by Erin Hamilton | edited by Jessica Michalofsky
In part one of my Coming Out series I shared my comeback from a severe traumatic brain injury, my discovery of who I really am—a Transgender woman—and my quest to go from not being able to walk to completing a full Ironman.
I had been cleared by my doctors, after sustaining a traumatic brain injury and overcome relearning how to walk and talk, to begin training for Ironman Coeur d’Alene, which was ten months away, and I was about three months into my Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). My hormone levels were slowly getting into the female range, and my body was beginning to change. I like to refer to this stage of transition as the awkward stage…waiting for hair to grow out, anticipating breast development, dealing with facial hair etc.
With all that on my mind, there was an immediate need of first learning how to swim, beyond your basic doggy paddle. This meant I needed to find a gym with a pool, all while I’m in this awkward stage of transition. Yikes!
The worries, fears, and questions for one specific topic finally hit me like a wrecking ball: locker rooms. This is probably one of the biggest topics within our community. It has local businesses, schools, city councils, state and federal officials, even the President of the United States talking about it and making laws to dictate where the Trans community can change clothes, take showers, pee, and poop.
I feared a witch hunt, ridicule, arguments, and most importantly my safety. It was a considerable amount of stress, and it made me hesitant to start my swim training. In fact, it scared me so much I requested my coach to push it back as much as we could and just focus on the bike and run. I also considered pushing back my quest for Ironman and waiting until I was further along in my transition. It affected me that much.
I finally reached a boiling point where I wanted to do Ironman CDA in 2017 so badly that I wasn’t going to accept any questionable looks, hate, or potential confrontations. Swimming was my roadblock to achieving my goal, and I wasn’t going to sabotage my chance at accomplishing that. I said to myself, “I am who I am. I am a woman. I deserve to be in that locker room just as much as the rest of them.” Then, I emailed my coach and told her, “let’s do this!”
I wanted to be upfront with people as much as possible as I didn’t want to run into any issues from local businesses. I needed to find a place that was open and supportive of the Trans community, and yes, you need to be specific to the trans community and not just supporting LGBTQ as a whole. Even with the ’T’ in LGBTQ, Trans people are a minority within a minority, and we get a considerable amount of hate from within the LGBTQ space. So it’s important to emphasize transgender. Let me tell you, there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to finding inclusive spaces, and even fewer that actually have policies in place.
In my early dealings with gyms, I found being open and honest about who I am at the start made interactions easier. I found a local gym that had a great facility and salt-water pool. When I was talking to the membership specialist, I asked if they had gender neutral locker rooms first. She replied that they didn’t, but they did have family bathrooms. However, that didn’t really meet the needs of an actual locker room: there were no lockers, nowhere to sit or place my items other than on the bathroom floor, and they were generally occupied a lot due to family swim blocks. Sure they would work in a pinch, but they just weren’t optimal. Then I told her that I was a transgender woman and questioned how they handled the whole locker room situation. The employee didn’t know off the top of her head, but she stepped away to talk to her manager to see what their policies were. I was pleasantly surprised to hear her say, “we actually have a couple of transgender members, and you can use whatever locker room you identify with.” How awesome! I signed up immediately.
Despite the gym saying everything was okay, it wasn’t all biscuits and gravy.
Now I would like to preface this next part about how I was handling the locker room and bathroom situation by saying I knew going into this that the locker room would be an issue. It’s an issue we’re having all over the world. I’m tremendously respectful of everyone in that locker room, and the last thing I would want is to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I get that. I want everyone to be comfortable, but most importantly I wanted to feel comfortable and safe. I wasn’t going to just walk in there, pull my pants down, and tell everyone to deal with it. I’m not that kind of person. I made every effort to be as respectful as I could be. So, when I needed to change my clothes, I took all my stuff and went into a shower stall and closed the curtain. Should I have to do this? No. I chose to do it because I wanted to be respectful for everyone’s beliefs. So I went the extra mile, and tried to do as much of my changing and showering as I could in private.
Early on it was a little rough using the women’s locker room. There was a situation where I entered the locker room after a swim workout to get my stuff from a locker to then take into a shower where I could clean up and change. But I didn’t even make it past the showers because a cleaning lady yelled at me to stop! She told me “boys aren’t allowed in here,” and it was loud enough for the entire locker room to hear, and they did, and suddenly every eye was on me. I was incredibly embarrassed, and also a little worried for my safety. I turned around and gave a questionable look towards the lady. She walked up to me and pointed at me with her index finger and said, “you are a boy”. I took a few steps closer to her and simply told her, “I am a woman!” And then I turned around and went to my locker like nothing was wrong. As soon as I got my bags out of the locker and got into the shower to change, all I could do was cry. After that interaction, I was so scared to go back in there, I pretty much skipped a week’s worth of swim workouts, and then for the next month or so I just used the bathrooms next to the pool.
After while, I became more confident, and my body was further into my transition, aka boobs were now present. I went back to using the women’s locker room, and for a while it was going great. No one questioned, no one gave looks, or anything. Until one day I was sitting in the lounge area of the locker room waiting for my workout data on my watch to sync to Strava. Once it completed, I packed up my bag and left. As I was walking through the gym to the exit, I knew someone was following me from the locker room. I got outside and was walking through the parking lot when a woman grabbed my arm and spun me around to face her. She slammed her finger into my chest and yelled, “How dare you use our locker room. You will never be allowed to use our locker room. Who the hell do you think you are? You are disgusting. You are a pervert.” I just stood there in shock, asking myself if this was really happening. At this point my mind and body just went automatic. I slapped her hand away from me, pulled my driver’s license out of my pocket, stuck it directly in the lady’s face, pointed to the ‘sex’ field, and said, “Look right here, there’s a fucking ‘F’ and that stands for female!” Then, I turned around, walked quickly to my car, got in, locked the door, and left.
So the thing I was dreading the most had become a reality. But I wasn’t going to let these incidents deny me of my goal of becoming an Ironman. Their lack of education on the subject or their hate wasn’t going to stop me from using that locker room or swimming in that pool. I kept going! The more I went and the more my body changed, the easier using that locker room became. I still arrive to the pool with my swimsuit on under my clothes, and I still change my clothes after my workouts in the shower—because I’m respectable, and don’t want any more incidents. But I look forward to the day after my gender confirming surgery, where I won’t have to worry about hiding in the shower stall anymore. That’s the day I’m looking forward to the most… Well, a close second to the first time I look down and not see anything hanging out. Haha, was that too much information?