Found in Translation: A Transgender Rights Primer for Massage Therapists & Spa Folk

I.

At age eighteen, I was an activist. I was a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood, and an active member of the local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). I womanned tables during The Vagina Monologues, attended punk rock feminist conferences across the country, marched on Washington, and Took Back the Night. I went to massage school, worked, and volunteered. This was what I did during my last decade in New York, and I loved it.

My dear friend Alicia and I, brides for equal marriage. Rochester Pride Parade, 2005. Photo by Davette Glover, http://zectaproductions.com. Used with permission.

My dear friend Alicia and I…brides for equal marriage! Rochester Pride Parade, 2005
Photo by Davette Glover, zectaproductions.com. Used with permission.

Then I moved from Rochester to Las Vegas. My NOW ladies encouraged me to remain active with the organization by way of the Vegas chapter. This didn’t happen, mainly because I looked for but didn’t find the level of community involvement and outreach that I had become accustomed to in Rochester. Besides, I was setting the foundation to begin a new life in a new city, and these things take time. I focused on meeting people, going back to school and working – and had become a slacktivist of the highest order, with a side of soul-sucking, conformist banality.

Things started to change in 2009, around the time of my non-traditional, Herve Leger bandage-dressed Vegas wedding (and you’ll notice I’m still—and always have been — a Lipomi, thank you very much). Convinced it was bullshit that a straight screw-up like myself could tie the knot while same sex couples were denied the right, my better half and I registered with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) instead of with Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Kwik-E-Mart, etc., so our wedding guests could make a donation for marriage equality in our names. We raised some cash, and avoided ending up with mismatched china and six toasters.

Now here I am, four years later — once again a student, and now a business owner – feeling the irresistible pull of community involvement. Thanks to the other activists (and just all-around inspirational people) I’ve met over the last year or so, the volunteerism fire in my soul has been stoked, and I’m ready to get out there and do unto others without collecting a fee once more.

 

II.

I like good people. I like it when good people fly in the face of convention and challenge the misguided status quo. I like it when good people are able to live their respective truths, and my heart breaks for people who can’t, for fear of violence, abuse and/or pain.

Recently, in chatting with a massage therapist friend over hot beverages, the topic of transgender massage therapy clients came up. My coffeemate pointed out that it’s tough for trans clients to find service providers they can trust. I thought back to the multiple instances during my years in the spa industry when a co-worker would burst into the employee break room and shout “I think there’s a he-she in the relaxation lounge!”, or a receptionist would yell “Did a he-she come in today? Because I couldn’t tell if they were a man or woman on the phone, and I said ‘sir’, and then they said they were female! WTF?”, or any number of equally ignorant-sounding vomitisms. It turns out this petty stuff is just the tip of the iceberg, with the more substantial, submerged portion of the ‘berg being something I hadn’t given too much thought to until this coffee convo took place.

Some things* I’ve recently become aware of:

  • Transgender rights can vary greatly from state to state, so you really ought to look into your state’s laws regarding gender identity and discrimination. You can do that here. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Nevada is among the more enlightened states located in America the Beautiful.
  • In Nevada (and several other states), it’s illegal to deny trans folks access to “public accommodations”. A driver’s license that lists someone’s sex as “male” does not necessarily mean they MUST use the men’s restroom, locker room, changing room or spa, if they identify as female. If someone identifies as female, for chrissakes, they should be allowed to use the women’s facilities.
  • Different states have different requirements for changing the sex field on a state-issued ID, like a driver’s license. You can read more about that here.
  • Spas have been reported and/or sued after denying trans customers access to gender-specific facilities. Here’s a story about a spa in Virginia, and here’s one about a spa in the Chicago area.
  • Ignorance of transgender and genderqueer issues in the workplace reeks of hospitality failure. Will “sensitivity training” (barf) on LGBTQ issues ever be a part of employee orientation curriculum in the mainstream workplace? I’m thinking it’s time.

I could go on and on about society’s related gender issues — centered around a collective fear of feminism, aggro females, sensi males, penises, and nudity in general – but I won’t, because there’s a short-blog-post soapbox right here with my name on it, and I only have two feet. <3

(Many thanks to the intelligent, talented, wonderful people who helped me with this piece. You know who you are.)

*Keep in mind, I’m not an attorney. Antidiscrimination laws change all the time, so do yourself a favor and do your own research specific to your own situation.

***

Andrea Lipomi is a licensed massage therapist and esthetician who lives and works in Las Vegas, Nevada. She also peddles massage therapy ebooks and NCBTMB-approved continuing education courses at ConfidentMassage.com, will travel hundreds of miles for a fantastic spa experience, and craves dark chocolate and Depeche Mode’s upcoming tour dates on an almost daily basis.