#MeToo, at the gym

Senior year in college I gained like ten pounds. I drank beer and partied every weekend, Thursdays and Saturdays — I was having the kind of embarrassing fun that only a college senior could. When I graduated, I moved to New York City and got a job waitressing at The Park in Chelsea — a place that used to be on the scene but had deteriorated into an embarrassing Bridge and Tunnel crowd. Still, it was always busy, and I pranced around the restaurant floor like I was backup for Beyonce. Eventually I began to shed the college beer belly without even trying. But then I got myself a job job — where the level was entry, the pay was steady, the hours were long, and the position was seated. I soon felt gross, and with the little disposable income I had on a $28k salary in NYC, I joined a gym and got myself a personal trainer.

I chose the one who was in the best shape because that’s what he’d make me. He was tall, in his mid-40’s, had a moustache, and wore muscle tanks that showed his stubbly shaved chest. His workouts were hard, and over the first two or three weeks, we became friendly. I lived around the block and sometimes he’d walk me home after a session. We T9 texted and talked on the phone — he got flirtier and I tended to like the attention.

One evening during a session, he corrected my form on a set of bicep curls — adjusting my elbows and posture from behind. He came close, pressed right up behind me, and I felt that he was hard. I made startled eye contact with him in the mirror in front of us, and he gave me a knowing and confirming wink. Yes, that is what you think it is. Then the set was over and we moved on to triceps. I was stunned, but not wanting to cause a scene, I made casual conversation and let him stretch me as he always did at the end of the session.

He continued to flirt over the next few weeks. Sometimes I reciprocated to not be weird, but I mostly pulled back. Trying to create some physical space, I told him I preferred stretching by myself and he left me to it. I kept going back session-after-session out of sheer determination — I’d paid for the package and wanted to get in shape. And it was working! Could I really let this creep stand in my way? Sometimes he’d ask me out and I’d say I had plans already. When he got close, I’d step back. I quietly blamed myself for letting him cross the line — for letting him walk me home and texting him back and taking his calls. I also rationalized that trainers are just like that and they fuck their clients all the time, so his hard-on, and his moans when he stretched me, were harmless in comparison.

Weeks went on, and with only two sessions left, I decided I didn’t want to keep training with him — I felt too dirty and too vulnerable. But I kept working out at the gym on my own to stay in shape. Every time the gym manager saw me he’d nudge me, “you still have two sessions left, when are you going to use them?” I didn’t think to tell him that I never would, because his sleazy moustached employee rubbed his hard dick on the small of my back and I was too unsure to do anything about it. I couldn’t claim harassment because I felt I’d allowed it to happen. He didn’t rape me or assault me, or do any of the super shitty things that women get done to them every day. I enabled it, I thought. I quit the gym a few weeks later.

Now ten years later, I look back and cringe. I pity. I had convinced myself that I encouraged my boundaries to get crossed. I didn’t know that consent wasn’t just about sex. At that time, I felt incredibly empowered in my sexual relationships, but in this particular non-sexual one, I lacked certain tools. Even the friends who I’d told about it didn’t get angry; the response was more like, ‘ew!’ Maybe I was describing it wrong. Or maybe none of us knew better. Today, I still don’t know how to categorize the violation. And up until this moment I’ve felt like being able to identify it was requisite to talking about it. Is it? I kind of still don’t know. Was it just flirtation gone wrong? Mixed signals? Or something more serious? Are you only a victim if you feel victimized?

Now finally seems like the right time to reopen that chapter and say something, even if I don’t know what to call it. I stand in solidarity and believe all women when they say #MeToo.