01 Feb 2023 World leisure: news, training & property
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Spa Business
2022 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Going gender neutral

Everyone's talking about

Going gender neutral

Many trans and non–binary people would love to visit a spa but report having concerns about the experience and the welcome. It’s time to go gender neutral, reports Kath Hudson

Therapists may need to only work on the back of the body if the client feels vulnerable about turning over shutterstock/Jacob Lund

The trans and non–binary population is a growing minority, as discrimination is rolled back and the world gradually becomes a safer place for people with gender dysmorphia when it comes to presenting themselves in accordance with how they feel.

Currently 40 per cent of trans people and 50 per cent of non–binary people adjust the way they dress because of fear of harassment or discrimination. Alarmingly, 85 per cent of trans people consider suicide and 41 per cent attempt it.

A world without prejudice, where people are accepted as being human, as opposed to being classified as a gender would impact these figures positively, saving and enriching lives.

Spas that set out to create safe and nurturing environments are a great place to start.

Some changes are easier to implement than others: adjusting built environments and creating new marketing campaigns can’t happen overnight. But imparting knowledge, inspiring teams and encouraging people to be more compassionate can bring about immediate change.

This can go a long way towards making people in the trans and non–binary community feel welcome.

We ask our experts for their insights...

Frances Reed
Freed Bodyworks Holistic Wellness Center

The population data is still catching up with the explosion of social awareness about gender identity, however it’s clear that a huge wave of non–binary individuals are going to be seeking wellness services over the next decade.

The best data we have currently estimates 11 per cent of LGBTQIA+ adults in the US – approximately 1.2 million people – identify as non–binary (Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law). Seventy six per cent of non–binary adults are aged between 18 and 29, and 89 per cent are from urban areas.

If we’re going to be ready to welcome non–binary clients into our spas, we need to start making some changes.

The barriers non–binary people experience in the spa industry are generally rooted in fear of ignorance, rejection, or discrimination from spa staff and therapists. It starts with the first interactions. Binary gender identification is generally required when booking, so non–binary customers are frequently deterred from a business immediately they engage with the website or reservations team.

Often staff or therapists register confusion when they meet non–binary people and this prevents them being able to relax. Ignorance in relation to language – such as pronouns, identity words, or non–legal names – is alienating. Spa owners need to ensure staff and therapists have basic training about gender.

A non–binary customer’s experience of a spa and their willingness to recommend it will be dramatically improved by the simple act of asking a person which pronouns they use and then using the correct language for the remainder of their visit.

Most non–binary people avoid spas altogether, because changing areas, lounges, and areas where services occur are often segregated into male and female. Offering gender neutral options and using garments that don’t indicate gender, would relieve stress for non–binary customers. If you do this, make this information available on your website to help these customers choose your spa over others.

Non–binary customers prefer to choose the gender of their therapists, rather than having that assigned based on visual assumptions. Finally, treatments and services should be available to all people, rather than being designated as ‘women’s services’ and ‘men’s services’.

Frances Reed is a massage therapist and owner of Freed Bodyworks. She’s also a business consultant in LGBTQIA+ issues and a transgender health educator

Binary gender identification is generally required when booking, so non–binary customers are often immediately deterred
Sam Marshall
Be Trans Aware

Alarge proportion of the LGBTQIA+ community feel spa environments are not for them, despite the fact many have the desire to go and would enjoy the benefits as much as anyone else.

Spa marketing is the first barrier. It tends not to be inclusive or diverse and is usually focused on heterosexual, good looking, slim, able–bodied couples.

The spa experience can also be full of disappointments and awkward situations for trans and non–binary people, including having to endure looks from other clients and personal questions from therapists.

To make this community feel welcome, it’s important to look at their whole journey, which could start with a phone call prior to the visit to discuss how the visit could be made more comfortable for them.

Offering a choice of therapists is welcomed by most spa clients, but it’s ideal if this can be done with a picture and a bio and, ideally, the option of a Trans Awareness-trained therapist.

This is especially the case as therapists will need to be prepared to modify treatments, for example to work around wigs and binders. They may also need to only work on the back of the body if the client feels vulnerable about turning over.

A gender neutral changing room and toilet would make the visit much less stressful for trans and non–binary people. However, many spa owners don’t believe this is an investment they have to make.

Others feel that they don’t want to upset their current clientele by welcoming non-binary customers. However, by taking this attitude they are insulting part of the population.

Sam Marshall co–founded Trans Awareness for Spas www.Betransaware.co.uk

Therapists need to be prepared to modify treatments – to work around wigs and binders and possibly only work on the back of the body
Keri Blue
Be Trans Aware

In a binary world it’s easy to feel left out if you identify as trans or non–binary. In the UK there’s not much data on the size of the market yet, as it wasn’t until the last census that people could state they were non–binary, but it’s believed to be between 1 and 2 per cent of the population. However, that’s only the people who are out – many aren’t, or don’t want to label themselves.

Non–binary and trans people have to risk-assess every outing, including the shops we go in and whether there are individual fitting rooms and toilets. Sometimes it can cause too much anxiety to do the things we would like to do.

