What men really talk about in the locker room
Donald Trump has it all wrong about what constitutes 'locker room talk', says seasoned gym-goer Nick Harding
Published 14/10/2016 | 02:30
Donald Trump looks like a man who hasn't seen a gym since the 1970s. Which possibly explains his assertion that it is normal for men to brag about sexually assaulting women in male locker rooms. Perhaps it was, in his gym-going days - in the same way that racism, drink driving and Blue Nun were once acceptable.
Trump hasn't just offended women the world over, he's denigrated male gym-goers too. Scores of US athletes have taken to social media to distance themselves from his comments: "That ain't our locker room talk," said Udonis Haslem, National Basketball Association veteran and Miami Heat captain, on Monday. "I don't know what locker room he's been in."
As a regular gym user for 30 years, I've towelled down in walnut-panelled changing rooms alongside celebrities and captains of industry, and showered in spit and sawdust gyms with men with broken noses and prison tattoos - and I can tell you that, when stripped back to our birthday suits, the topics of conversation are always the same; it's only the vernacular that differs.
Here are the eight locker room chats you will really hear in one of the last vestiges of male-only space.
I kid you not. Every day, somewhere in Ireland, several half-naked men will sit on a wooden bench and discuss chicken. How many grams should they eat? What is the best way to cook it? Skin on or off? Gym users of all ages are obsessed with nutrition in general and with chicken breast in particular, which is revered as the magic bean of the fitness world. I've eavesdropped on hundreds of long, boring nutrition-centred brag-offs, in which men wrapped in towels bang on about protein, amino acids and whey powder. I used to think creatine was what God did on the first day. Now I know it's something that helps you lift heavier weights.
In the amphitheatre of the locker room, men have a captive audience. And when men have an audience they like nothing more than to moan about their ailments and their failing health. Just last week one of my gym buddies stood naked in front of me (breaking universal locker room etiquette that decrees you never make eye contact, let alone conversation, without wearing under garments) and lamented his groin strain. I had no idea where to look. The young boast about muscles torn asunder under the strain of exertion; the old nod in the sympathetic knowledge that youthful exuberance begets sciatica.
Even men who don't play golf and have no interest in golf talk about golf, just to be accepted. Golf is the locker room's universal language. It transcends age and class. For a long time, I wondered whether references to 'golf' were coded references to women, because no one ever speaks about their wives, lovers or relationships. But no. Golf is more important. Mentions of loved ones are met with the same reaction that actors get when they say the word 'Macbeth' in a theatre. Golf, on the other hand, is the glue that holds men together.
4. Other gym users
Don't believe for a second that men rise above back-stabbing and cattiness. There are two tribes in any gym: the puritanical, sweaty cardiovascular devotees, and the preening weight-lifters who do their hair before a work out and are never 10 minutes away from a protein shake. They both bitch about each other constantly.
Cars are often discussed and men will try their best to draw attention to the fact that they have a new one without sounding boastful - leading to the shoehorning of their new Jaguar into the most tangential of topics. For example, "I've got enough boot space in my new F-Pace to fit 100 kilos of whey powder. But the suspension in sports mode jars my back injury," would score highly and still impress your peers.
This is the only acceptable framework in which the subject of the opposite sex can be mentioned. In gym changing rooms, divorced men will hark on about their perceived financial misfortunes to anyone who will listen. Get several divorcées together in a changing room and the size of their alimony orders becomes a perverse bragging right.
As a rule, men who use gyms believe they are 10 years younger - all that treadmilling like human hamsters is the purest expression of an attempt to outpace old age. There is a man at the gym I attend who, when shirtless, will regularly ask strangers: "How old do you think I am?" He's 60. He looks it. But everyone humours him. There's another who, nearing pensionable age, asks random men to take photos of him on his phone so he can chart his fitness journey. These exchanges would only ever be acceptable in a locker room.
8. Donald Trump's hair
Following Sunday's presidential debate, I happened to be in a David Lloyd gym, where ironically no one mentioned Trump's grope boasts, but they all mentioned his preposterous mane. They were fascinated with it. Is it a comb-over? Is it a wig? Is it animal, vegetable or mineral? Perhaps it was because of the age profile of the male gym users there, who were largely over 50, and thinning (on top, at least).