How the pole industry can be more inclusive to the LGBTQIA+ community with a focus on transgender folx

Last month, my wonderful friend Chloe hosted a very important seminar on the subject of how the pole industry can be more inclusive to the LGBTQIA+ community with a focus on transgender folx. I found it such an informative and important seminar that I thought I would convert the knowledge into a blog.

Chloe is a non-binary pole business owner ( they’re the badass behind my favourites Hoodlum Fang), instructor and student. After coming from the inclusive Roller Derby universe, Chloe found the very white, cis and middle class pole industry to be quite the shock to the system, so has got their arse firmly into gear and is doing something about it.

In order for the pole industry to progress, we have to confront the issue that there is a terrible lack of representation of a wide variety of different communities within it. BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, plus sized and disabled people all don’t get the seat at the table that they deserve within the pole industry. It’s quite frankly bullshit and needs to stop. I am not a pole instructor, studio owner or anyone with a particularly large social media following or industry influence, but I have this blog and I am determined to use it to get people’s voices heard.

If you read and find this blog useful, please be a babe and donate to the wonderful charity Chrysalis. Chrysalis are a charity for trans and questioning people in Hampshire and offer counselling services, support groups, workplace training and advocacy work. 50% of proceeds from the seminar were sent straight to Chrysalis by Chloe, so let’s keep the momentum going and get donating to them.

Also before we kick off, please notice the trigger and content warnings for transphobia and gender dysphoria at the start of this post. Getting used to using content and trigger warnings is pretty important, especially for social media posts as they can include a wide variety of things that can upset/impact others. Common content and trigger warnings include mental health, racism, fatphobia, ableism, transphobia etc. No one wants to upset another person, so it’s best that we get used to using them now.

So without further ado, let’s find out how we can make the pole dance industry a more inclusive place, starting with some important terminology.

Useful words and abbreviations

Gender identity – the gender a person knows they are internally and how they label themselves.

Cisgender –  someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.

AFAB/AMAB  –  this stands for “assigned female/male at birth.” For example, me personally, I am an AFAB cisgender woman. Please be aware here that there is a whole different, in -depth discussion to take place for intersex people, as the “markers” that are used to assign us our genders at birth can be difficult to ascertain and understand.

Transgender or Trans  – umbrella term covering a range of identities that transgress socially defined gender norms.

Enby  –  short for non-binary. Non-binary is an umbrella term covering most gender identities and expressions outside the gender binary. People used to use “NB” to refer to non-binary people, but that abbreviation is actually short for “non-black” so please use “enby” as short for non-binary instead.

Folx – “Folx” is an alternative spelling to the familiar word “folks”. The spelling has been adopted by some communities because it can be used to indicate inclusion of marginalized groups.

FTM and MTF –  “Female to Male” or “Male to Female.” This abbreviation refers to someone who is transitioning or has transitioned. Please be aware that these terms are outdated and people tend to prefer Transwoman, Transman etc.

Gender identity – how a person feels within themselves.

Gender expression – how a person presents to the outside world.

Sex – your anatomical parts.

Attraction – who you are attracted to.

Gender identity, expression, sex and attraction all make up one badass person but they do not relate in any way to each other.

Romantic and sexual attraction – These are two different things. A person may want a relationship but not necessarily sex.

TERF = Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. To put it bluntly, these vile bullies are not fucking feminists. They think anatomical women are the only women. If you’re after an example of a TERF, the author of the Harry Potter books (I refuse to mention her name) is the ultimate TERF, if you look at how she behaves that’s TERF as hell. Fuck her and fuck all TERFS. End of.

Pronouns

Trans and enby people use a number of different pronouns that they will likely tell you if they feel comfortable enough to do so.

Some pronouns you may have heard of may be she/her, he/him, they/them, whereas some more unique pronouns you may not have heard of could be xe/xem/xir, ze/hir. Recently, there has been some transphobic, bullshit chatter about how “they/them” isn’t a correct pronoun as it’s a “plural” pronoun. Well let me tell you all right here and now that’s utter bollocks. ALL pronouns work grammatically and anyone who says differently is trying to be transphobic and derail the conversation. “They” is a gender neutral/singular term so ignore the plural nonsense.

Learning and using a person’s pronoun can take some practice. It is recommended to practice pronouns that are new to you with consenting people, with plants, pets etc, so that you really get the hang of them. Apparently using a pronoun three times in a sentence is a good amount of time for the pronoun to click. For example, to aid my own learning I have an enby Aloe Vera plant, they’re green, they live on top of my chest of drawers and my friend bought them for me in 2014. See?

Another effective way that we can show we’re a safe person to approach and understand the importance of pronouns is to add your pronouns onto whatever you can. I include mine on all my social media account bios and my professional email signature in my day job. However in these online times we should also add them to our Zoom names too. This is such a small  but important task to do, as it normalises the use of pronouns, ensures you’re not “outing” an enby or trans person and generally helps people become more accepting as to how someone identifies.

