LGBTQ People Need Massage Too: 4 Ways To Welcome

When my oldest child, Max, was in the first grade, I opened up my massage parlour, Soma.

After one year, my workload had increased by a factor of two due to the fact that we had nearly doubled both our personnel and our clientele. After realising that it would be difficult to get Max up from school on time, I asked a friend if she would mind dropping him off at my workplace each day.

For months, I watched as my kid would run inside, almost fall down the hall, whiz right past the women’s bathroom (even though it was closer), and then slam the door to the men’s room when he finally got the chance to use the restroom. She was always delighted to assist out. Hours later, he’d come out, have a food from the break room, and sit in the lobby to colour and tell me about his day until it was time to go home.

Normally this wouldn’t raise eyebrows, but back then I was under the impression that I was a father to a daughter.

Ever since he was 2 years old, my son had been trying to convince me that he was a male, but I either didn’t hear him or chose to ignore him. After years of avoiding the talk I knew we needed to have because I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear his reality, I eventually had it after witnessing this painful and worrying toilet ritual every day after school.

But then he told me something that altered the course of events forever: he had avoided using the school restrooms because he was embarrassed to use the girls’ facilities. Others would tell him he was in the wrong place when he tried to use the boys’ room. His solution? He held it in rather than upset the others.

But suppressing it all day had serious consequences for his well-being, outlook, and mood as well as his academic performance. I can’t even begin to fathom what it would be like to spend an entire school day worrying more about where your bladder was than where your pencil was. It hurt me deeply, and I began to reflect on the many other instances I hadn’t been there for him at home, school, and work, where I strive to make everyone, including my son, feel welcome.

Also Read: Diversity In Massage Therapy

Not long after our “coming out” session, I began implementing some adjustments at work to reflect my identity and values better. Not only do we proudly display a rainbow sticker in our window, but we have also made significant adjustments to our company model to reflect our values better and demonstrate our dedication to equality.

It is our job as therapists, whether we work in a massage studio as employees or as the owner of a major corporate spa, to make our clients feel comfortable and at ease even before they make an appointment.

Here are four crucial steps you can take to open your business to a more diverse audience and demonstrate your support for the LGBTQ community.

1. Swap out the labels on the stall doors. It seems obvious, yet this was one of the first things I did after my son was born. In any case, the restrooms in my workplace were each only a single stall. When the facilities for both sexes were equally serviceable, there was no reason to divide them into separate “Men’s” and “Women’s” areas. After some research, I decided that the straightforward “All Gender Restroom” signs were more respectful than the more whimsical ones showing “Man / Woman / Centaur (or Alien or Mermaid)”; the latter are meant to be funny, but (un)intentionally make fun of nonbinary people as if they were some sort of mythical creatures found only in people’s imaginations.

As soon as I changed the “Women” signs to “Bathroom” ones, I noticed that my son or daughter started utilising the formerly “Women’s” restroom. As an added bonus, it is larger and slightly nicer than its predecessor and is also conveniently located. Changing the sign was all it took to make him feel welcome, and I’ve had similar feedback from other customers.

“These restrooms have a LOT of space!” What Cal* told me. The speaker was a transgender man who recalled having to go out of his way to find a business that had a single bathroom when he was first transitioning. The presence of gender-neutral facilities, along with appropriate signage, sends a strong message that people of all identities and orientations are welcome at Soma.

Even though Cal’s wife has been a regular customer for years, he still has a hard time scheduling massages for himself.

Since “we so often neglect our health and self-care owing to being self-conscious about appearances, being judged, or just uneasy and uncomfortable about ourselves in general,” Cal added. Having a place of business like Soma that accepts my transgender friends for medical care means the world to me.

Maggie*, an administrative assistant in her forties who suffers from migraines and finds relief through massage, stated, “I knew I wanted to try Soma Massage before I even had my first appointment there because of their reputation for being welcoming.”

Maggie continued, “Then, on my first visit, when I saw the bathroom signs, I knew it was the place for me.” Although I identify as female, I do not correspond to the socially constructed ideal of what a woman “should” be like. Consequently, there are instances when I feel especially exposed when I have to use a restroom that is specifically designated for one gender over another. She continued, “Even if it’s only a note on the restroom door, it makes me feel more at ease, and that’s crucial in massage!”

Also Read: Massage Career Success For Independent Practitioner

If your business prefers to keep a single-gender restroom but your bathrooms have more than one stall, you may want to post a sign near the door explaining that customers can use the restroom of their choice (and asking everyone else to mind their own business), and that a single-stall restroom that is not associated with either gender is located down the hall. (Because sometimes even cisgender people want to be left alone.)

