“Mama, there’s a man in here.”: talking about Trans inclusive change rooms at Vancouver pools
A friend of mine was recently telling me about an experience she had at Hillcrest pool. She had been swimming with her two daughters (8 and 12) and they were back in the women’s change room. As she was changing, my friend noticed her youngest daughter’s face change as she whispered, “Mama…there’s a man in here.”
Apparently, there was a transgender individual using the women’s change room. This individual had male genitalia, which was obvious under a swim suit. Her daughter heard the person speaking and was startled by a low, obviously male, voice. This was confusing and distressing to my friend’s daughter…and it was difficult, in the middle of a busy change room, for my friend to have a conversation with her about it. She focused on getting her kids dressed and leaving the change room so that they could speak about what had happened.
The Vancouver Park Board recently launched a trans-inclusive campaign to make community facilities more open and friendly to transgender and gender variant people. The campaign includes educational posters, brochures and postcards that feature personal quotes from trans and gender-variant people.
Other changes so far have included an ongoing trans-friendly swim at Templeton Pool and new gender-neutral signage at the Hillcrest Community Centre.
The ongoing changes are targeting five key areas:
- signage and literature
- public spaces (including washrooms and change rooms)
- staff training
- working with the community
My friend wrote a letter to the Vancouver Parks Board. Here is an excerpt:
…how do we as parents teach our children modesty and appropriate body exposure in this culture where men’s bodies are allowed in women’s change rooms? And women’s bodies, allowed in men’s change rooms? If someone were to walk around the common swim area at Hillcrest pool, naked, what would happen? Do we have rules for that? I am guessing, since I have never seen anyone swimming naked in any public pool, that it is considered inappropriate behavior and the naked individual would be asked to leave. Why? What is the difference between that and being naked in a change room with the opposite birth sex? I am beginning to wonder, is this a privacy issue or a discrimination issue?
My second question is, is the public pool change room an appropriate venue for the education of these sexual and identity issues for our children? Are we advocating for understanding and acceptance by forced visual and inter-personal exposure? I know the stated motive behind the Transgender Awareness Campaign is, as park board chair John Coupar Stated, to make “everyone feel comfortable and welcome in our community centres”, however, I suggest that there are many for whom this change room allowance is not comfortable – many of whom I would guess are children who have not had the chance or development cognitively to process this complicated identity issue.
Personally, I have no problem with Trans and gender variant people using whichever change room they identify with – so long as everyone is being considerate and respectful. I really like the slogan on the poster campaign that reads “Don’t stop and stare, stop and think.” This makes sense to me. But…kids do stare and if you have not had a conversation with your child about transgendered individuals or gender identity (which is your right as a parent to choose when, how and why to discuss) – I think it could make for a very uncomfortable (and possibly frightening) situation for a child. My friend’s daughter remained confused and distressed after their experience, even though they later had an open and loving conversation about what had happened.
I have spoken to my daughter about gender dysphoria and transgendered individuals – I feel she responded with appropriate understanding for her age and a high level of compassion and empathy. Yet, I think both of us would still be uncomfortable if we saw an adult penis in a female changing room. Perhaps in years to come this will be a non-issue…but, for now, I think we aren’t there.
What are your thoughts? I am interested to hear how you may have handled this situation if it were your child or, if you are a transgender individual what your take is.
PLEASE NOTE: I am only interested in constructive dialogue. Comments that are discriminatory in nature will not be published.