Massage is for every body, including members of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Recently, a potential client reached out to me via the Aaron Harris CMT Facebook page. Her question was quite simple, but stopped me in my tracks.
“Would you mind working on me after I get my top surgery?” she asked.
I quickly responded, “I’d be happy to!”
She continued, “Are you sure that you know what that means? I’ve spoken with several therapists who told me that they would not be comfortable with it.”
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that this brought tears to my eyes.
Most people picture massage therapists as a bunch of ‘yoga-practicing hippies’ into ‘chakras, auras, and the energy of the Universe.’ And while that stereotype definitely has some hints of truth to it, we are humans who are prone to the same prejudices, religious beliefs, and ignorance as any other.
And this simple conversation had just opened my eyes to an ignorance of my own.
I came out as gay when I was 21 years old. While I grew up in a conservative and religious family, I was blessed with parents who learned to accept my reality. Countless friends were not as fortunate.
I have marched in Pride parades in many cities, including Nashville, Kansas City, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland. Many of my friends and mentors died during the AIDS epidemic of the late 80s and 90s. My partner and I have been together since 2014. I started my private massage practice running a free massage clinic for patients with HIV.
To say I have been immersed in the LGBTQIA+ community for most of my life is not an understatement.
And yet, the anxiety, fear of rejection, and discrimination suffered by the transgendered community when it comes to self care had not occurred to me.
Sure, I have sought out physicians who are either gay, or at least gay friendly for my own health care. But as a cis-gendered white male who uses He/Him pronouns, the fact that there are massage therapists who would not “feel comfortable” treating a trans client never came to mind.
Now that I’m back in my hometown of Kansas City, in the heart of the “Bible Belt,” I know that I have to be a bit more careful and vigilant when out in public.
The city has changed a lot in the nearly 25 years that I lived in California, but it still has tons of room for growth in the area of tolerance and acceptance.
Clearly, the massage profession has room to grow as well.
Inclusion Without Misrepresentation
After I assured this potential client that my massage practice is inclusive, I started navigating the sea of acronyms to brush up on current LGBTQIA+ terminology and how to best reach out to the underserved community.
I consulted with several friends who identify as something “other” on the gender spectrum. I’m at an age where several of my friends have transgendered children ranging in age from 8 – 30, so I reached out to them as well.
It became apparent that there is a thin line between “being an ally” and “pandering.”
It’s also important to make a clear distinction between being inclusive and misrepresenting myself as a part of a sub-community to which I don’t belong.
In other words, I want to let my clients and potential clients know that mine is a safe, judgment-free, hate-free massage practice without leading anyone to believe that I am trans myself. I’m not worried about what others may think about my masculinity or lack thereof. I worry about causing confusion or offense to someone who is in the transgendered community.
Side Note: I am keenly aware that the intake form that new clients receive when setting up their first appointment with me only has three choices for gender: “male,” “female,” and “not specified.” I have sent a request to MassageBook to update this field to be more inclusive and hope to receive a response soon.
It’s Not About Sex
I have plenty of heterosexual clients. I suspect that I have plenty of clients who would rather not know about my orientation or are downright hostile about it. Though, honestly, I have had years of practice at sniffing out homophobia and have no trouble firing a client who reeks of it.
All of this droning on about the LGBTQIA+ community and how it relates to massage has nothing whatsoever to do with sex or who is having it with whom. And as I have had to repeat many, many times: Massage Therapy is not sex work.
This droning on is about the very real and specific needs that a member of this community has. Needs that include:
- Emotional and Spiritual
- Body Dysmorphia
- Fear of/Lack of Intimacy
- Feelings of Shame/Unworthiness
- Post-Surgical Lymphatic Drainage
- Post-Surgical Scar Intervention
- Traumatic Injury Rehabilitation
- Stress Relief
These are all issues for which massage therapy has been repeatedly demonstrated as an effective treatment.
It’s past time for massage professionals to open their practices to the LGBTQIA+ tribe.
So if you have found this article while googling “trans friendly massage” or “gay massage therapist” or whatever terms brought you here, welcome. I hope you find my massage practice to be a safe environment to receive treatment.
I look forward to working with you.
The LGBTQIA Resource Center at UC Davis is a fantastic site for educating yourself on common terminology and ways to get involved in the community.
The Trevor Project is non-profit organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQIA+ youth, specifically targeting suicide prevention. They have an excellent Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth.