This is quite the story. A transgender woman (i.e. an individual who is genetically and anatomically male but who chooses to adopt the social role of a woman) was barred from the all women’s Body Blitz Spa in Toronto. As the spa explained, many of their clients undergo their various treatments completely naked and they would be uncomfortable with a naked man in their midst, even if that man identifies as a woman.
This is the moment where we encounter one of the deepest cultural divides in contemporary society, the moment at which two sides stare in mutual incomprehension and loathing at each other across a chasm.
From the perspective of the transgender woman, barring a patron because she is genetically and anatomically male is no different than barring her because she is dark skinned or because she wears a hijab. In all cases, the action is discriminatory, plain and simple, and it constitutes a violation of the human rights of the patron.
From the perspective of the spa’s supporters, this transgender “woman” is a man and the spa is women only. Gender may be (to some degree at least) a socially constructed reality, but sex is not: and this spa restricts its patronage to those individuals who are anatomically female (presumably they don’t do genetic tests).
In case you’re wondering, I’m with the spa on this one. If a business establishment has the right to restrict its customer base to those of the female gender, then the business also has the right to restrict its customer base to the female sex. Of course, you might claim that businesses should not be allowed to restrict their customer base to the female sex. If that is true, then all spas should be fully integrated with men and women. But until we say the spa no longer has the right to exclude men, I say it still has the right to exclude transgender women.
Having said that, I do have sympathy with the transgender woman. Often critics envision the transgender experience as capricious and fleeting: i.e. “Today I’m a woman but tomorrow maybe I’ll be a man. And maybe I’ll come to the spa a woman but leave a man. Who knows?” There may be transgender people like that, but many others have a fixed and seemingly unalterable identity with the other gender. The transgender experience is spurred by a gender dysphoria which can be deeply traumatizing. To be denied entry to a spa could seem, from that perspective, like one more insult, one more prejudicial denial of one’s perceived identity and one’s very humanity.
At the same time, transgender advocates often show little-to-no sympathy with the other side. Certainly that’s evident in the responses I read from supporters of the transgender spa woman. They are absolutely outraged with Body Blitz Spa and their customers who don’t want to see a naked man (where “man” means a genetic and anatomical male) walking in their midst.
Of course I understand why the transgender supporter will be utterly unsympathetic: as the retort might come, “Should I sympathize with the white supremacist who is uncomfortable seeing black people drinking from the same water fountain?” The answer, of course, is no.
And I also understand why supporters of the spa will not see this as a civil rights issue. Gender dysphoria may be a traumatizing experience but the demands of one gender dysphoric individual should not force small business owners and their patrons to change the way they do business.
As a result, each side peers with anger and indignation at the other as the cultural divide widens yet further. Caught in the middle are some small business owners, a number of spa patrons, and one transgender woman who wanted her own day at the spa.