Dispute arises over transwoman’s use of gym locker room

Candace Teetsel. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

Candace Teetsel. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

A transgender woman says that she plans to seek legal recourse after she was denied use of the women’s locker room and showers at a local health club. But the owner of MAC Fitness says that he was simply responding to members’ concerns when he asked the woman to use the gym’s unisex bathroom.

The controversy comes as the topic of transgender rights takes a turn in the national spotlight following the passage of North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” and onetime Olympic superstar Bruce Jenner’s very public transition to Caitlin Jenner.

Candace Teetsel is a 56-year-old former Marine and Kingston resident who’s been transitioning from male to female under medical supervision since 2002. Her driver’s license lists her as female and she’s in the process of changing the gender on her military discharge papers and birth certificate.


But Teetsel said that her status as a woman was challenged when she tried to join MAC Fitness in Kingston Plaza. Teetsel said that she had joined the club in 2013 under Medicaid’s “Silver Sneakers” program for seniors. Teetsel said that she discussed transgender issues with MAC Fitness co-owner Holly Schuler at the time and was reassured.

“She said they had had experiences with transgender people in the past and there were a couple of issues,” said Teetsel. “But she said I could just go about my business and be discreet. She had no problem with me using the women’s locker room.”

Teetsel said she opted to change at home rather than use the women’s locker room and says she never used the showers at the health club. Eventually, she said, she stopped going to the gym altogether.

Teetsel said she returned to the club earlier this year following knee surgery. This time, she said, Schuler advised her that there had been some complaints from women during her previous membership. Schuler, she said, offered her a limited membership on the condition that she stay out of the women’s locker room, showers or sauna.

“I said no, absolutely not,” said Teetsel. “If I have to lay out $400 for an annual membership, why should I be limited to certain things? To me, that’s discrimination?”

But MAC Fitness co-owner Lyle Schuler said that the club made every reasonable effort to accommodate Teetsel while also respecting other members’ desire for privacy. Schuler said that Teetsel’s first membership at the gym had generated a number of complaints. Contrary to Teetsel’s account, Schuler said that she had in fact used the women’s facilities at the club, and her presence in the locker room had caused discomfort among some members.

“In any situation where a majority of our members’ enjoyment is compromised, whether it’s dropping weights or making too much noise or an issue with how someone is dressed, we handle it personally,” said Schuler.

Schuler said when she returned to the club this year, Teetsel was offered a membership on the condition that she use a unisex bathroom on the premises to change. Teetsel, he said, rejected the compromise. Schuler added that the club had made similar accommodations for other transgender people in the past and never had an issue.

“Every effort was made to accommodate her and work around some of the member complaints,” said Schuler. “But this is such a new issue, we don’t have a whole handbook or policy about [transgender people] as of yet.”

Angelina Vail-Bouros, 54, is a transgender woman, chairwoman of the Mid-Hudson Valley Transgender Association and a MAC Fitness member. Vail-Bouros said she began attending the gym before her transition and continues to work out there regularly. Vail-Bouros said that staff at the health club had been entirely supportive during and after the transition process. Vail-Bouros said she uses the club’s unisex bathroom to change in order to avoid discomfiting fellow patrons, noting that she uses women’s bathroom facilities in other public places. She said the particular intimacy of a locker room poses a trickier issue.

“You have to be sensitive to people’s feelings. A lot of people, especially around here have not been exposed to transgender people,” said Vail-Bouros. “When you’re naked in a shower room, and you’re not fully, physically transitioned, it can be a problem.”

Teetsel, though said, that her treatment by MAC fitness amounted to transgender discrimination. She said she has contacted an attorney and is planning to file complaints with the Ulster County and City of Kingston human rights commissions.

But transgender rights remain in flux in New York State. According to Fred Mayo, president of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Center, there are no specific protections extended to transgender people under state anti-discrimination law. (State education law forbids discrimination against transgender students and teachers.) Some municipalities have passed their own ordinances to ban transgender discrimination, but Ulster County and Kingston are not among them.

Mayo likened the discomfort some people feel sharing a bathroom with transgender individuals to discomfort with gay couple publicly expressing affection. The solution, he said, is more education, visibility and awareness of transgender issues. Mayo said he hoped more public facilities would follow the lead of college campuses where unisex bathrooms are becoming the norm.