The spa environment can create a lot of anxiety – concerns that we’ll get stared at, that other clients might complain about us, or that other customers might think we fancy them. We worry we might not feel pretty enough and therapists might ask us invasive questions, particularly about the person we used to be.

Being given a choice of therapist is important, because personally, if I’m going to take my clothes off and make myself vulnerable, I’d like to be with a female (cis- or transgender) or non–binary therapist, and I would also like the opportunity to have the treatment modified, for example having a towel over my front if I’m lying on my back.

Keri Blue is founder of Hair Has No Gender, a campaign fighting for gender equality in the hair industry, as well as co–founder of Trans Awareness for Spas

Spa environments can cause a lot of anxiety – concerns therapists might ask intrusive questions about who we used to be
Offering spa garments that don’t indicate gender may relieve stress / shutterstock/Jacob Lund
Lynne McNees

There’s been a welcome shift in the industry towards greater inclusivity for trans and non–binary guests in recent years, and ISPA is exploring opportunities to collect useful data about this through our various research initiatives.

In 2019, we hosted a well–received education session at our conference, entitled Serving transgender and non–binary clients with dignity, which highlighted best practice for inclusivity and educated guests about the challenges trans and non–binary guests face in the spa.

Since then, awareness and advocacy has increased and spa operators are more conscious than ever of the need to have inclusive practices for guests and staff.

Awareness and action are different things, but by increasing the visibility of these guests and having honest conversations about how we can do better as an industry, we can put ourselves in the best position to practice empathy and establish policies and protocols that allow all guests to feel welcome.

Last year, some of the ISPA team and board met with a trans spa professional and advocate who had worked within their spa to make inclusivity–focused improvements. One of the things that jumped out from listening to their story was the importance of emotional and psychological safety. This has to be established first and it starts with leadership. If inclusivity is clearly established as a value by leaders, creating change is easier.

Trans guests and staff often run into barriers to inclusion and may feel unsafe in bringing those barriers to others’ attention without support from leaders. The individual we spoke with felt supported by their team and was able to make meaningful progress in providing a changing area for trans and non–binary guests and offering employees multiple choices of uniform rather than only gendered options.

Language is also important. A step as simple as listing the preferred pronouns of staff or eliminating gendered language from job descriptions or guest communications can signal to trans and non–binary people that they are visible to the spa and that their needs are being considered.

Lynne McNees is president of ISPA which represents 3,200 wellness providers

When it comes to making inclusivity- focused improvements, we must be aware of the importance of emotional and psychological safety
Remove descriptions of male and female treatments from the spa menu / shutterstock/Jacob Lund
Tara Moore
Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort

When I attended the online Trans Awareness for Spa training I was amazed and saddened to hear the journey that trans people go through and the obstacles they face, and as an operator I feel we have to ensure everyone feels included, irrespective of their gender.

I looked at the situation from the point of view of a receptionist, therapist and manager and thought about how each role should deal with situations should they arise. What’s needed is an open and honest dialogue, making our staff and guests know we want to understand what they need and to look after non–binary people with the same level of mindfulness as any other guest.

So far we’ve made a number of small changes to our operations, including sending more staff on the Trans Awareness course and promoting staff awareness that our company ethos is to be inclusive to everyone. For example, sanitary bins have been added to the spa’s male changing areas and we aim to add them to the resort and staff areas. We’ve removed gender from our booking form and descriptions of ‘male’ and ‘female’ treatments from the menu.

Changes we know are needed include advertising on our website that we’re trans aware and everyone is welcome; providing training that’s specific to each role type; and introducing a changing area which is non binary. Although we’ve taken the first steps, I’m aware we have a long way to go. However, I’m delighted we’ve started this important journey.

Tara Moore is spa manager at the Galgorm Spa and Golf Resort

As an operator, I feel we have to ensure everyone feels included and welcome, irrespective of their gender
Going gender neutral
Our expert panel advise on how to get started

• Audit your pricelist to remove gendered pricing and offerings

• Use pronouns and Mx: put them on the booking form and confirm with people which pronouns they use at the outset

• Treat people as humans, not as their gender. Don’t ask personal questions

• Make sure there’s a trans/non–binary-friendly culture in your workplace

• Audit your marketing across all channels, so it’s inclusive and diverse, with images of people of different genders, sexual preference, race, disability and size

• Avoid gendered language such as ladies and gentlemen in all your communications

• Ensure your team members undertake Trans Awareness training

Some terminology

• Trans: presenting as a different gender identity to the sex assigned at birth.

• CIS: presenting as the same gender identity as the sex assigned at birth.

• Gender dysmorphia: when there is a mismatch between the gender someone feels and how they look.

• Non–binary: not identifying with birth gender, but doesn’t want to transition. This is not a third gender, non-binary people don’t conform to a binary world.

• AFAB: assigned female at birth.

• AMAB: assigned male at birth.

Businesses must treat people as human beings / shutterstock/John Arehart

Originally published in Spa Business 2022 issue 1

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