If you’re a pole dance professional (or anyone really)  looking to practice using different pronouns, meet up with other instructors, students, friends etc who also want to become pronoun experts and have a practice conversation together. This is a brilliant idea if you have an enby student and don’t want to use the wrong pronoun for them.

The most easiest tip for pronouns however is simply,  if in doubt- call someone their name!

Pronouns and names in admin

First off,avoid the term “preferred pronouns.” Pronouns are not “preferred” or a choice to people, they just are what they are.  Pronouns are not an optional change and can make all the difference to a trans or enby person’s gender euphoria.

If you are an instructor or pole dance studio owner, one way you can be inclusive of trans and enby students is to ask your booking provider to include an option to include pronouns on their booking systems. Both bookwhen and goteamup enable this option and Anna Frost has a perfect example of this on her online classes booking form, so do check it out if you’re looking for a reference point. If your online booking system doesn’t have this option, use your privilege as a paying customer to request it, as they’re likely to listen to you.

One positive step you could do for both new and existing students would be to create a sign up form on Google that you can customise accordingly and ask people for their pronouns. When asking  a person to state their gender, instead of a tick box saying “male or female”, which excludes enby people, include a write-in box for a person to write in their gender. This also helps normalise the use of pronouns among cisgender students. As a general rule, never assume anyone’s gender and be sure to ask all your students!

There is a grey area around a student having to state their sex on a sign up form. Sex could be important for medical reasons, in the same way that a person’s legal name that’s available on official documentation could be different from the name they have chosen for themselves. It’s therefore a good idea on your sign up form to include both an option for your student to include their name and legal name (again avoiding the term “preferred name”) and state why they’re required. For example, they may be required for the emergency services if your student has an accident in class.

LANGUAGE IN CLASS/Business environment

We’re living in 2020 now, so it is vital that pole dance instructors adapt their use of language to address their class. Using gendered terms such as “hey guys/ladies” are not inclusive of enby students and those who do not identify with the gender you’re referring to. Using a more inclusive term such as “welcome one and all!/lovely people/you awesome lot etc” ensures no one feels left out. As general rule of thumb, it is better to change your language now instead of offending/upsetting someone unintentionally later.  This rule also applies to online discussions, especially as our social media profiles often have a wider reaching audience.

Lastly, when pole dancing it is important to be mindful of the language you use for describing body parts. For pole moves, avoid parts that are specific to anatomical parts such as “vagina to the sky”, “touch your fanny” etc. Instead using a more gender neutral phrase like “crotch” or “privates” would be a better option. Remember, not every student in your class may be own a vagina or identify as someone who does.

At start of your class, another option would be to preface what language you’ll be doing to ensure all students are happy with it. For example, you could say “I’ll use female body parts but please let me know now if you’re unhappy with that.” Be mindful of people with sexual trauma who are attending pole classes too, as the language used could trigger them.

How to act if you get it wrong

Now, this is very important so pay attention to this, as there have been many incidents in the pole industry whereby people have not responded correctly when they’ve got it wrong, so read and take note!

First off, if you use the incorrect terms and or pronouns avoid apologising, as this puts pressure on the person in question to “forgive you” for your mistake. Instead say something like “thank you for correcting me, I will do better next time.” For fucks sake don’t get defensive! Instead welcome being corrected, you are learning and trying to do better, which is what matters. Take the criticism and let it be part of your personal growth.

Furthermore, if you notice yourself making a mistake when speaking, correct it and carry on with the sentence. Also make yourself open to communication and let your students and clients know that if you make mistakes you can be corrected.

Gender dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there’s a mismatch or conflict between their gender identity and their current gender expression, hormonal levels and/or body. Gender dysphoria can take hold in many different occasions, such as an AMAB woman still having to present as male or a transperson being misgendered intentionally or unintentionally. Misgendering and gender dysphoria can have very negative consequences for a trans or enby person’s self-confidence and mental health, can feel like a severe depression and can result in the person becoming withdrawn and wanting to hide from the situation. This all demonstrates how important it is to use a person’s correct pronouns.

Alternatively, as well as gender dysphoria a trans or enby person can also experience gender euphoria. This can take place when someone uses  their correct gender, pronouns and dresses/presents what suits the gender they identify as.

For more really useful information about gender and identity, I thoroughly recommend reading this Gender Bread person infographic, which breaks things down in a really simple and easy to understand way.

Representation

Currently in the pole dance industry, there is a real lack of representation of trans and enby people, but as people within this industry we have the power to change this! If you are an instructor and/or a studio owner, hire transgender or enby instructors or at least approach them to ask if they would like to give workshops at your studio. Another good place to start would be to include transgender instructors and students on your studio’s social media pages, but of course ask for their consent first! If you are wanting to expand your knowledge on how you can support your studio’s transgender community, you can ask them for their insight and input but please be respectful, pay them for their time and acknowledge that this discussion may be difficult for them.

