Planet Fitness: Where competing freedoms collide
Here’s a story that you’re already aware of if you listen to talk radio or watch cable news. I’m bringing it up because it’s a pretty good example of what I mean when I say here that in a pluralistic democracy the fights we have are never really between freedom and tyranny so much as they are one person’s freedoms over another’s.
The gym-rat chain Planet Fitness made headlines over the weekend when it was reported that the company’s corporate office revoked the membership of a female customer for complaining to management. Her complaint? That she had seen a man in the women’s locker room. As it turned out, the person she identified as a male was a person who — despite having male body parts — identifies as female. According to ABC News, when she complained the woman says she was told “whatever gender you feel you are, that’s the locker you’re allowed to go in.”
When the story hit the news, the company stuck to its guns:
Planet Fitness Director of Public Relations McCall Gosselin said the gym is “committed to creating a non-intimidating, welcoming environment for our members. Our gender identity non-discrimination policy states that members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity.”
The statement continued, “The manner in which this member expressed her concerns about the policy exhibited behavior that management at the Midland club deemed inappropriate and disruptive to other members, which is a violation of the membership agreement and as a result her membership was cancelled.”
Gosselin added, “As our statement outlines, her membership was not cancelled as a result of complaints about our policy, as we welcome all feedback from our members. Rather, it was the manner in which her concerns were expressed that club management felt was inappropriate, which resulted in the cancellation.”
Needless to say, amongst social conservatives there’s not much controversy here. Among liberals (and to some degree libertarians), however, the larger issue is a bit more nettlesome. Especially since this issue isn’t limited to for-profit businesses.
The transgendered locker room/bathroom issue puts two competing freedoms in opposition. The first, obviously, is the freedom for a person to self-identify as they wish (or indeed, are born to) without being ostracized or made to feel uncomfortable. But there is also the competing freedom of being able to not have people you perceive of the opposite sex watch you undress, shower, or use the facilities. Because the issue of people who are transgender is so mocked (and often vilified) by the right, it’s easy to forget that people’s objections are not necessarily along the “but the Bible tells me so” lines.
As the audience to conversations about rape culture grows, I suspect, we are going to gradually have to come to terms with the fact that the actions one person might perceive as innocent another might perceive as hostile and, sometimes, overtly sexual. The original intentions don’t make the results any less traumatic and damaging to some just for their intended innocence. After having spent the last three weeks researching sex crimes and sex offenders, I am well aware that having what appears to most people as being a naked man undressing in your locker room can be as traumatic for some women as it is for a transgender who identifies as a women to have to use a men’s locker room.
Indeed, there seem to be no perfect solutions, even if you’re someone like me who wants people who are transgender to be as integrated into mainstream society as they might wish. For most places, “just build a whole bunch of unisex locker rooms and bathrooms” isn’t economically feasible. Having separate bath and locker rooms for people who are transgenders only seems akin in today’s climate to making them wear a scarlet A on their chest. And the suggestion I heard from one gentleman on the radio today — to have a men’s locker room, a women’s locker room, and a “anyone who wants to come in” locker room runs a very real risk of attracting the kinds of people that no one wants to share facilities with. Of course in my own perfect world we live in a magical land where people just aren’t that feared out by either nudity or the human body. But since that’s also the place where there are no more wars, racism is long gone, and pints of Haagen Dazs grows on trees in my back yard, we probably shouldn’t hold our breaths waiting for that world to bail us out.
And that pretty much leaves us with the s**ty, s**ty choice of either telling a man who identifies as a woman or a woman that doesn’t want to undress and shower next to someone whose penis is showing that they are crap out of luck.
It sucks rocks, but there you have it.
 Though it should be noted that even for those who do feel that way, it is still an issue of competing freedoms.
[Picture: Yoga Class at a Gym, via Wikipedia]