Before you read this article I’d like to discuss my own definitions of different terms so we can be on the same page when talking about very large and fluid topics.
Transgender– A person who identifies with a gender that was not assigned to them at birth.
Gender-Nonconforming (GNC)– A person who doesn’t conform to a singular stereotypical gender role (either masculine or feminine). This could mean that an individual fluctuates between genders as they please – they don’t identify with either masculine or feminine, or they have their own sense and mixture of gender traits.
Gender Dysphoria- The feeling that one’s body does not align with how they perceive their own gender identity. Similar to body dysphoria, this feeling can cause anxiety, stress, depression, and negative perceptions of one’s self. The key distinction here though, is that gender dysphoria incorporates one’s gender identity and how biological hormones have affected the body in ways that are nearly impossible to correct without medical intervention.
Have you ever had cold-feet about going to a gym before? How about comparing yourself to everyone around you, worrying if you’re good enough to be there? When you look around the room, do you wonder if there are other people like you there? Do you feel scrutinized about how you look, how your form is, or if you’re doing something correctly?
Many folks who identify as Transgender/Gender Nonconforming (T/GNC) feel additional negative emotions when trying to access fitness resources. Think about it, a gym is a very intimate place to get in touch with one’s body. For someone of the T/GNC community, engaging with the body can be a really difficult time, especially if folks are not at a place in their transition where they feel secure and confident in who they are. When you pair these anxious feelings with implied social pressure of comparing yourself to everyone else (because we all say we shouldn’t, but sometimes we do and that’s okay!), and you get the perfect storm of self-doubt and fear.
Some T/GNC individuals are on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) which is a process where someone takes hormones (testosterone or estrogen) to develop characteristics of their desired gender identity. HRT can affect one’s body in terms of: fat production, muscle development, fat distribution, metabolism, weight gain, acne, and mood swings – resembling puberty at times. Very few fitness studios take this into account, failing to create fitness programming that properly addresses the specific needs of the T/GNC community.
Additionally, many people who identify as T/GNC have gender dysphoria. Think about having body parts that don’t belong to you. Most people wish they could change something about their body; but, for many members of the T/GNC community, this severe need for change affects their mental health and ability to feel confident and safe. As you exercise and are forced to think about each part of your body, what’s moving, what’s moving a little too much, what’s not moving at all, you become very aware of the things that you are not comfortable with. This can trigger a sense of dysphoria within T/GNC individuals which may cause feelings of anxiety, anger, self-hate, insecurity, or fear.
Because of these unique experiences, I believe, as a gym owner, we should consciously make efforts to create a space where T/GNC individuals feel comfortable and safe as they work out. Here are some ways I think gyms/fitness studios can be made more accessible:
1. Explicitly state that you are inclusive of the T/GNC community.
It sounds simple, but when you state that you are inclusive of T/GNC individuals, it goes a long way. This transparent communication can make people feel supported and protected. It shows that you have integrity and people from the community will be more likely to engage with your gym because of it. This declaration creates an open line of communication for the T/GNC community to ask questions and engage with your services. I believe people would be more likely to enter your gym space because they already know that your business is catering to them in some way. By taking a stance, by stating that you are inclusive of T/GNC, you identify yourself as a safe space where folks can explore their health and continue to progress on their gender journey.
2. Ask clients what their gender pronouns are.
Always ask what someone’s gender pronouns are, especially if you’re not sure! Some examples of gender pronouns are she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs – think of it as the way you refer to someone. This is a really nice way to let an individual personally identify themselves, providing them with a sense of control and autonomy in a situation. T/GNC people come in all different ways, some looking more stereotypically like a gender, and others not. Everyone’s goals on appearance differ and everyone’s place in their journey is different as well. It can be really harmful to assume someone’s gender and use certain pronouns because it comes from a place of judgement. Individuals could be feeling self-conscious about their transition and by misgendering them it could be very harmful to their mental health by reinforcing a notion that they are not “passing” as their gender. I cannot stress this enough, ALWAYS ASK. Don’t be afraid to declare your gender pronouns too even if you are not T/GNC! This normalizes the act and doesn’t single anyone out that you may ‘suspect’ of being T/GNC.
3. Have designated space/time for T/GNC.
Similar to the first point, it’s very important to carve out specific time and physical spaces for T/GNC individuals. This can be a T/GNC night, a specific class every week, a designated safe space for them to workout, etc. Having designated safe spaces lets them know that they now can come and be among individuals of their community, find support, and engage in your services. Making an effort to create these spaces shows members of the T/GNC community that you are serious about addressing the unique concerns that they may have when it comes to engaging with fitness.
4. Have gender neutral bathrooms.
Gender neutral/all-gender bathrooms are really important because it provides a safe space for T/GNC individuals to change and use the restroom. You may have heard controversy about bigger businesses and chains debating on whether or not to allow T/GNC people into the bathrooms of their gender identity. We see false accusations of people who identify as T/GNC preying on other folks and it “being a rouse” have come up creating violence and anger when anyone suspected of going into the wrong bathroom. No matter your feelings on this topic, you have to understand that this has created a hostile environment where T/GNC are fearful, anxious, and often avoidant of public restrooms because they don’t want to get harassed by other people just for needing to go to the bathroom. By providing a gender neutral bathroom, you are acknowledging the difficulties the T/GNC face and also provide a physical space where they can be safe. One solution could be a single stall, lockable, all-gender bathroom.
5. Have T/GNC staff members.
Visibility is very important. By having staff members who identify as T/GNC, you are communicating that your establishment is actively trying to uplift and support the community. In addition, having employees who identify as T/GNC creates opportunities for them to provide insight and feedback on the business’ policies, making it more inclusive and accepting for others. They share similar lived experiences and obstacles which lends a hand to developing programming and policies that specifically address the unique needs the T/GNC have. You can continue this visibility through your marketing strategies. Ask your T/GNC staff to be a part of brochures, advertisements, informational pamphlets, etc. Seeing other members of the T/GNC community on the face of your company will definitely identify your business as T/GNC inclusive.
At Amplio Fitness, we try to embody these policies in order to create an accessible space for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming clients. We recognize the unique barriers that they face, and work to address them as best as we can in order for them to be able to achieve their health goals. One way we do that is by offering specific gender affirmation fitness programming that incorporates their gender identity, personal goals, stage of transition, if they’re on HRT, their access to resources, and their financial status. By acknowledging and factoring in these unique experiences, we make sure that our programing accurately address our clients’.
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Author: Belle Ursa, Health Coach