By Cesar Torres
So, you put together a cute gym outfit that plays to your strengths and expresses who you are. You selected some great sneakers, a well-fitting workout t-shirt, and your favorite pair of gym tights. But as you get started with your workout, you are approached by one of the gym staff, who mentions that someone has complained to the staff about men wearing inappropriate clothes, and they ask you to cover up your tights with shorts, or to not wear tights at all.
When this happens, you feel shocked. After all, you pay your dues on time, and you come to the gym to train hard. And as you look around, you wonder why it is that they have singled you out. After all, there are other people at your gym who are training in skintight, form-fitting gear besides yourself.
This is a situation can happen to a male-presenting person who chooses to work out in tights, otherwise known as men’s gym leggings.
The pushback against men in tights tends to be most severe in the United States, where the culture rejects the display of the male body. However, this type of situation can happen pretty much anywhere. And the irony is that men began wearing tights since the 16th century, as part of their attire for activities such as horseback riding, fencing and other athletic pursuits. Men, in fact, wore tights before women did.
The tights you choose do matter. Most men’s gym tights, including the tights made by LED Queens Fitness Apparel, are designed so that your genitals can be supported and comfortable as you perform vigorous activities such as cardio, weightlifting, dancing and other fitness routines.
However, not all tights are made the same. Some brands make tights with fetish-oriented features, such as codpieces, bulge pouches , translucent fabric, or seams to enhance the cleft of the buttocks. Nothing wrong with those products, but they may not be your smartest choice in a dedicated fitness space and community. If you’re in doubt, pick up a pair of gym tights by a company that specifically makes their products for sports and fitness.
Underwear matters a lot. At LED Queens, we celebrate whatever choice you make for underwear beneath tights. But because gyms are shared spaces, with people from various cultural backgrounds, we recommend pairing tights with a good thong, jockstrap or dance belt to give you support and also make sure the details of your genitals are not too revealing. This way, you will not be hiding your bulge with shorts. In fact, you’ll look natural and presentable, if you have chosen the correct undergarment. For more info on this topic, check out our underwear recommendations blog post. Now let’s get on with the tips!
If you’re approached by a fellow gym member or staff, and they want you to stop wearing tights, they will often approach you one-on-one, isolating you from other gym members. They most often will say that what you’re wearing is making other gym members feel “uncomfortable”, “unsafe”, or they will keep it even more vague and just say your clothes are inappropriate.
When this happens, ask, “Can you point me to a clearly printed sign on the walls of this gym where I can find a rule that says men can’t wear tights or leggings?” In most cases, there is no such sign, because the franchise or the individual gym owner has not gone into the level of detail (or policing). If the sign is vague and recommends “proper gym attire”, be sure to ask the person who exactly gets to decide what proper gym attire is. Is it the manager? Or is it a gym patron who made the complaint? Explain that the factors that make a piece of clothing appropriate or inappropriate are subjective, especially in spaces like gyms, where people are free to express themselves.
Men being asked to not wear tights in the gym is a double standard, plain and simple. In most gyms, you will often find plenty of women wearing sports bras as tops, crop tops, skintight leggings, short spandex shorts, bodysuits and other skintight garments to train. So if you’re asked to stop wearing tights, you can just say, “Sure, I’ll stop wearing tights to the gym the day you ask women to stop wearing them as well.” You can also ask, “Why is this rule applicable to men and not women?” If they can’t come up with a good answer, just be aware that you’re confirming the fact that they don’t have a solid argument for what they’re asking you to do.
Some folks in the LGBTQ+ community find it gender-reaffirming to wear specific kinds of garments to the gym. Does that mean that if they are male presenting, they don’t have a right to wear those garments? If that were so, that would be a type of discrimination. If your gym’s member base has a a visible queer customer base, mention that when you explain that you war tights because you choose to express yourself that way, and that if they believe in inclusion and tolerance of LGBTQ folks, they should allow people to exercise their own self expression, regardless of gender identity or sexual preference. And if they are singling out LGBTQ folks in this fashion, remind them that you belong to a community that often discusses what spaces are safe, and that among us, we make recommendations on businesses that are worth patronizing.
It will not always be easy for you to be able to express yourself. But you have as much of a right to inhabit fitness spaces as other people. And if you do experience further discrimination because of what you wear, you can always take your business elsewhere. Enjoy your training, stay self aware, be kind, and keep it queer.
About the Author
Cesar Torres is the founder and designer of LED Queens Fitness Apparel. They launched LED Queens in 2017, and they run the company from Chicago.