I always try to join a gay gym, so I don't have to deal with heteronormative comments and lady-gawking, and so no one minds if I do a little gawking of my own.
During my terrible year in Philadelphia, I joined the 12th Street Gym, only about half a mile from my apartment.
It was an older facility, kind of musty, but crowded with cute gym rats. Unfortunately it was "gay friendly" rather than "gay." About half of the clientele consisted of gay men, and the rest straight men, who varied in their degree of comfort about being gawked at.
Some put on a show, swirling and wiggling their equipment. Some were completely nonchalant. Some were careful to turn their backs and wear towels, or avoided taking showers altogether, worried that to be seen and desired by a gay man would mean that they were gay, too.
But after seven years in the straight world, I was adept at subtle glances.
I don't remember even glancing at Duane that day (I never got his real name.) It was around 7 pm, and the gym was packed with the after-work crowd. I finished my workout, undressed, and headed to the shower room, which was also packed. You had to wait for a turn at the shower heads.
Mindful of the crowd, I showered quickly without paying much attention to the other guys around, toweled off, and walked back into the locker room.
Just as I unlocked my locker and opened the door, I heard a man yell "Stop looking at me!"
I turned -- everybody in the locker room turned. Duane was rushing across the bare floor. He was in his 40s, tall, black, bald, not terribly muscular. Naked, dripping wet from the shower.
You notice weird things at a time like that. His penis swaying from side to side. The wet marks his feet made.
"F*** fag, stop looking at me!"
Homophobic language in Philadelphia's gay neighborhood? And a straight guy who still thought of a gay man's gaze as a horrible insult? I was shocked.
The other guys were shocked, too. They stared, motionless. One said "Hey, now..."
Wait -- Duane was rushing toward me!
His fists clenched, his face contorted with rage, prone to attack.
But..I hadn't been in a physical altercation since the Mean Boys of grade school. Surely such things didn't happen anymore. We were adults. This was a gay neighborhood...
It only took a few seconds to cross the locker room floor, and Duane was....
Tackled by a tall slender guy: in his twenties, pale skin, smooth chest, curly brown hair, wearing only white briefs. He must have been dressing. Later I discovered that his name was Curtis.
Duane was knocked to the floor, his arm twisted behind his back.
"Yeah, dude, we're all looking at you," Curtis said. "Now are you going to play nice?"
Curtis pulled him to his feet. We faced each other. I saw that his eyes were filled with tears, and his lower lip was trembling.
"But he looked at me," Duane whined.
"I didn't..." I began.
"So what if he did? It's a compliment -- means he thinks you're hot. Now you gonna apologize, or do I put my black belt in karate to work?"
By now the club manager had appeared, so I didn't get my apology. He waited for us to get dressed, then took us into the office and listened to our stories. After some insulting questions about whether I had touched Duane inappropriately or "stalked" him, he told Duane to be "more tolerant" and let us go.
Curtis was waiting for me in the foyer. He was wearing a white shirt and tan pants, with a photo nametag.
"You ok, sir? That must have been quite a shock."
"I'm more shocked that Duane wasn't banned from the club."
"Yeah, that kind of thing is...well, not common, but it happens. When you mix gay and straight guys, you gotta expect it. Not everybody is enlightened." He paused. "Can I buy you a drink?"
In case you were wondering: average beneath-the-belt gifts, top, bisexual, with a girlfriend.
And I didn't go back to the 12th Street Gym for a month.
See also: Brandon and His Angry Inch.