Locker Room Frenzy Returns: Planet Fitness, Zoey Tur and the Politics of False Movement Messiahs

03/12/2015 06:27 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016
Bernard Weil via Getty Images

Once again the media has catapulted a new and clueless, recently transitioned celebrity into national attention, allowing her, in her profound ignorance of trans history, politics, law and medicine, to provide aid and comfort at a time when many lives are still at risk. Great progress on civil rights continues to be made, which is why we see yet another trans celebrity providing analysis, but why is someone's inexperience and utter lack of credentials so blatantly ignored by those who give out these platforms? And why is Zoey Tur, recently known as "Chopper Bob," so resistant to learning enough to get the facts straight?

This past Sunday a story broke from Michigan touching on the favorite target in the battle for trans rights -- locker rooms and the associated bathrooms, washrooms, and changing areas. This is not new -- there was a staged incursion into the women's locker room in a sports club in Montgomery County, Maryland, by a right-wing zealot in a frumpy dress back in 2008 -- nor is it unusual to be the flashpoint in all our civil rights battles. From the African-American experience to the Equal Rights Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act, then to gay and now trans rights, fear-mongering reaches a crescendo when semiprivate public accommodations are targeted to make a case against extending civil rights.

Planet Fitness in Midland, Michigan, is a "Judgment Free Zone," created not specifically for trans men and women but to foster an environment where everyone can feel comfortable. After all, many who attend gyms do so because they're uncomfortable with their bodies and would rather not be subject to shaming while working out. Apparently most of the business' members understand this, and act accordingly. One woman, however, Yvette Cormier, complained about a trans woman, Carlotta Sklodowska, and when asked to back away from her complaints because of the gym's policies, persisted in making a fuss with the members and was finally asked to leave. Cormier's membership was revoked because it was she who was exhibiting the behavior that was "inappropriate and disruptive" to members who had the right to expect a "non-intimidating and welcoming environment."

Sklodowska apparently didn't even use one of the "private lockable changing rooms," so this wasn't an issue of indecent exposure, the thought of which leaves conservatives quaking in fear. It was simply a cisgender woman being uncomfortable in the presence of a trans woman -- as she said, "I was stunned and shocked. He looked like a man. He did not look like a woman." No inappropriate behavior, action, or even words -- she just didn't like the way another woman looked.

Sklodowska could have been a lesbian, or even a masculine-appearing straight, cisgender woman. Cormier was simply uncomfortable with her appearance, and fundamentally, her existence, and demanded, in a disruptive manner, that her wishes be prioritized over the policy of the business. The Tea Party News Network, which generally loves its business people, was not happy with Planet Fitness' policy.

What we have here is a trans woman, living full-time as a woman, apparently without affirming ID but accepted, nevertheless, by the management at the gym. Not an uncommon situation, and in my experience all trans women in similar situations have behaved impeccably, wherever they are on the transition spectrum. Trans women (and men) are encouraged to get their documents changed as soon as feasible, or carry a letter from a mental health profession, to prove who they are should a problem arise. When challenged, a trans person may be asked to vacate sex-segregated premises if they do not have adequate identification, which is as it should be. Few such incidents occur, and while the law varies among jurisdictions where it protects trans persons, it often requires trans persons to be "persistent and consistent" in their presentation. Gender identity laws are not supposed to be used by people out on a lark, or crossdressers and drag queens out on the town for a night of fun. Those situations should not be problematic, but the laws are clear.

Yet in this circumstance the situation spiraled out of control. It became about bathrooms, which were never an issue in this instance, and degenerated into the common "no one should be allowed into a locker room based on how they feel that day" meme. Maybe Cormier, in her ignorance about trans lives, was understandably uncomfortable. But she made no effort to alleviate that discomfort, instead choosing to be disruptive -- again, this is behavior, not identity -- going so far as to play the conservative victim by saying, "They're [Planet Fitness] judging you for complaining about it." And she certainly made no effort to show concern for the discomfort of the trans woman. It was the trans woman who was the victim in this threatening situation, as is the case when these confrontations arise (fortunately infrequently) elsewhere.

Nor was any effort at understanding made by the extremist state representative, Gary Glenn, who attacked Planet Fitness as being "anti-woman" and "anti-reality." The Family Research Council weighed in about madness and insanity, even libeling the recently deceased Leonard Nimoy in the process.

This is all to be expected. For the extreme religious right, attacking trans women (note, never trans men) in semi-private facilities is a gimme, with a long history of success in the United States. Where this really went off the rails was when a former helicopter traffic pilot, now out trans reporter, decided to play doctor and movement leader. Less than a year after completing gender transition, Zoey Tur, the woman who stated during the tabloid frenzy about Bruce Jenner that estrogen can change sexual orientation and that women after genital reconstruction will "probably be going to transition to have sex with the opposite sex," spoke with arrogance, ignorance and contempt for trans women in general. She said,

People have a right to be concerned and I believe there should be private areas. The person at the center of this controversy, the transgender person -- and that's really the problem, your definition of transgender -- is a transvestite, a crossdresser, a male that has a sexual fetish dressing as a female.

She did her "research" -- discovering that Sklodowska was into BDSM and, as a result, diagnosed her as a "transvestite," a term rarely used even by anti-trans psychiatrists. She completely misspoke about Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which doesn't cover sex discrimination in public accommodations and therefore doesn't compel Planet Fitness to admit anyone. She smirked and rolled her eyes when discussing the potential criminal act that would occur if a crossdressed man -- in this case, Sklodowska -- snuck into the women's locker room for voyeuristic purposes, even though there are no recorded instances of such behavior.

Tur is not a movement leader. She has never advocated for any legislation or demonstrated against any reactionary social or political behavior. She knows nothing of sexual biology or medicine. She's not aware of how our civil rights laws are written, and most remarkably she shows no practical sense about how these laws could possibly be enforced. She privileges women whom she calls "transsexuals," who've had genital surgery, over those who haven't, and speaks as if genital anatomy is going to be checked by a gender police. Most strikingly, she is the latest trans celebrity who, by virtue of having recently undergone transition, believes that the experience makes her expert on all things trans.

She certainly can relate her experience of being trans and undergoing transition, just as anyone else can, and she may very well be qualified to be an expert on helicopter mechanics or the dynamics of chasing down OJ Simpson. Unfortunately, instead of sitting back, absorbing and learning about the community, she pontificates on issues of which she is ignorant, putting all trans women at risk. The sad part of this is, even after hours of speaking with accomplished trans activists, she seems not to care in the least. But even worse is that the media buys into the celebrity it has created, being oblivious to the way it empowers the ignorant, and furthers the spread of falsehoods and misunderstandings that threaten women who struggle just to get on with their lives every day.