in Southeast Practices Radical Inclusion
No one can deny that Freed Bodyworks is, as owner Frances Reed boasts, “not your mama’s massage studio.” A silver sculpture of octopus tentacles with exposed genitalia, crafted by Reed’s own visibly muscular hands, greets guests in the reception area. The standard intake form asks for the client’s preferred gender pronoun. Reed—who uses the pronoun “they”—hands out business cards sporting the flags of the trans, gay and leather communities.
“There are a lot of holistic, accepting practitioners out there. But what I do, I call radical inclusion,” says Reed (center, above). “Everything from my website to my business cards says it loudly: You belong here.”
Reed opened their new studio on Pennsylvania Avenue SE on August 1 after two years of practicing out of their home, and plans for further expansion are underway. Two treatment rooms will soon become four, and two new therapists are set to start onsite this month. All Freed Bodyworks practitioners are committed to serving people with bodies, genders or lifestyles that don’t conform to the norms or beauty myths that power the mainstream spa industry. According to Reed, most of their clients don’t identify as members of a community of difference, but they bring their business to Freed Bodyworks to support its mission.
A person who uses a chest binder or sustains an injury during S&M play might shy away from a traditional massage studio for fear of judgment or the exhausting prospect of having to school her vanilla practitioner on why, as a sub, she can’t take off her collar. One of Reed’s clients, who had a spanking habit that gave him shoulder troubles, quipped that at another studio, he would have had to pretend he was a tennis player. “It’s so easy for an expert to disempower an otherwise empowered person with just one comment or question,” Reed says.
The open communication that Reed fosters can have real health benefits for their clients. Binders can cause breathing limitations—even when they’re off the body—by compressing the ribs. High heels (which could be a touchy topic for male-presenting clients) affect the knees and lower back. To give all body types a safe and comfortable place to relax, Reed’s massage tables expand with bolsters. “We do it because we’re fat-positive,” they say. “It’s a tiny detail that makes a big difference.”
“I Burned Out Epically.”
Massage therapy wasn’t Reed’s first idea of a dream job. “I always said I could put myself through grad school by doing massage,” they say. They’d always loved communicating with people through touch and working with their hands as a sculptor. Then, after earning an undergraduate degree from Smith College and working as a professional anti-poverty activist, Reed says, “I burned out epically. It killed me.” They began to wonder why they’d always considered massage a means to an end instead of a bona fide career goal.
Reed enrolled in a two-year program at Potomac Massage Training Institute and opened their home studio four days after their graduation.
During their first year in business, Reed decided to forgo conventional paid advertisements. Instead, they donated gift certificates to auctions and galas that benefited queer community organizations, generating a steady stream of customers through word of mouth. Reed’s partner, Jessica Von Dyke, runs The Garden, a local feminist sex education and toy shop that shares much of its clientele with Freed Bodyworks, and a slew of stellar Yelp reviews have helped keep the new studio buzzing since its opening.
Support for Activists
With the soothing pale blue paint barely dry on their Pennsylvania Avenue location, Reed is already thinking about what's next. They hope to bring in specialists for bodywork practices like acupuncture and give free community workshops on self-massage and friend massage for those who might not be able to afford a professional one. “I’d love to open one more branch, in Baltimore, and have the two studios be a synergistic nexus for queer organizing,” they say.
Reed says they get as much relaxation out of giving massages as their clients do on the table. They see themselves as a caregiver, providing valuable support for folks who pour their whole selves into work that betters the world. And they’re not just talk: Full-time activists in the LGBTQ realm get a discount on Reed’s services. “Self-care helps you know what you can take, what you can offer, and what you have to reserve for yourself,” they say. “The feeling that they don’t get to be healthy takes down a lot of great activists.”
When Christina isn't writing for WTGG, she's assassinating dance floors in purple high-tops, causing bike accidents, taming the wilderness, practicing her beatboxing and begging Erykah Badu to cast her in a music video. A big, 90's-inspired ball of sass, Christina's greatest mission - driven by a dilettante interest in science - is to try everything once (maybe twice) and find out how the world works. She's the queirdest girl you know.