“I can appreciate and empathize [with Schuler’s dilemma], change is hard for people, it was hard for people to adjust to gay and lesbian people walking around holding hands and kissing,” said Mayo. “But we don’t need to stop and wait, we need to move forward because of how painful and difficult these situations are for so many transgender people.”

For Teetsel, that pain and difficulty has been a lifelong struggle. Teetsel likened her feelings of undressing in a male locker room to any other woman stripped naked in a roomful of men. Being denied the use of women’s facilities she said, feels like a denial of her very being.

“I felt like I was being punished for being the person that God created,” said Teetsel. “I want to be treated like anybody else because I’m a human being before I’m anything else.”

There are 12 comments

  1. Angelina Vail-Bouros

    As a transgender female, I can certainly understand Candace’s thoughts and feelings regarding this highly sensitive and very personal issue.

    When ‘we’ enter a women’s restroom and/or locker room, WE feel perfectly ok there because in our minds and hearts, we BELONG there. We definitely do NOT belong in the men’s locker room. However, the women may very well feel differently mainly because they have no knowledge, education, or experience in dealing with transgender women. Over the years I have used many women’s restrooms in many states and have never had one issue anywhere, including North Carolina. Using a toilet is private, undressing in a locker room in front of others is not. When exposing ones whole body, it would appear to me, that we should possess the genitalia that coincides with the genitalia of those using that locker room. To have otherwise is most certainly going to cause a variety of issues. Businesses must do what is in the best interests of the majority of their patrons and accommodate others to the best of their ability. I consciously choose to not use the ladies locker room to shower because I do not want to make others uncomfortable. When my ‘time’ comes then I shall use the ladies locker room but not before. I am out to live my life as easily and peaceful as possible. I am not looking to purposely draw attention to myself. I want to be a part OF society and not be apart FROM it. I also do not want to be on the wrong side of the women who work out there with me regularly. It is much easier and simpler, as far as I am concerned, to use the separate accommodations there for dressing and/or undressing.

    The staff at Mac Fitness, most notably Holly, has always been friendly, candid, and supportive of me before, during, and after my transition. To her, I am a female member who is simply there to use the health club in attaining my goals to become a more healthy individual. I have had positive experiences at both of their health clubs.

    The focus on transgender people is at an all time high and we are now where the gay movement was twenty years ago and the civil rights movement was twenty years before that. Life is all about challenges, changes, and adaptations. Humanity and humankind is fluid and always fluctuating and morphing. Transgender people want to simply live our lives unencumbered like everyone else and we have every right to do so except where it may infringe on the rights and the quality of life of others.

    I am not here to disavow Candace’s claims, rights, or feelings.

    I am here to express my views and experiences how Mac Fitness has and is accommodating my needs.

  2. DonnaPrimaDonna

    Everybody wants a payday. In this case, she wants her feelings taken into account, but refuses to honor the real concerns of other women using the locker rooms and showers, who don’t want anyone with a penis sharing them. Litigation is not the way to handle this. Teetsel should follow Mayl’s example or she will just create bad feelings against transwomen.

  3. d

    I believe that the women that complained about her using the bathroom need to become educated and take into account her rights. Since she is a women she has the right to use the women’s room and MAC fitness should be fined for discrimination. She has served our country as a marine and fought for the freedom of all of us. She is entitled to have the freedom to use any bathroom she is comfortable in.

  4. cheryl

    I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone who suffers from dysphoria. To me, transwomen are like anorexics in that the body they have does not match the image of themselves which exists in their head. While they have the right to think of themselves however they want, their rights end at the point where I would be exposed to someone’s penis without my consent.

    I think we need a federal law on this issue, not this hodge-podge of different states permitting different levels of forced intimacy that we have now. The male-to-females in particular need to have “bottom surgery” before they’re allowed to change the sex on their legal documents — because as soon as they get the “M” changed to a “F” then they start insisting that they magically have the right to flash me in the locker room just like the weirdo on the subway who isn’t wearing pants under his raincoat. Both should be illegal, not just one.

    Both are involving me in their sexual fantasy of themselves without my consent and against my will. Again, they should be allowed to think of themselves however they want but their right to do so ends at the point where I must disrobe in front of them or vice-versa.

