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“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.

vancouver-park-board-trans-and-gender-variant-campaignOther 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
  • policy
  • 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.

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11 thoughts on ““Mama, there’s a man in here.”: talking about Trans inclusive change rooms at Vancouver pools

  1. I’m glad the pools are working towards a more inclusive approach. It’s a tough one… I want to say let’s not get wound up about peoples’ naked bodies, because it’s just body parts. I can’t say I agree with the letter writer though. This is the same argument many people use to argue against seeing gay people act the way many hetero couples do in public. It’s tough at the beginning of any change in norms, but I think we have to remember we’re not talking about ‘comfort’, we’re talking about allowing everyone to do the things people with more easily understood gender identities do every day. I don’t see why this is a difficult issue for children to understand, to be honest. I think it’s probably easier for them than for us, who have many years of social learning around gender norms to work against.

  2. Also, my friend wrote a good blog post collecting some resources around talking to kids about trans folk and gender. http://ourfeministplayschool.ca/2013/08/25/resources-talking-kids-transissues/

  3. Harriet Fancott on said:

    Well seriously … Hillcrest does have a gender neutral change room so not sure why you wouldn’t use that one …. although, walking around naked certainly isn’t encouraged. And kids, yes they stare and stare and yell. So … there’s that! #uselesscommentarysorry

  4. Eeeeh and yeah….seems a bit much and seems almost like a challenge imo…not fair at all and I am all about inclusivity and talking to my kids…but lets get real…modesty is for all genders no? As Erin points out most kids are more cool with this stuff than we are but that is certainly a bit of an awkward moment and not sure how I would feel or deal either to be truthful.

  5. I’ve seen and uses several Universal change rooms in the Vancouver area, but have yet to see a naked adult of any gender identity nude there as there are adequate change rooms and shower stalls. But since we have a boy and a girl and change as a family, both kids know what naked adult bodies look like . We Have not had full on conversations about trans people as of yet, preferring to take the questions as they come, but if would be an easy explanation for my kids to accept in a situation like this.
    Because really, its just a funny looking piece off dangly bits that half our population has.
    I have heard friends voice fears that paedophiles right pose as trans to gain access to the opposite sex. Not sure how to respond to that other than the little boys are just as vulnerable to a person like that :/

  6. Appalbarry on said:

    Oveer the years I’ve found that kids are almost a always understanding and kind when they cross paths with transgender folks. Curious of course, but open to some kind of suitably simple explanation.

    Of course it helps greatly if their parents make it a small deal, instead of a big one.

  7. Tara on said:

    The opportunity for this teachable moment at Hillcrest Pool, while maybe uncomfortable for your friend, seems like a gift. Bravo Vancouver Parks Board for being inclusive and giving us the opportunity to make this kind of awkwardness a thing of the past for our children. In Canada and in the majority of our culture, appropriate body exposure is wearing a bathing suit. Full nudity is not. This person was wearing a bathing suit. Seems pretty clear.

    A couple of years ago, they painted the crosswalks of Davie Street with rainbows and there was much hubbub on CBC radio about the “LGBT Community”. Driving in the car one day, listening to the radio, my 6 year old said, “What’s the ‘T’ for?” This was odd because I don’t think he knew what the other letters stood for either. I was totally unprepared for the question and until that moment had never considered it. I took a deep breath, glanced in the rear view at my 3 year old sitting next to him and said, “You might be too young to understand this but, sometimes there are people who feel like boys that were born in girl bodies. And sometimes there are people who feel like girls who were born in boy bodies. That’s called Trans-gendered. That’s what the T is for.” It got really quiet in the back seat for about a minute. Finally, the 6 year old says, “You’re right. I think we are too young. But let’s talk about it again later.”

    Guess it’s time to go swimming.

  8. If this is the future, I want out.

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