As massage therapists, much of our job requires us to be attentive to the needs of our clients, enter into our sessions free from judgement, and create a healing space for people to be authentically themselves.
If we’re truly paying attention to what’s happening outside those massage room doors, though, we see that equality and justice are not guaranteed for the LGBTQ community, that many are still being judged based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that far too many are simply not able to live openly.
As massage therapists, we can and should strive to create a safer and healthier world for our LGBTQ clients, even after their appointment is over. After all: how many times have you offered “homework” to a client to help them benefit from their massage as long as possible? Now imagine if that client didn’t have to walk out your doors into a hostile world, but was fully embraced as the beautiful human they are.
Can you say “stress relief?”
The Fight for Pride
More than 50 years ago, LGBTQ people—led by transgender women of color—fought for their rights in at The Stonewall Inn in New York City. Beginning on June 28, 1969, the uprising continued to grow over the course of five nights, and an international movement for LGBTQ equality was born.
Today, marriage equality is the law of the land, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal, and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has been rightfully repealed, allowing gay Americans to serve openly and without fear of being dishonorably discharged from the military.
June is Pride Month, and there is much to celebrate. The forward progress the LGBTQ community has achieved wouldn’t be possible were it not for courageous people like Marsha P Johnson, a Black transgender woman who played a prominent role in those riots, and the countless LGBTQ people who have continued this work today.
Three Steps Backward
Yet, 2021 has seen more anti-LGBTQ legislation pass in state legislatures than any year in American history. More than 30 states have passed or proposed over 100 bills this year that discriminate against the most vulnerable group in the LGBTQ rainbow: transgender children. Several of these bills have already been signed into law, stripping trans kids from their ability to play on sports teams with their friends or even access gender-affirming (and in many cases, life-saving) health care.
Even bills that haven’t passed have done damage, too. Calls to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention hotline for LGBTQ youth, dramatically increase when these bills are being debated, and transgender children like 10-year-old Kai Shappley have received death threats for speaking up.
While trans youth (and their loving families) were fighting for their lives in state houses everywhere, many businesses stayed largely silent. Rather than engaging with lawmakers in states where anti-trans legislation was pending, signing on to amicus briefs in support of lawsuits meant to overturn these inhumane bills, or even just writing press releases showing public support for LGBTQ people, many of these corporations were instead focusing their energy on Pride month: How they would redesign their company logo to be more rainbowy, or how to sell the best Pride swag to the most people as possible.
The level of corporate engagement required to stop these bills was minimal and shameful, their deafening silence now camouflaged by their decked-out lobbies and Pride-inspired window displays.
Being an ally is a verb, and requires work year-round—not just in June when it’s cute and profitable.
Contribute to a Healthier World for All
Whether you are a solo massage practitioner or an employee in a large, corporate spa, all of us can do something to make a healthier and safer world—for everyone—possible:
• Include a space for clients to specify their pronouns on your intake forms. Don’t assume someone’s pronouns, and make a habit of introducing yourself with your pronouns as well. Document your clients’ pronouns so your colleagues know how best to address them, too. Wearing a pin or button with your pronouns on it is another way to signal your allyship, while also normalizing pronoun introductions.
• Consider changing your signs on single-stall bathrooms. Do you really need one for men and one for women if there’s just one toilet in there? Some places go a step further and remove the men and women signs altogether, and instead install one sign that says urinals and one that says toilets. After all, people don’t need their gender to pee—they just need the right plumbing.
• If you work for a company that includes health insurance, advocate for your transgender colleagues so they are equally covered. If cisgender (that is “not-transgender”) employees have access to hormone therapy for conditions like menopause or hypogonadism, then transgender people should also have access to these medically prescribed treatments as well. Anything less is discrimination, plain and simple.
• Start (or join) an employee resource group at your company. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups and are found in over 90% of Fortune 500 companies because they bring marginalized voices to the forefront, highlight the diversity of the team, help companies identify ways they can better reach specific demographics among their employees and customers, and foster a more inclusive workplace. If your company doesn’t have an employee resource group yet, approach your human resources department and find a way to create one at your office or spa.
• As an individual or as a business owner, make sure you regularly call your elected officials to voice your opposition to bills that discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and support bills that further equality. Remember: They work for you, not the other way around—so let them know what you think. Whether you work for a large or small business, encourage the owner to write press releases that push back against anti-LGBTQ legislation. After all, if legislators won’t listen to their constituents, they almost always listen to money.
• Make sure your business isn’t donating to organizations or politicians that promote inequality. If they are, challenge them to discontinue that harmful practice, and put their money behind causes that foster equality instead.
Incorporating these acts into your daily practice doesn’t require you to hyper-politicize your massage studio, and with the exception of maybe some new bathroom signs and charitable giving to pro-equality advocacy groups, doesn’t even require a lot of money to do.
Hanging up a rainbow flag during Pride month is certainly a nice gesture that indicates your support of the LGBTQ community, but doesn’t do anything to further the rights of your LGBTQ clients, whose basic humanity should matter more to us year round than their money does in June.
“When it comes time for Pride Month, I think we all have to be particularly discerning because it’s very clear that companies are willing to leverage our likeness, leverage our magic, but then not show up when it comes time to making sure states don’t take away our material opportunities for survival.” reflects Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney and a transgender man himself.
Do The Work
Show your Pride! Hang that flag up and paint your windows with rainbows! There is so much to celebrate and be proud of! But simply displaying symbols of support without doing the work to further the fight for equality isn’t good enough.
This month, and every month, be critical of the effortless rainbow-washing seen in storefronts and commercials everywhere, and instead embrace active allyship that requires actual work, goes further, means more, and makes a lasting difference in the lives of our LGBTQ loved ones.
About the Author:
Amber Briggle (she/her) is a massage therapist and the owner of Soma Massage Therapy in Denton, Texas. She is also the mother of two, including a transgender child. Briggle volunteers with the Human Rights Campaign and with the League of Women Voters of Texas. She wrote “LGBTQ People Need Massage Too: 4 Ways to Welcome a Diverse Clientele.”