clear, it would not matter one bit.
This is the essence of Christian individualism, being willing to use one’s own reason to follow what God has made clear and to stand against Goliath even if no other human is willing to stand with you.
My body and my mind may be fallen and broken compared to the sinless perfection that Adam had in Eden. That said when God formed every part of my body; my face, my hands, my eyes, my pecs, my abs, my stomach, my penis, my scrotum and testicles, my legs, my feet, and my arms, He did so with loving care, like Michaelangelo carving the Statue of David. I was no mistake and no accident, and God considers me to be His masterpiece, created in His likeness.
Humans are incredible works of art, including the body (so is it any wonder that man wants to admire God’s handiwork). But if another piece of talking clay, or even this one, wants to talk back to the Master who made such a piece, then on what grounds does this clay have to argue? God makes no mistakes. His works are very good. This we know full well.
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