Changing rooms - and being non-binary

Changing rooms - these access spaces to a swimming pool or gymnasium. I don't know anyone who likes changing rooms. There are people who try to maintain some privacy in these spaces that seem designed to take away any privacy. There are people who pretend that they don't mind the lack of privacy when they change into or out of their swimming costume or gym clothes.

My memories of changing rooms as a teenager - of swimming pools, of gyms in high school - are of feeling uncomfortable, of trying to make sure no one notices my presence. Memories of changing as quickly as possible, without being seen.

Then, in my adult life, I rarely went to the pool, and never to a gym. I preferred to go to a lake or to the beach, where there are no changing rooms. And it's not that I'm uncomfortable with nudity. No. In fact, if I have the possibility I go to the nudist beach, or to a lake where you can swim naked, I prefer to do this. The problem is the changing rooms, these weird spaces.

Since I define myself as a genderqueer, non-binary person, the issue of changing rooms has taken on another dimension. Before, I went to the men's changing room when I went to a swimming pool (rarely), but now? And even more so since I have started a transition, since I have queered my body, and not only my identity, but also my body is outside the gender binary. Changing rooms are not only uncomfortable spaces for almost everyone, they are also and above all hyper-binary spaces.

I have gotten used to using the female toilet when I need to use a public toilet. I don't feel safe in a male toilet. But in a toilet there is usually no nudity. You close the door to do your business, and no one notices that your body doesn't fit into their binary. I am left with the discomfort of entering this feminine space, and the question of how they will read me, and what would happen if a woman reads me as a man... Many times, before entering a public toilet, I specifically ask for a non-binary toilet, which almost never exists. Sometimes there is a separate toilet for people with disabilities, and in these cases I usually use this option.

Changing rooms are another matter. A few weeks ago I decided to join a sports centre, mainly because of the swimming pool. I went to the sports centre closest to my home, and raised the problem at the reception. Where can I change? Which changing room can or should I use? Luckily the women at the reception understood the problem, and understood that the men's changing room was not an option for me. But they didn't know what to do either. They escalated the "problem" to the director of the centre. I stayed a few days without a definite answer. The next day they asked me what my ID card says about my gender, and luckily I have a German passport with an X in the gender field. So my ID card was of no use to them in solving the problem. I also wrote to the city council of Seville, to ask if there is a municipal policy regarding access to changing rooms for trans and non-binary people. It seems that the city called the director of the sports centre, and then the director called me to tell me that there is no law requiring private changing rooms, but that I can use the women's changing room and change in the disabled toilet inside.

Although this is not the ideal solution, it is probably the best possible option. I am very conscious that changing in the disabled toilet is not only to provide me with privacy, it is also to prevent a woman from realising that I am not a woman... After all, the women's changing room is not my space.

The first few times I went there I was quite nervous. But I have got used to it. When I get there, I go straight into the disabled toilet to change, and I come out in my swimming costume just to put my things in a locker, and I go straight to the pool. When I finish, I do it the other way round. I pick up my stuff from the locker and go straight to the disabled toilet to change, and leave the Sports Centre. I try to stay as little time as possible in the changing room itself and interact as little as possible with the women inside.

So far I haven't had any problems, strange looks or questions. Sometimes I meet a woman I know, and we even chat for a while, and I am aware that my voice is not exactly feminine. At the same time interacting with women I know in the changing room in a natural way also makes me feel better in the space, maybe it allows me to claim this space also for myself, not to feel like an invader in this space.

This solution is not ideal. I don't think it would be easy to have a single sex changing room of the same type as there are now, without privacy. I doubt that I would feel safe changing in the presence of men while there is so much male violence. Perhaps the best option would be to provide at least some private changing rooms, separate from the male and female changing rooms, for anyone who prefers some privacy when changing. This is not only better for trans and non-binary people. There are many reasons why a person might prefer to change in a private space.

As long as these private changing rooms do not exist, I will continue to use the women's changing room and the disabled toilet. Having the authorisation from the director of the sports centre helps me to feel more at ease, as it was not only my decision, but the result of a reflection also on the part of the sports centre. It is not an invasion of the women's changing room, but a "solution" to the problem of how to allow trans or non-binary people access to the swimming pool or the gym, while there are only binary spaces.

However, fear remains. There remains the fear that one day a woman, possibly transphobic, will read me as a man (or as a person with a penis), and complain (if she does, I don't really care) or make a scene in the locker room, which would make me feel very uncomfortable. Hopefully this day will never come....