More on the changing area issue

Thios is reproduced from a comment on my other blog, with permish from the author, Katie. It adds further insight into what trans women face when trying to get out and about in places like leisure centres:

Katie writes:

I began transition in 2001, and changed my name in 2006. I am still awaiting SRS. I swam a lot when I was young, and it was something I really enjoyed doing. When I started hormonal treatment, swimming was the first thing I had to compromise on. There was a period of four years between beginning transition, and finally feeling confident enough to swim. I first returned to the pool in 2005.

Ponds Forge pool in Sheffield, in 2005, had a changing village that was primarily for the leisure pool, but was also accessible to people using the large competition pool. This made access on my first visit very easy, I was able to use the facility entirely discretely. I strongly believe changing villages are the best way to cater for all swimmers.

I then didn’t go again for a long time, and I heard in 2007 that Ponds Forge was overhauling its changing facilities, in part to make way for a larger gym and members’ changing rooms. Part of this plan involved the removal of the changing village, and the construction of two single-sex, communal changing rooms to service the leisure pool. In my opinion, this represented a huge step back in accessibility for all, and I wrote them an email to explain what the plans meant for me if I continued to use the pool in the future.

They were very polite in their reply, but one thing that concerned me is that they justified removing the changing facilities by citing feedback from parents that children are vulnerable in changing villages. I was dismayed that they had cited this claim, and that they were using it as a justification for removing the changing village. It seemed to me to be conciliatory to a misguided group of people, entirely without fact, and added to my trepidation in using the facility. I pressed them to cite a specific incident that this may have been based on, but from that point, they were more keen to speak to me in person than continue by email.

It took me a long time to go swimming again after that. Their response seemed friendly, but forced. I didn’t really feel wholly welcome.

In 2009, I had not been involved in routine exercise for a long time, and I really needed to start again. I decided to go swimming and just try to scope out the new changing area. I’d heard that it wasn’t that there were some spaces that I could possibly use to change.

I did go along, and while there are two single-sex communal changing rooms, there are six family changing cubicles available in the same manner as the changing village. These are accessible to all, en route to the leisure pool or the competition pool. Inevitably, these rooms are very busy at times, although I tend to visit Ponds Forge after the leisure pool closes, and I am seldom in contact with many people. I later had the opportunity to tour the female competition pool facilities, which offers both communal and cubicle changing areas. The best thing about the design of this area is that the cubicles and lockers are arranged in a way that they can be used without ever entering the communal area.

I’ve never had a problem at Ponds Forge. People are usually polite and it tends to be a very diverse place. It naturally gets a bit imposing when it’s busy, but otherwise it’s okay. The only problems I’ve ever had are from their staff being very awkward over the use of gym changing rooms.

When I visit the gym, I usually just change and shower at home, as I live ten minute’s walk from Ponds Forge. When I was using the gym on a pay-as-you-go basis, I found their staff extremely protective of the member’s changing facilities. So much so that when I approached the kiosk to go to the gym, I was directed to the single-sex competition pool facilities, which I had already declared that I had no interest in using. It hadn’t occurred to them that I wouldn’t be getting changed at all, that I was just going to dump my stuff in a locker, use the gym, and shower at home.

After this happened a few times, I finally had an opportunity to talk to the general manager, who took me on a tour of the entire centre, as well as a discrete tour of the female changing facilities. It was this occasion that I found out that you could indeed use the competition pool cubicles without entering the communal area. I told her that it is these details immensely that mattered to me – I wanted the confidence to use the facility without having to enter a communal area.

I still use Ponds Forge, and I still love it immensely. Having the opportunity to meet the general manager and walk around the entire centre and talk about what mattered to me gave me a lot of confidence in using it. I do feel more welcome than I had, and the changing facilities are more accessible than I had thought. Their principle problem was more a case of giving the information I needed, and their issues with protecting their members changing areas made them unapproachable.

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About janefae

On my way from here to there
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One Response to More on the changing area issue

  1. Jennie Kermode says:

    It’s not just visibly trans people who can run into problems with single sex changing facilities. The pools I used to visit here in Glasgow (before I became too ill to swim) have sex-segregated changing villages. I could blend in well enough to use the female one but, at times when my disability was severe, I couldn’t manage to change by myself. My male partner would usually help me. There was absolutely nothing sexual going on but we would still get nasty looks from other swimmers; likewise when I had to use the male showers (where nobody was naked) because I couldn’t support myself well enough to stand on my own and the water in the female ones was too hot for my skin anyway. This segregation of people into two neat categories just doesn’t take into account the many complex situations people may face in real life and there seems to be a significant lack of equalities assessment at the design stage.

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