You could also reach out to your local LGBTQIA+ communities and see if you could run some community projects in your studio, such as a pole jam or class exclusively for LGBTQIA+ people .This will open up your studio community to people from these communities going forward.

Transphobia in pole – what transphobia can look like

Examples of transphobia in both the pole dance industry and the outside world include:

  • Deliberately mis-gendering or dead naming someone (using the birth name for a person who has changed their name).
  • Using incorrect pronouns for someone and making no effort to correct yourself.
  • Microaggressions such as “born a girl, born a boy, biologically male/female, biological sex.”
  • Outing people who may not be comfortable to be out in the studio environment, even if they’re out online.
  • Refusing to listen to trans and enby people when something a person has said is problematic.
  • Making a transphobic statement and following it up with “well that’s my opinion.” It’s not your opinion when it’s someone’s experience or life and you categorically cannot say what’s transphobic or not when you’re not a transperson.

Transphobes in pole can get the fuck out. End of. There is absolutely no room for that bullshit in the pole dance industry. Studio owners it is paramount that you eject transphobic students from your studio and have a policy to do so, you must create a safe space for all. Transphobia is bullying. I also advise stepping in if you catch one of your students making transphobic comments online. Is that the sort of person you want to be in your space and your studio? Hell no. As an authority figure who people look up to it is your responsibility to speak to that person, try to educate them and if they’re hell bent on being a cunt, off they go.

Another potential resolution for your students would be to include an option on your sign up form saying “if someone misgenders you or uses incorrect pronouns, are you comfortable for me to step in and correct them?” in case your student is not comfortable to have these conversations in person yet.

It is very important for your own mental health to assess whether it is worth taking your time to educate someone if what they have said is transphobic. Are they willing to learn and do better or are they determined to be a prejudiced fuckwit?

How to be a good ally

The most important way that you can be a better ally to trans and enby people is to listen when they tell you things need to change and not expect them to do the work for you. Do your own research and follow trans activists (I recommend checking out Katy Montgomerie’s Twitter ) and Pink News, and most importantly be supportive and willing to adapt. A really positive step would be to hire LGBTQIA+ community members to help you create equality policies for your studio and to run inclusivity training workshops for staff. You could also check out Chrysalis and contact them to ask for help creating your policies. Transphobia can be subtle but it should be treated like any other form of bullying so an anti-bullying policy for your business is important.

It is absolutely vital that the pole dance industry does the work to make everyone feel welcome, especially from marginalised groups as the industry wants to pride itself on being community focused. At the moment it is not and this must change as soon as possible.

Additional info

There are many different spellings of “woman/womxn” out there, and thankfully Chloe broke down their meanings for us:

  • “Womyn” spelt with a “y” is terfy as hell and is used for anatomical women only. As an anatomical woman, I say fuck that shit and if anyone ever speaks to me online and uses that spelling I will be kicking off  big time.
  • “Womxn” spelt with an “x” is snappy, effective and shows inclusivity- so would be a great addition to your studio branding. The “x spelling” is used by the trans inclusive dance line-up  The Other Womxn who have a 50/50 split of cis and transwomen in their shows. Most cis women who are decent people will see that spelling and feel included. You may rid yourself from certain transphobic studio members but who wants that kind of toxic bullshit contaminating their space? Being as inclusive as you can is what’s important in this life, not accommodating the transphobes.

If you’re thinking of setting up a pole class specifically for trans or enby people but are unable to find a trans or enby person to teach the class, you could also employ a person within the LGBTQIA+ community or a respected ally to teach. Wording your class description to explain that it’s welcome to trans and enby people is very important, as you’re opening your studio and making it a safe and welcome place to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, who can be marginalised by other studios. If any cis students take offence and think they’re being excluded can always attend other classes and educate themselves in the process. By putting on classes for members of the LGBTQIA+ community you’re not gatekeeping you’re just making space.

Well done for making it to the end of the blog- you have taken an important step in educating yourself. You can also contact Chloe and ask for an awesome graphic they made to post on yours/your studio’s social media accounts to show that you’re doing the work to become a better ally to trans folx, so people can see you’re doing the work.

Resources

https://www.healthline.com/health/transgender/misgendering

Docs.asee.org/public/LGBTQ/Transgender_vocab_handout.pdf

Podcasts

NB: My Non Binary Life  –  BBC radio

When do we start displaying gender? – Juno Dawson

Books

Yes, you are trans enough: My transition from self loathing to self love  –  Mia Violet

Trans Britain: Our journey from the shadows edited by Christine Burns

Non-binary lives: An anthology of intersecting identities  – Jos Twist, Ben Vincent, Meg-John Barker, Kat Gupta

The A-Z of gender and sexuality – Morgan Potts, Morgan Lev Edward Holleb

What is gender? Juno Dawson (kids age 10 and up)

TV Shows

Pose – Netflix

Disclosure –  Netflix

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