What is it with old men in the locker room? If you're a man, and you've been to a gym, or the Y, or the JCC, you know what I'm talking about. In locker rooms, there's a nearly straight-line correlation between a gentleman's age and the time he enjoys spending chatting with other people, or merely walking about, with his junk on display for all to see. Not long ago I was in a locker room and saw two men talking, one of whom was a 60-ish fellow standing completely naked, holding forth on something or other. I left, worked out, and came back 45 minutes later to find the guy still standing there in the altogether; the only thing that had changed was that his previous conversation partner had managed to slip away, and he was now having an animated discussion with someone else. I don't know whether this is a particularly American phenomenon or it's world-wide, but it's been true in every multi-age locker room I've ever visited, and apparently I'm not the only one who has noticed. Here's Max Ross, writing in The New York Times:
As always, a spirit of competition hovers in the locker room — a game is being played. I haven't figured out the rules, or the ultimate goal, but I'm pretty certain the main action is to carry on as many arguments as possible without acknowledging the fact that everyone is naked. With few exceptions, the older men — professors emeritus, mostly — have the best endurance for it (there is, however, a Frenchman in his mid-20s, a candidate for a Master of Fine Arts, who has proved himself precociously skilled). They stand at the sinks and sit on the benches for what seems like hours at a time, gabbing.
I'm sure some sociologist somewhere has written a master's thesis on this. So what's going on? Here's my theory. In an earlier age, there were lots of spaces where men could be with other men without any women around—the office, the social club, the golf course, and a hundred others. As time has gone on, the all-male character of those places has disappeared, and so the locker room is one of the few places left where women are literally locked out. And then you get whatever you get when a bunch of men are left all in one place: a faint homoerotic buzz, existing just under the surface of most of their consciousnesses. Just like you find on, say, a submarine.
For the older men, that little thrill they get from standing naked in front of another guy for 45 minutes is safe, because when they grew up, homosexuality was shoved so far out of public view that for straight people it was almost an absurdity. So they can dip their toe into that pool, so to speak, without having any kind of complicated thoughts about their identity. Just a guy, standing here naked in front of a bunch of other guys. For some people it's obviously liberating.
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