The case of Body Blitz Spa in Toronto reportedly denying access to a trans woman is a good reminder that laws don't necessarily shift public opinion. And the lingering, fallacious opinion among many seems to be that trans women, somehow, pose a threat to other women.
The Ontario Human Rights Code explicitly forbids discrimination based on gender identity and expression. But nevertheless, women-only Body Blitz Spa turned away a patron because she wasn't born female, according to her wife. The provision on gender identity and expression has been on the books since 2012, but five years later we're still hearing cases of transphobia and discrimination in bus stations, dressing rooms and, yes, in spas.
There has been progress in some areas; the YMCA, for example, has had trans-inclusive policies for years. But such facilities are still in the minority, and indeed, the case of Body Blitz shows that the societal shift to acceptance is still very much in its infancy.
'We are not like other facilities'
The spa issued a statement in response to the controversy, noting that as "a single-sex facility with full-nudity, we are not like other facilities." It added: "We recognize that this is an important discussion for single-sex facilities to have and we will seek to find a satisfactory resolution."
Some observers are of the opinion that that "satisfactory resolution" should be to continue to deny access to trans women. They note that some cis women — that is, women who were assigned female at birth, who identify as female — can be triggered by the sight of male genitalia; that the presence of trans women will compromise their safe spaces.
This view ignores the fact that trans women are still women. To view them as dangerous or intimidating because of their bodies is to reduce them to little more than their genitals. It is to blame them for violence perpetrated by males.
Trans women are actually way more likely to be the victims of violence, rather than the perpetrators. A 2005 study, for example, found that 50 per cent of transgender women had experienced intimate partner violence in their lives. Trans women are also more likely to stay with abusive partners than are cis women, since discrimination leaves many trans women in poverty, unemployed and disconnected from community and family.
It is often because trans women are so often the victims of male violence that we, too, seek the comfort and safety of women-only spaces. We crave that community and sisterhood, like most women do. That's why we feel doubly victimized when we are shamed and shunned, excluded from women-only spaces because of how we look. The idea that we would suddenly be accepted if we underwent surgery to effectively "pass" as a cis woman is offensive and transphobic.
Shifting the blame
The consequences go beyond just hurt feelings: denying trans women access to spaces for women can be incredibly isolating, perpetuating the mental health struggles that plague members of the trans community. It also does nothing to fix the problem of male violence; it just shifts the blame onto trans women, and makes them suffer the consequences.
Safe spaces for women should be for all women. Period. We will not resolve issues of male violence by banning trans women from certain facilities or communities, and it will just make the lives of trans women worse. The law already recognizes that. The rest of society needs to catch up.
To read a column making the opposite argument, click here.