To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “A Feat of Hands: How to Succeed as a Male Massage Therapist,” by Karen Menehan, in the October 2010 issue. Article summary: There are definite gender biases in the massage profession, on the part of both potential clients and employers. Here, successful male massage therapists open up about how they deal with discrimination and rejection on a regular basis, and specific steps they’ve taken to persevere in their chosen career.

Geoff Walker, MASSAGE MagazineGeoff Walker graduated from Loftus College of Technical and Further Education in New South Wales Australia, which is where he currently practices. He has been a massage therapist since 1993.

Q: Have you been on the receiving end of discrimination or comments about your gender, in relation to massage therapy? If so, how did you handle those situations?

A: Yes. A female colleague called in sick a matter of an hour before she was scheduled to start. I attempted to call her first appointment for the day (an existing client of about four years, at the time), to let him know she was unable to treat him that day, but I was unable to reach him. Upon his arrival, I let him know that his massage therapist was unavailable due to illness, but I was able to treat him. With this, he turned around and left the clinic, without a word. He remains a client here, and has never spoken of the incident to me or his female massage therapist. I had no chance to say anything to the client before he left. Next time I saw him, I said, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ just as though it never happened.

Second, I teach at a college here in Australia, and with the specific beliefs and regulations that some religions have, there have been two occasions where I have been refused permission to demonstrate techniques, as a teacher, on students due to their chosen religion. The religion prohibits males from touching females of that particular religion. As such, my ability to teach, and my role as an educator, was stifled based on my gender.

I had been made aware of the students’ religious denomination; however, I felt I would have been exclusive, had I not afforded them the opportunity to have experienced the treatment technique. Each time, I simply moved on to the next student.

Third, two long-time female clients, both in their mid-50s, told me they were initially aghast at their first appointment to see that I was a male.

It was quite satisfying to know that being myself and doing what I do was enough to swing these women to change their preconceived ideas about male massage therapists.

Q: What needs to change in order for male massage therapists to be on equal footing with their female colleagues, in terms of public perception and employment opportunities?

A: We need to weed out the bad apples. I believe there is a perception that a male massage therapist has more potential to be sleazy than a female massage therapist.

Q: What advice can you provide male massage therapists, in terms of launching and marketing their practices?

A: First, do not listen to that crazy massage-business teacher you had who told you, “I’ve never advertised. if you’re a good therapist, people will find you.” It’s a crock. Advertise. By developing a marketing and business strategy, you immediately put yourself in better stead than 90 percent of massage therapists, male or female, who do not advertise nearly as much as they need to, to make a good living.

I believe this is even more critical for males. If you develop better marketing skills, better business skills and better communication strategies, you are perceived to be a business owner rather than just a therapist. This will increase your credibility and create a favorable public perception.

Next, when someone asks, “What do you do?” respond by saying, “I help people live pain-free” or “I take people on one-hour vacations.” Those types of responses intrigue people. If you instead simply say, “I’m a massage therapist,” that conjures up images in people’s minds. Telling people what you do, with a bit of imagination mixed in, allows you to help people paint a new, improved image.