From time to time, a straight guy will admit that he' s not comfortable showering with gay men. He's afraid we'll be looking at him, sizing him up, and will possibly approach him for sexual contact.
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was recently quoted as saying that he'd be uncomfortable showering with a gay man in the locker room: "Imagine if he's the guy next to me ... naked, taking a shower, the whole nine [yards], and it just so happens he looks at me. How am I supposed to respond?"
Most gay men have responded to his remark by saying, "Don't flatter yourself" and adding, "We've been showering with you most of our lives, and we know how to be appropriate."
I like those responses, but there's one we're shying away from, and this truth deserves to be said: "Yes! I am looking, and so are many other gay and bisexual men."
In fact, I'll go so far as to say that it's an honor to shower with other men in a locker room, and a privilege to view them -- one that I take very seriously and would never abuse. If any straight man could enter the ladies' locker room and shower, I'd dare him to say differently.
But it's equally true that most gay and bisexual men would never act on what they might be thinking. From the very first time we had to undress and shower with you straight men, we have learned to be cautious and careful to avoid being humiliated, bullied or beaten up.
In the 1970s, when I was entering sixth grade, my mother told me about gym and that afterward, I would have to shower with other boys. I was never so excited in my life. But all those titillating and excited feelings quickly ended when I thought about getting an erection in the locker room and being discovered and outed. I knew that would put me at risk for all types of humiliation and abuse.
That's when the tension began. I started to hate gym and would do anything I could to get out of it. Not that I couldn't control myself. I knew I would never dare to approach a guy, but I couldn't trust my own body not to be get aroused, and I felt tremendous shame at being so transparent, that every guy knew what was really on my mind.
This is a common story that many gay men have repeated to me in therapy, so I know I am not alone.
It was pure torture. So I learned to behave appropriately: head up, on my guard, and hypervigilant. I totally shut down any feelings I had just so that I could make it through gym class and get out.
So what's my answer to Mr. Vilma and all the other straight men who feel this way? Feel flattered. Say "thank you" or simply walk away.
But so many straight men can't, because no one has ever taught them how to respond to other men's assertive -- and sometimes aggressive -- sexual advances. Straight men know how they can act when pursuing women. They know they can be aggressive and not take "no" for an answer. They know they can be crude and use their eyes and body language to pursue a woman even if she feels uncomfortable. They naturally assume that gay men are the same way. And maybe some are.
However, the solution isn't for straight men to attack gay men and take offense from a victim position: "Poor me, having to feel like for a woman when a man sexualizes me!"
My message is to man up! Increase your self-esteem and self-confidence. If a gay or bisexual man finds you sexually attractive, take it as a very high compliment. We gay men are picky and won't hit on just any man we happen to be attracted to.
We have self-control. We have years of practice and experience in locker rooms being appropriate and mindful. We know how to look without being obvious and not making anyone uncomfortable.
In any locker room, all men -- straight, bisexual and gay -- look at one another. They size each other up, comparing their bodies and penis sizes with those of other men. And some of the gay and bisexual men will go home and masturbate to some of the mental snapshots they captured while looking at you in the locker room.
It's true! Deal with it.