To further this point, please watch your language. Where I work and live in Texas, Sir and Ma’am are traditional terms of address. However, if a transgender or nonbinary person is misgendered, it may be a source of distress and a sign of contempt. Try not to use these terms when talking to someone over the phone (or ever, really), as their voice or appearance may not conform to the norms of our culture on what is considered masculine or feminine.

Use “Yes, of course” in place of “Yes, Sir.” Just say “Have a good day” without the ma’am. After all, you can’t assume anything about someone else’s preferred pronoun usage or gender. The massage profession is designed to be inclusive, therefore assuming a person’s gender based on their appearance has no place there.

What do the pronouns look like on your patient intake paperwork, if any? There seems to be only two options: male and female. Are you making this a mandatory entry on your web forms? If so, why? A person’s gender is irrelevant while trying to ease tension in the scalenes, heat those stones, or tweak the facial cradle, so why bother asking?

If it’s now a compulsory field, find a method to eliminate it totally, make it optional, or give more options for people to fill in. Answers such as “prefer not to answer,” “nonbinary,” and “genderqueer” are also welcome.

Angie*, a transgender woman who started her sessions here approximately 18 months ago, has a deep voice and feels angry when others get her pronouns incorrect, even when it’s inadvertent.

“When I’m calling to arrange an appointment and someone calls me ‘sir,’ it feels incredibly strange. I know my voice is deep, but that doesn’t imply I’m a man — I’m a transsexual woman,” she remarked. One client explained, “Massage is a very sensitive activity to partake in, and a word like sir may really make me feel exposed and uncomfortable, and makes me not want to come back as often as I’d want because I’m concerned someone would misgender me.”

One final word concerning pronouns: I make sure to include mine at the end of my email signature. One method to normalise pronouns and show clients of all gender identities that we are a welcoming and inclusive studio is to use the title “Amber Briggle, LMT — she/her/hers.”

Third, promote diversity and inclusion in your online content and marketing. Not too long ago (within the past few months), I realised that I had used cis-normative terminology on our website. While going over our list of modalities, I saw that the section on prenatal massage utilised language like “benefits both mother and child” and “pregnant women,” despite the reality that transgender men and nonbinary people can also get pregnant.

Changing “parent and kid” and “pregnant clients” to “parents and children” and “clients expecting a child” represents our inclusive goal and sends a clear message that we care about all of our clients, regardless of their assigned gender at birth.

Avoid using heteronormative language like “his and hers” if you advertise your services as suitable for couples. For same-sex couples in particular, a spa that advertises a eucalyptus scrub “for him” and a lavender scrub “for her” is not a very welcoming proposition. Besides, many ladies would rather have an other fragrance alternative than lavender, so why not offer them that?

The fourth rule is to put words into action. In order to bring about long-lasting change in our communities, it is essential to increase LGBTQ visibility. Being close to someone who identifies as gay, trans, non-binary, pansexual, or queer forces us to examine our own biases and the way we interact with members of the LGBTQ community.

That’s why I think it’s crucial for LGBTQ-friendly businesses to support local LGBTQ groups like PFLAG chapters and other queer-focused support/network groups, and to participate in local Pride celebrations. (No Pride celebrations in your area? Get involved in planning one! People will show up, I promise you that. All members of the community will reap the rewards of your investment of time and money into these groups if they are able to raise their profiles and expand their services.

And make sure your company, no matter how big or little, provides transgender employees with the same advantages and opportunities as cisgender employees.

Unfortunately, my company is too tiny to offer health insurance to our team of independent contractors, but I do my best to ensure that all of our therapists are treated fairly with respect to vacation time, bonuses, and pay increases.

Check the fine print to see if surgery and hormone therapy are covered for transgender employees if you’re lucky enough to work at a spa that offers health insurance. Because, surprise, surprise, cisgender people also require hormones and surgeries, and if only some employees are permitted these medically required procedures, that constitutes discrimination.

Assistance for All Customers

Care for others and accept clients just as they are is part of the massage therapist’s job description. The privilege of working with clients in such close quarters requires constant reevaluation in order to ensure their physical and emotional security at all times.

Taking the time to ensure that your website, terminology, and professional reputation in- and outside of your studio reflect this will go a long way toward making your clients feel more supported before they ever pick up the phone to book their first appointment, and throughout their time with you.

Anna Smiths

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