“Trans folks deserve places to be fully seen and affirmed in mind, body, and spirit. In fact, it is vital. My goal is to create and hold as much space for that as I can.” - J Sheffield, LMT
This week is Transgender Awareness Week. It’s that special week of the year when we are supposed to give special attention to the unique needs of transgender people. Of course, at Freed Bodyworks we foster this awareness every week of the year.
Our mission as a business drives us to make intentionally-safer space for people of gender non-conforming identities inside our walls and to do all we can to focus the spotlight on transgender health challenges outside our walls. We’re proud to be raising the awareness about transgender healthcare challenges through an article in this month’s Washingtonian magazine, and to build on that awareness with posts like this one.
For us, this is personal. As bodyworkers with our own complex constructions of gender, we’ve each had the personal experience of having our gender ignored, negated or insulted by someone we were relying on for care. We’ve had to defensively explain ourselves and our bodies too many times, providing trans-101 lessons to the very folks who are supposed to be providing for us. We create space where people of all genders are not only seen, but competently cared for without the labor of having to educate or discuss personal information with a provider.
“The world is hard and cruel to people who dare to live outside the cis-normative binary,” explains Vanessa Crowley, who is a trans woman and a massage therapist at Freed. “If even for a moment I can help my client feel safe and secure or a little more at home in a body that has too often felt like a war zone, I feel that I have done something important.”
“I have absolutely experienced discomfort in getting body work,” Vanessa continues. “For years I avoided even getting work done because I couldn’t trust that the practitioner would respect me... I would steel myself and hope for the best. The clearest experience that my trans-identified clients share is a visible sigh of relief when they see me. There is an automatic sense of ease that I will respect their entire being. It is amazing what both my clients and I can cover in a session when we don’t spend whole time covering the basics.”
“I have not sought out bodywork with anyone I didn't already know was trans-affirming…. The discomfort of not being seen and respected on the table is not worth enduring to obtain any other benefit,” says J Sheffield, a trans and non-binary massage therapist who recently joined the Freed team. “Going through [massage] school was a painful experience that required non-stop education of both peers and instructors on how to talk about my and other people's bodies in affirming ways.”
“Holding space for someone who is coming to me specifically because they are also trans and feel safe and comfortable with me is one of the main reasons I entered this work,” they add.
This body-affirming, identity-empowering model is woven deeply into everything that Freed Bodyworks does. We know that being affirming practitioners isn’t enough, we have to create an environment where it is clear who we are and what we stand for.
As a transgender massage therapist, I draw every day from my own experiences seeking affirming care--I understand the lump-in-the-throat feeling when a client is coming out to me about their gender. I want my clients, who are taking that enormous risk, to have as many indications from me that they are safe and seen before they ever open their mouth.
Since founding Freed Bodyworks 6 years ago, I have contended that acceptance has to be clear from a mile away or most trans people simply won’t take that risk. That’s why our slogan, “There is no wrong way to have a body,” is on t-shirts and stickers in the lobby. It’s why the bathroom doors say, “No Assumptions. No Gender Roles. Just Toilets.” And it’s why every Freed Bodyworks business card sports a transgender flag, among other identity-affirming icons.
In addition to our slogans and gender-diverse practitioners, the therapeutic experience is intentionally constructed to explicitly welcome people of all genders. Our intake paperwork includes questions about pronoun usage, preferred names, personal identity concerns, and the impact of binders or shaping garments. Across modalities we do trauma-informed work, understanding that most of our trans clients carry the burdens of trauma in their bodies, minds, and spirits. We meet people where they are, without judgement.
Culturally-competent care can be excellently provided by cisgender practitioners--we work with 16 cisgender folks at Freed Bodyworks who are steadfastly dedicated to offering radically-inclusive services--but for the 6 of us who identify as trans, multi-gender, or gender non-conforming, being able to offer the solidarity of our personal journeys gives us unique empathy from which to support others wherever they are, on whatever gender spectrum.
Certified Healing Touch Practitioner Ren Maniaci says, “As someone who identifies as genderqueer and gets [misgendered] almost exclusively in the outer world, I identify in many ways with my trans clients, and it pleases and humbles me to be able to assist folks in feeling more comfortable in their bodies.”
We know too that our presence in healing spaces, as both practitioners and clients, is in and of itself radical. Many of us approach this work as an extension of our activism in that way, an intimate piece of a grander scope of our work to make wellness more accessible and bring awareness to trans, non-binary, multi-gender, and queer people and communities and their rights and needs.
Genderqueer massage therapist, writer, and activist, Miriam Pérez says that their work as a massage therapist “is a compliment to the many other types of [justice] work I’ve done…. I’ve focused on the ways in which race and gender shape our bodies and our world, and in bodywork I get to interface with those things on an individual level.”
It can be difficult for non-cis folks to build the trust it takes to get on a massage table, and it can be radical for us to seek care. “For this reason,” says Vanessa, “I end every session with ‘Thank you for trusting me with your body.’"
We see you. We're here for you. Thank you for trusting us with your body.