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Working Out With Straight People

Working Out With Straight People


I was not chased out of Paradise by flaming angels. Instead, I found them waiting for me in the world outside.

COMMENTARY: I was not chased out of Paradise by flaming angels. Instead, I found them waiting for me in the world outside. "Paradise" was Results, my laid-back, fitness-fostering, now-defunct gay gym. And the world outside is Mint, a nearby workout facility to which I have since migrated. As I took my slow, wandering steps into the place -- lured by no entrance fee and a major discount offered to the whole of the Results diaspora -- I learned something interesting: There are gyms in this world that exist solely for straight people, and the few homos within their walls are very protective of their secret.

Two days into my five-day test membership I ran into an acquaintance by the bench press. Dropping the formalities usually seen in accidental gay run-ins, I was greeted simply with a "What are you doing here? This has been my private gym for four years." I assume the question was friendlier than it came out. I also assume that this well-stocked Dupont club was not in fact his "private" facility, but I knew what he meant. This place was a sanctuary. I'd be protective too.

Results was a great place. Big windows, friendly staff, and none of the oppressive spa/nightclub atmosphere seen in the fitness chain that is taking it over. More important, it was a great way to meet gay people outside of clubs. Sure, it was full of sweaty, underdressed men who would soon be showering together. But that makes more sense at a gym that it would at a book club. I made some legitimate friends at Results and always welcomed its social release after slaving over a hot laptop all day.

However, like anything that is explicitly gay, it can be a bit much if you weren't prepared for it. It's hard to focus on your breathing with Beyonce blaring through the speaker system and, occasionally, I just wanted to lift without hearing the two men next to me squawking about their weekend plans. And sometimes I just wasn't in the for mood for everyone in the group shower to point their boners at me when I was just trying to wash my armpits. So my new gym has been a respite.

In fact, it's an insanely different place. Apples and oranges. Cats and dogs. Day and ... vaginal intercourse? I'm not used to gyms where the men and women associate with each other. While Results was both a gym and a destination, Mint is merely someplace where a majority-hetero crowd goes to get in shape.

Instead of blaring club music, it has what sounds like an instrumental version of Massive Attack's "Mezzenanine" on perpetual loop. Where I used to emerge from my workouts humming "to the left, to the left ... " I now leave with vaguely masturbatory fantasies about Liz Fraser. Gone are the ubiquitous tank tops and too-tight/too-short gym shorts. I've seen plain T-shirts, head-to-toe body armor, and, most discomfitingly, khakis. There are a surprising number of men who arrive not already bearing a Dieux du Stade body, but who are there because they want to maintain a healthy BMI or stave off a late-in-life coronary incident.

A man in his 50s talked to me in the locker room yesterday and it wasn't because he was hitting on me. He was actually making conversation. When I took off my towel in front of him to get my undies on it had no sexual charge. No undercurrent of "How can I make this clear I'm just getting dressed, not pulling a flirty dick flash?" It changed the dynamic entirely.

In fact, the locker-room culture of Mint is as different from my old gym as "Born This Way" is from "Express Yourself." Whoops, bad example. They are actually different. Results' locker room was nearly palatial in scope. It held a huge gang shower, tanning booths, wall-to-wall mirrors and a sauna you could see into from the entrance. Like "House of Leaves," it was a footnote that could not be separated from the greater body of work. At Mint, though, it's just a place to clean off. The sauna's tucked away in a corner near the individual showers. The mirrors are scant and small, and no one is on walking around with their junk on display. I don't usually get uncomfortable being naked around in locker rooms (because that's the point), but I did here. It just wasn't that kind of place.

So back to my buddy who wanted it to himself. Out there in gay culture it does not hurt to be in shape. I've put about right years into my body, and I'd by lying if I said it hadn't "opened a door" or two. Call it "fit privilege" if you like, but Lord knows I've worked for it. Lifting weights quells anxiety, keeps my confidence up, separates who I am now from who I was when I was 12 and made Kate Moss look like latter-day Marlon Brando. But I'd never really been to a gym that didn't feel like an extension of the party I was headed to later. So it's been nice to embrace the utilitarian aspects of where I am now. Get in, get sweaty, get out. I miss the company and the camaraderie, but not the three hours' expenditure it can take to fit those things into my workout.

I'd be miffed too if all of D.C.'s gays suddenly turned up to make the place something it hadn't been previously. So I promised this guy, only a quarter joking, that I'd never talk to him when I saw him. So far I've kept to it. I know what this kid looks like with his shirt off. So if a vow of silence can give me the barest semblance of substantial musculature, I'll gladly take it. Two fags, taking our solitary steps through a place so alien that we can't help but fit in.

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