There seems to be an ongoing problem with inappropriate sexual conduct at the Nashville YMCAs. Being a member of the downtown Y, I felt inconvenienced when, at the beginning of September, the Y’s management decided to keep the outdoor pool open on Saturdays and not Sundays. Sunday was the only day I could be there, and when I brought up the subject with other members, whom I know also hit the pool on Sundays, I was immediately told differing stories for this change. All of the stories, however, were variations on one theme: because some unidentified parties had been sexually inappropriate in the men’s locker room on Sunday afternoons, the management decided to close the pool. I, and others, failed to understand how the pool could be directly associated with the locker room.
There are many gay men who go to the rooftop pool on Sundays (I have often joked that it looks like West Hollywood), and they are generally lined up on one side, while the supposedly non-gay patrons are lined down the other side, or mixed in with a few gay men as well. It seems the management’s rationale is that if there are several (supposed) gay men at the pool, then they, and not closeted married men, must be the culprits. Following this to its logical conclusion assumes that if the Y’s management closes the pool on Sundays, then the inappropriate sexual behavior in the locker room will stop. I, for one, do not use the YMCA as a bathhouse, and neither do the men I know who also go to the pool on Sundays. On a seemingly related note, the YMCA also has a new rule about wearing shorts in the steam room.
I decided to speak with the management, specifically Mike Brennen, about this situation. Without much prompting, Brennen was very forthcoming about the inappropriate behaviors in the locker room. He said that those “incidents” (which it seems no one has actually been caught doing or kicked out for) are indeed the reason for closing the pool on Sundays. I responded that a few people who don’t know how to comport themselves shouldn’t be allowed to run the gym, i.e., to change the rules for all. He agreed but said that these kind of problems (I presume the complaints of sexual impropriety) have become so rampant and overwhelming, especially on Sunday afternoons, that he was at a loss as to what else to do.
“We have been trying to monitor the locker rooms as best we can and have had people undercover,” Brennen explained (oh, the irony), “but [we] have not been able to get these behaviors under control. The Maryland Farm’s YMCA has had tremendous problems with this kind of thing and they have taken extensive measures to try to contain the problem. It’s very difficult when you don’t know people’s names even when reports of misbehavior are made, or where you to try to detain people as they are walking out and ask for their cards, which they could refuse, to get a handle on the situation.”
I mentioned that probably a third of the downtown YMCA membership is gay, and if you count the closeted married men, then maybe half. He said he didn’t think the number was that high but he did admit that he felt the married men were probably more the problem than the men who identified as gay. “I think most of the gay men here are respectable and respectful people.” Of course, this does not fit with the Y’s apparent logic that a larger number of gay men at the pool on Sundays is the cause of inappropriate sexual behavior in its locker room. Despite this inconsistency, he said they are even considering not having the pool open at all on Sundays next summer. I told him I absolutely did not think that was a viable idea or solution for the management or the members. He shrugged and said he didn’t know how they are going to deal with the problem for sure.
The culture (Southern) has more than its share of repression and shame due to religious and macho ideologies. No doubt all this supposed acting out is a result of these heavy influences. But reasons are not excuses, and as much as I feel frustrated with how the behavior at the YMCA is being handled, I am also frustrated that some grown (no doubt professional) men can’t seem to behave in an appropriate way. To put it bluntly, this is ridiculous and stupid behavior. And something that should indeed be considered by these irresponsible men is that, at times, there are underage boys in the locker rooms. The point is, and regardless of one’s sexual orientation, these adults shouldn’t treat the locker room as an adult’s-only environment where sexual mores can be abandoned.
One Sunday this summer I arrived in the locker room and said hello to a straight friend of mine who was there. Because he seemed not himself, I asked him what was wrong, and he proceeded to tell me how outraged he was that when he went into the showers several men were in full erection and fondling each other. “What if I had had my son with me who is only fourteen?” he asked. I agreed with him that such displays were stupid and inexcusable.
If indeed there are some gay men (as opposed to married gay men who are probably not known by the gay men and are not reading this article) who are acting out at the various Y’s, they need to stop it, to put it plainly. I grew up in the South as well, and I know what it is like, but the YMCA is not the place to cruise and make out. And if we (gay men) see someone doing stupid things in public then we either need to point out that what they are doing is offensive, and/or inappropriate, or report it to management ourselves.
I intend to keep up communication with management at the YMCA because I want to be involved in the process and advocate for not punishing everyone for the transgressions of a few, or assuming, for that matter, who the few might be.
In the meantime let all of us who use the YMCA try to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.
by Terry Lee Derrick