Women-only spa’s ‘no male genitals’ rule ignites transgender debate

TORONTO — Controversy over a female-only spa’s “no male genitals” policy has reignited debate over the rights of transgender people to access traditionally gender-exclusive spaces, even as the federal government pushes stronger protections prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression.

The uproar over Toronto’s Body Blitz Spa prompted a flurry of complaints on social media, with longtime regular Shelley Marshall among those vowing to boycott the luxurious retreat.

Marshall says she tried to bring her transgender friend to the spa last year but was told she would only be welcome at the bathing suit-optional facility if she had undergone sex reassignment surgery.

“I didn’t want to embarrass my friend, I didn’t want to humiliate my friend, I didn’t want all this to happen,” Marshall says of not speaking out at the time. “I’m embarrassed I never stuck up for my friend.”

Toronto-based LGBTQ author Jia Qing Wilson-Yang tweeted last week that she was told not to visit the spa because they “won’t allow male genitalia.”

That followed a Facebook post by Weronika Jane who says the spa’s manager called a friend one hour before their booking “to say that they couldn’t come because they had a ‘no male genital rule.’”

On Wednesday, “Orphan Black” star Tatiana Maslany added her voice to the protest, tweeting that until the spa “changes its policies and is an inclusive space for all women, I’ll no longer be going.” The Regina-born actress plays a slew of characters on her Space series, including lesbian and transgender characters.

Body Blitz refused to comment on the issue, but released a statement insisting it supports the LGBTQ community.

“However, because Body Blitz Spa is a single-sex facility with full nudity, we are not like other facilities. We recognize that this is an important discussion for single-sex facilities to have and we will seek to find a satisfactory resolution,” reads the statement.

Some people found the position comforting.

“Thank you for standing up for women. Private spaces for naked female bodies. Identity irrelevant,” said one social media supporter, signed Rachel Ralison.

But the whole flap has been disappointing to client and York University Prof. Sheila Cavanagh, who specializes in gender and sexuality studies.

She says that aside from violating provincial laws governing gender discrimination, such incidents highlight the difficulty in adhering to strictly binary definitions of gender.

“There are many ways of being trans and there are many ways of being a woman,” says Cavanagh, noting that trans rights are enshrined in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

“And certainly surgery or hormones, per se, do not make a woman…. I think it’s gender identity that matters and what is between our legs is our own business.”

She notes that not all trans people transition with surgeries and not all trans people use or take hormones.

Transgender is also a very broad term. Some transgender people identify as bi-gender or non-gender or agender, which means they don’t strictly identify as a man or a woman. Still others are intersex, which the National Health Service in the United Kingdom defines as a genetic “mix of male and female sexual characteristics.”

Cavanagh says the rules around gender-exclusive places are typically based on fears that men will enter a space in which they are not welcome or “that non-trans women will somehow be triggered or made afraid by the presence of a penis.”

But Cavanagh says her research on violence in gendered bathrooms found no evidence of a trans woman assaulting a non-trans woman in a public space.

“The fear of violence against women is unfortunately used to justify trans-exclusion policies,” she says, noting that many women shelters have trans-positive policies.

“It’s not just violence against cis-gendered women, it’s also violence against trans women that matters.”

Marshall says she can’t see how a trans-positive policy could be abused.

“I don’t think a man is going to try and sneak in as a woman and pay $75 to go sit (in a pool). For what purpose?”

But she sees all sorts of ways a trans-phobic policy can hurt a trans person.

“A trans person has to live as a woman before they can get surgery,” says Marshall. “This is just another way of telling them: you have no place in our society.”

Cavanagh takes heart in believing Bill C-16 is likely to pass. The federal legislation would bolster existing provincial laws to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. Currently, trans rights are interpreted in various ways by each province.

Adding weight to this movement are the increasing number of businesses and public bodies making their trans-positive policies more explicit.

Many school boards welcome transgender students and staff to use the washroom or change room of the gender they identify with.

At the national fitness chain GoodLife, members are able to use the change room of the gender they identify with, while various YMCAs across the continent have opened gender-neutral change rooms.

Despite this, harassment continues, says Cavanagh.

“In addition to developing a policy, members need to be educated so that transphobia isn’t allowed under the auspices of women’s safety.”

Just Posted

Red Deer College waiting for feds to finalize marijuana legalization

Like businesses, Alberta and municipal governments, Red Deer College is waiting for… Continue reading

Class size only part of the problem say Central Alberta teachers

Though the Alberta auditor general’s report points out that classroom sizes continue… Continue reading

Lacombe County promoting crime prevention measures

County pushing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles

Red Deer doctor concerned about patient transfers to rural hospitals

Family physician says the move creates less incentive for expansion at Red Deer hospital

Fire permit season begins in March

Earlier springs in last few years prompted Alberta government to move up fire permit season

WATCH: Red Deer’s River Bend upgrades officially open

River Bend Golf and Recreation Area is the latest venue to be… Continue reading

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

As Olympics wrap up, still no coverage in North Korea

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — While hundreds of millions of the world’s… Continue reading

Supplier to NHL’s Calgary Flames breathes again as B.C. wine ban suspended

VICTORIA — The operators of a small British Columbia winery that landed… Continue reading

Canada’s men’s hockey team beats Czechs to win Olympic bronze

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Canada’s men’s hockey team has won the… Continue reading

Duncan apologizes for behaviour after drunken joyride in Pyeongchang

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — Canadian ski cross racer Dave Duncan is… Continue reading

In Pyeongchang, maintaining Olympic venues relies on a poor, aging workforce

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - Hockey players from Finland were circling with the… Continue reading

Trudeau’s fashion missteps highlight what not to wear on vacation

TORONTO — The traditional garb that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his… Continue reading

Stores make push in scan and go tech, hope shoppers adopt it

NEW YORK — Shoppers at self-checkout lanes scanning all their groceries after… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month