Planet Gender: Planet Fitness and Gender Politics

Sometimes, I watch Fox News while I work out in the morning. I do this pretty regularly, occasionally to the detriment of my mood for the rest of the day – it’s hard ingesting that much crazy when you haven’t even had your oatmeal yet. But I do it because I like to know what the enemy is saying.

It usually goes like this: I wake up, unwrap myself from my sheets and unhook my arm from my cat’s paws. I brush my teeth and stare at things for a couple minutes. And then I go lift weights and jump around the living room while watching Fox News, because nothing makes me pump harder than a waifish woman and a dumb, angry man.

I can’t take myself seriously when I refer to working out as “pumping” anything, but I really didn’t know how else to phrase that. For those who are interested, my work outs usually end with me on the floor, talking to myself in a hushed tone and thinking about food and/or vomiting.

Last week, Fox devoted a whole segment to a discussion about the Planet Fitness in Michigan with a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination. Aside from the whole thing feeling like a cosmic taunt because I wasn’t using my gym membership and was instead flailing around on the rug, the segment, as usual, got to me.

I feel like everyone has heard about this by now but I recently found out a coworker of mine did not know that Bill Cosby has been publicly accused by over thirty women of rape, so my trust in the public is on shaky ground. For those who haven’t heard, Planet Fitness made headlines this month when it cancelled a woman’s membership after she complained of a genetically-born male in the woman’s changing room. This man that she pointed out actually identifies as a female (and I will be referring to them with female pronouns, as that is their choice of identifier) and, because Planet Fitness allows all members to freely express their gender, is able to access the woman’s changing room per Planet Fitness’ rules.

There’s been some debate over what exactly happened at that gym. I read that this woman who complained didn’t just bring up the situation calmly to an employee, saying she felt uncomfortable. She spoke to the front desk and when she was told of the policy, she kept coming back to try and recruit members to also stand up against the practice. Again, that is all within her right and, as a private organization with its own set of standards, Planet Fitness is allowed to revoke the membership of someone who is constantly bombarding other customers with her own issues. It’s not really a suppression of her rights and more of an interesting rule that they have.

There have been a lot of different reactions about this situation. Fox was, unsurprisingly, adamantly opposed to allowing such a thing to occur and believed that it was an infringement on the complainer’s first amendment rights. Some people think that allowing a transgender female into the women’s restroom will result in women suffering from more sexual assault. Like just… a rape frenzy… but only in Planet Fitness changing rooms. To this, I say, go to college. That is a rape frenzy. And if I remember correctly, none of you seem to worry about those kinds of rapes.

guess, if you really want to get into it, a sociopathic male could say to the staff, “I identify as a woman,” and proceed to come to the gym dressed as a woman (like the woman in question was, because she actually identifies that way), and start changing in the women’s dressing room and then… rape someone.

But I’m going to say there are a lot of other opportunities for that guy to rape me and none of them require him to wear a dress.

I’m not trying to make a joke out of what could be a serious situation if it actually happened… but I am… because the logic isn’t really there. What is a real issue is that the woman who complained won’t be the last. As a woman who changed inside of gym changing rooms, I would also be uncomfortable if I saw a penis pop out next to me while I shimmied out of my sports bra. If I didn’t know there was a rule allowing it, if I didn’t know that the person who had the penis identified as a woman… I would definitely be confused.

So what should the rules be? I think if Planet Fitness wants to allow it, then… allow it. It’s cool. I am really into unassigned bathrooms and changing rooms so maybe gyms will start having that. I would say “if you have a penis, change in the room with the penises” but what about someone who has already started taking hormone replacement therapy and looks like a woman but has not (or maybe will not, because not everyone who identifies as a woman decides they want to have sexual reassignment surgery) had any surgery to get rid of a penis? Should that person enter a men’s dressing room with breasts, a wig, and female clothing? What kind of situation would happen in that room? We worry about a transgender female raping women (they won’t), and we ignore the fact that transgender people suffer more sexual assault and more violence than anyone else.

Gender, as we should all know by now, is a spectrum. It is not a definite, it is not one side versus the other, and it is not solely represented by your genetics. Your genetic sex is stagnant… until you change it. Nothing is permanent and everything is open to interpretation – and more importantly – to an empathetic conversation. (It’s the same with sexuality. Am I in a committed, heterosexual relationship? Yes. Is he the only kind of person I’ve ever been attracted to? Nope. Boobs are cool.)

My biggest problem with this story, as it usually is, is its coverage in the media. Fox News brought on two “experts” to discuss the problem. One was their legal expert (and he was pretty awesome) and the other was… maybe a preacher? I’m not sure because I was blinded by hate. The legal expert said Planet Fitness has a legal right to establish its own rules and then follow them by denying the complainant her membership. The preacher said something about humanity being ruined or something. I’m not sure.

Clearly this isn’t about the fear of rape or protecting women. If it was, these same people would be up in arms about every possible rape, rape culture, and misogyny. Instead, this is what we hear:

“Rape is kind of like the weather. If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” – Clayton Williams, R – TX

“Rape victims should make the best of a bad situation.” – Rick Santorum, R – PA

“If a woman has [the right to an abortion], why shouldn’t a man be free to use his superior strength to force himself on a woman? At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t [in most cases] result in anyone’s death.” – Lawrence Lockman, R – ME

To be fair, that last one was said many years ago and Lockman has since stated he regrets it. But… come on.

Somehow I don’t think these people are really worried about women’s safety in a changing room with a transgender woman. They are more worried about a transgender woman existing at all.

We have to have a real conversation about this, about rape, about gender, about freedom. We have to talk about realistic sexual assault, and responsibility, and rules. Because we end up making a bad guy out of a woman and we ignore actual rape. Actual assault. Actual child molestation. Actual sexualization of women and young girls. We tell young girls to put aspirin between their legs (I JUST learned what that meant) instead of helping them figure out their own sexuality. We make women apologize for their sexual identity and then when a man dares to become a woman in the full expression of his true self… we shame him too.

This is all related. Gender is fluid and sexuality is fluid and people… people are fluid. Rape is not. And you can’t use it when it suits you and abandon it when you’re confused.

Without discussion – healthy discussion based in reality and not fear – both of these women who want to work out at the gym are vilified. One for her ignorance, and the other for being herself.


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