The caption from the above YouTube reads, "A surreal expression of male bonding, troubling yet comforting in the almost innocent charm that shines through." A reader writes:
I used to subscribe to a news group about male locker room nudity that spilled a lot of ink on this subject. One of its recurring themes, echoed in the comments to Trevor Macomber's post, was that there is something neurotic about the younger generation's relationship with their bodies and being naked among other men and that younger men have no sense of male bonding and camaraderie through nudity. Most of the posts in that group were by men who had grown up with male locker room nudity as the norm, but were also gay. What I considered to be intellectually dishonest about most of the posts in that news group, as well as Macomber's commenters, is that no one seemed to acknowledge the most obvious change between the previous era and today that would account for the younger generation's different attitude: an awareness that there are gay men in the locker room deriving sexual pleasure from seeing their fellow locker room occupants naked.
I am a 34-year-old gay man, and most men I know, straight or gay, do not enjoy the idea of unwanted ogling by another man in the locker room. I have no issues with being naked in front of other people, men or women; I have been to nude beaches and Swedish saunas with my husband, FKK mineral baths with a straight girlfriend in Bad Homburg, and Spa World, the Korean bath house outside of D.C., with a mixed group of straight and gay male friends. But when I am in a gym locker room I adopt Macomber's "Last Off, First On" (LOFO) strategy for underwear, and if I can see that someone is staring at me while I change, I change under a towel, forgoing nudity altogether. Not because I am ashamed of my body or neurotic, but because I want to deny the rude starer their nasty bit of gratification. When I see comments from men bemoaning this type of behavior among the younger generation, I wonder how many of them are really mourning the death of the era when younger, fitter bodies were more regularly on display for the unilateral pleasure of closeted gay men.
Compare this with the atmosphere I experienced when I visited Sanduny, one of the oldest banyas in Moscow, with a group of straight and gay friends. Given the predominantly "pre-gay" state of Russian society, the banya resembles the American male locker room culture of the mid-20th century where it never crossed a straight man's mind that the dude next to him was secretly fantasizing about his naked form. Men of all ages and body types are continuously naked while they transition between the furnace of the banya and a cafe-like area where they order food and vodka. In the banya itself, friends beat each other with soaked birch branches to stimulate blood flow. After taking in as much heat as you can stand, you dip into near-freezing plunge pools or huddle closely, still naked, with your friends under a wooden bucket while you pull a chain and ice-cold water is dumped on you from above.
Can you imagine this as part of mainstream American culture? The increasing visibility of gay people in the United States means that more men, the majority of whom are straight, are going to take steps to minimize their nudity in the locker room. It's not homophobia or neurosis; it's a natural reaction to the idea that you may be the subject of one-sided sexual gratification.
Another reader also brings homosexuality into the discussion:
I would suggest the possibility that old men aren't the only ones who are insensitive to the gymgoers nauseated by excessive locker room nudity. I believe a good many gay men are guilty. I'd like to point you to an article published in Dan Savage's Stranger a few years ago, on "Making Health Clubs a Safe Space for Heterosexual Men."
I think I speak for the great majority of straight men when I say that the sight of a penis that is not my own fills me with revulsion. On the other hand, when entering a room where male nudity is on display, the eyes are drawn to that nudity, in the same way they might be drawn to a giant rat that's entered the premises. One looks away quickly, but still the image is seared into memory. You – and I suspect other gay men – say "just look away," but by the time we do, it's too late.
Invariably, it seems, the nude man in question is standing in front of my locker, making it necessary for me to make a deeply uncomfortable circuitous path, just to extract my gym bag. God only knows the motives of old men who keep this habit; but in the case of gay men, I wonder whether it's a desire to showcase the fruits of their fitness labor. If so, I completely understand that impulse, especially since I doubt that many gay men are aware how uncomfortable it makes us straights. (Which is why your post presents an opportunity to increase awareness.)
I also concede that by definition locker rooms will always contain some nudity – straight, gay and other. Rather, my community of straight young gymgoers respectfully beseeches the gay and the male elderly communities to simply minimize that nudity, applying the same "Last Off, First On" principle articulated in the essay you linked to.
I agree with the need for civility of this sort in our post-gay world. It's manners. But I also think a man who regards seeing any other man's flaccid dick – even for a split second or so – as "revolting" or like a "giant rat" should chill a little. Dude, I'm not sure you speak for the great majority of straight men. Most I know are not that neurotic.