Guest Blogger

Bathing in Discrimination

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 13, 2012 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Chicago, King Spa & Sauna, Korean baths, Korean sauna, story of discrimination

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Levi Pine is a trans man and a union organizer in Chicago who spends a lot of time with Fierce Ladies in housekeeping uniforms. He draws strength from his queer and union families, and he once wrote enough complaints to get a bunch of Tucker Max rape-culture-promoting ads removed from the L trains in Chicago.

I'm a transgender man - born female, now male. Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about what it felt like to be inducted into male spaces for the first time once I started passing as male consistently. This weekend I was ejected from a male space for the first time bigstock-White-towels-on-a-cedar-sauna--26091869.jpgsince I've been passing. It was humliating, enfuriating, and nonsensical.

I've been taking testosterone for about a year and I'm pretty hairy but otherwise intact as I came. This weekend, I was in my full hairy birthday suit in the men's wet spa area of King Spa & Sauna just outside Chicago when a fully clothed manager approached me. While I was naked, he asked me if I am male or female. I explained that I am transgender.

He both wasn't sure what I was talking about, and also wasn't sure exactly what he wanted to tell me about that, but he was pretty sure that people didn't want me there. He told me other customers had been complaining about me being in the men's area, and that they needed to move me to a private area.

When I refused, he had me talk to some "marketing" guy on the phone who told me that they "could not accommodate my special needs," that they "needed to appeal to a wider audience," and that if I wouldn't move into a private room I'd have to leave.

I insisted that I had no special needs, that all I wanted was access to the same facilities as every other paying customer. That didn't change their minds. I asked the manager to look me in the eyes like I'm a human being. He wouldn't.

They gave me a partial refund.

For about 18 months when I first started using masculine pronouns, before I changed my first name or started taking hormones, every quotidien human interaction was a struggle. How should I sit? How should I wave my hands while I talk? Is it more masculine to just hold them still? Am I going for super-butch? How much eye contact should I make, especially with men? Do people think I'm a woman? Do they think I'm a fag? Do men think I'm their peer?

Where should I pee? God, I have to pee.

If I pee in the men's bathroom, will someone look at me weird? Will they say something mean? Will they ask me about my genitals? Will they touch me? Will they hurt me?

I hadn't been worrying about the men's bathroom for the past 8 months, since I've grown facial hair and my voice dropped. But now I do. It started one hour after I got kicked out of the spa. I met up with my friend at a bar and had to pee. I stopped short before the men's bathroom door with a big pit in my stomach.

Separating spaces by gender is such an ancient practice, it's hard to take a step back to think about why we do it. What it felt like to me in that moment, while my naked genitalia were questioned and then described back to me with unflattering language in a room full of staring men with floppy penises, was that it's about control. The fact that my body exists outside of categories that most people think are absolute--that threatens other people's understanding of their own bodies. And those men in that spa dealt with that unsettled feeling by trying to sequester me, to disappear me.

Men have a history of benefitting from the control of other human bodies, especially human bodies with female parts. It's called patriarchy.

I've been asking my friends to call the spa and complain. People have gotten all kinds of different stories from John the manager and his employees--that I should have notified them of my "condition" ahead of time, that I should have gone to the women's spa, that they have no problem with transgendered people as long as they cooperate and hide in a private room. All of the stories they're offering up suggest that what happened was my fault. That my trans body transgressed.

Here's the thing. You can't have a body that's incorrect. Did we not have a civil rights movement in this country?

Here's the other thing. The human bodies to be found in the men's area at King Spa are not of uniform size, shape, color, texture, or arrangement. There were short people, tall people, people with bad skin, people with big scars, people with ugly genitalia, people with nice faces. I'd be willing to bet at least one or two people had had their appendix removed, or their tonsils. I bet some people had minor open cuts, or even farted in the pool. Was everyone else required to declare a biological inventory when they entered the spa? Or defend that inventory to the inquisition? I'm sure not. So why get yourself in a bind about a couple arbitrary parts of mine?

The owners of the King Spa & Sauna company, Byung T. Kim and Ki-Pyo Hong, both live around Dallas, where there is another King Spa. I've attempted to contact both of them, requesting an apology and a written revision of their policy on transgendered guests. Neither have responded.

In a way, I'm glad this happened. This is a conversation and a process we'll have to go through as a country and as a planet sooner or later. I'm excited that I get to be part of pushing it along. But I certainly can't do it alone.

I invite the rest of the LGBT community and our allies, every feminist and every progressive to use this incident as an opportunity to welcome King Spa into the modern era. And by that I mean, boycott them until they change their ways. Call them, email them, write bad Yelp reviews about them. And do the same with every business and institution that is stuck in a place of confusion, fear, and control.

(Sauna graphic via Bigstock)


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