Not Trendy, Just Timely

A couple years ago, I got a call from a massage therapist who had a very special transgender client who’d educated him about how important massage therapy was to his surgical recovery and self-esteem. Unfortunately, that therapist wasn’t able to follow through on a feature story on the topic. So, I was impressed when I received a piece from Ellen Santistevan on transgender clients. I found her draft well researched, balanced, and responsible. This was the feature I’d been looking for so we could professionally discuss transgender issues and their relevance for massage therapists. The piece, "No Labels on the Table—The Transgender Client: What MTs Should Know," ran in our March/April 2017 issue.        

As always, we wanted to make sure the package was multidimensional. I reached out to my friend Jeff Galligan. I’d met his daughter Margaret a few years ago and knew she was interested in transitioning. I touched base with Jeff during magazine production, and I learned that not only had Maxwell Galligan transitioned, he had researched transgender issues in-depth. I was thrilled when he agreed to serve as a contributor and critic on the piece. His credibility—as well as his background as a massage therapy client—was essential to this package’s evolution.

It may sound odd, but so often we have harmonic convergences when compiling an issue. This was definitely another one of those times for us. Not long after receiving Ellen’s piece, Hannah Adkins wrote in with her very personal story about learning from and delivering massage to a transgender client. I loved the honesty in her words as she shared her experience and growth process.

It wasn’t long before the evolution of this feature package was just one more transgender conversation swirling. We felt confident we were helping educate practitioners about a demographic they may not be familiar with. I know I wasn’t.      

• The vibe was alive at National Geographic magazine. They put a transgender girl on their January 2017 cover: www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/01.  

• On January 20, on the Today Show, Katie Couric mentioned that her daughter was going to Yale and that Yale was working hard to make sure LGBTQ students could gender identify with ease and also use their first name of choice (in lieu of a legal name that may not reflect their chosen gender).

• On January 30, the Boy Scouts of America ruled in and agreed to accept transgender youth: www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/01/30/boy-scouts-america-welcome-transgender-youngsters/97268506

We closed this issue on January 31, but with one component outstanding: the vantage point of transgender bodyworkers. During deadline week, I had a phone call from a woman saying she wanted us to cover a story about transgender issues and massage. I told her about our upcoming package and she said, “But what if the massage therapist is transgender?”

Great question. They’re practicing in a world where, in my opinion, all too many clients come through the door asking for a male or female therapist, instead of focusing on modalities, and then those clients go one step further and insist on someone who represents their idea of what that therapist should look like. So, yes, there’s more work to come on this discussion. If you’d like to contribute to it, please let me know.

But for now, I hope you learn and grow as much as I did while immersed in this subject. Our team and our contributors worked hard to ensure every client feels like they’re in safe space during their sessions. Without a high degree of safety and mutual respect, it’s impossible for the therapist-client bond to take root, flourish, and bloom.

—Leslie A. Young, PhD, is vice president communications for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals.

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