    The other problem, is that because of how they prefer to define transgender in some states, any man no matter how strange can claim to be a woman — even if he isn’t really trans — and then boom, he’s allowed to “accidentally” expose himself to as many women and girl children as he wants, and somehow this is legal. Not while I’m around to protest, it’s not. Also, they do not belong in rape crisis centers or women’s prisons or on the women’s athletic teams or taking scholoarships away from women, or counted as women when the FBI is tallying who does what crime to whom. The rate of “women” committing violent assault will be increasing and it’s because mtf commit crime at the same rate men do.


  5. Candace

    Ok, I think I said last night on the times Facebook page that this is not about using the lock room. This is about principal and not receiving the benefits that were included in the membership that I was entitled to that I was told that I could not use. It might have been a different story if Mac would have substituted things that I could us in place of what I was told I could not use. Angelina and I have the same goals just differen perspectives. When I feel or think that my civil rights have been violated, of course I am going to speak up. I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut like I have all of my life. If you don’t know me please don’t assume and even for those who do know me don’t assume that you know what I do and don’t have. There are only a few that know that’s me, my Partner and my Doctors.
    I don’t want Money, I don’t want sympathy but, what I do want is to be treated like anyone else.

  6. kat

    She is a woman. She should be allowed to use the women’s locker room. I doubt she cares what the other women look like naked, and we really shouldn’t care what she looks like naked. I am a member of this gym, and if she walked in the locker room I would high five her. Candace, hold your head up sister – you are doing the right thing! A generation from now these conversations will seem as cringeworthy as the whole separate waterfountain issue, and it women like Candace who will make that happen. Proud of you girl!!

  7. nopolitics

    Once a Marine, always a Marine. Probably an officer. “You can’t tell ME what to do.” Pfff. Use the unisex bathroom and be GRATEFUL there IS such a thing. There are lots of other suits to file that have far more merit in society but since this is the “issue du jour” such minutiae is supposed to have overwhelming merit and we’re all supposed to drop everything and be outraged. Once “fully transitioned” there is no issue. Until then, please “get overrrrr yourrrrrrselllf”, Candace baby.

  8. Sean Haggerty

    What about the rights of the other women? Don’t they have the right to not be forced to change in front of someone with a penis??

    This country has gone nuts!! (pun not intended)

  9. Angelina Vail-Bouros

    As a transgender woman and a MAC member I would love to use the women’s locker room and my reasons for not doing so remain the same – 1) I would feel quite awkward being there and still possessing ‘non-female’ genitalia, and 2) The women there WOULD be up in arms simply because they do not KNOW US nor do they know anything about being transgender and we can’t assume that they want to and we cannot force them to. We have rights and so do they. There MUST BE mutual respect on BOTH sides. We, as transwomen, have a right to exist and exercise our liberties but also must be respectful of others where such intimate issues arise. There is a unisex restroom available to whoever wants to use it. We must be mindful at ALL times that our desire to ‘fit in’ and live a normalized life is a primary want, need, and goal for transgender people and in order to do so we need to balance living the lives we were born to live and also taking societies feelings into consideration. There needs to remain and equal balance. As a transgender woman I feel it is my business and duty to inform and educate people where trans issues are concerned. Any one who thinks just one sided and with bias is no better than the haters and those that wish others not like them harm and annihilation. I want to live my life peacefully and in harmony. If I want to BE respected then I must GIVE respect… PERIOD….

    Candace is a person I respect, she served her country, and deserves respect. We ALL do. The bottom line is that ALL lives matter and we will ALL benefit from getting along, not having separation and disdain for each other….

  10. Helen

    I think this is about being educated on the topic and not being educated on the topic. Once thoroughly educated on what “transgender” means, then maybe women born women will feel better about this and not see Transpeople as being too different. I am educated, and therefore, have no issue on being in a locker/fitting room with any trans person. Whether they have had full surgery is meaningless to me because that is discrimination on some who might have not had the money for surgery. Think of it – have you ever heard of a perverted situation happen in the past involving a Trans person? I gather not and probably won’t be one going forward. But Trans people are part of the human population, they are imperfect people like the rest of us. You are more likely to win the lottery, then have a perverted/criminal act happen because of a trans person.

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