Last Sunday, a group of trans activists and their allies arrived at Árbæjarlaug swimming pool for the third iteration of a campaign aimed at gender inclusivity in Reykjavík public pools. A councilperson for Reykjavík City Council is hopeful that relevant government ministries will give the green light for the city to make changes to its regulations regarding swimming pools.
Prodhi Manisha, a trans man and activist who started the first iteration in a campaign called Ég Fer Með Þér (eng. “I’ll go with you”), helped organise the event, which aims for greater inclusion of trans people into gendered spaces, such as the locker rooms of Reykjavík area pools. Prodhi told the Grapevine that what has been particularly encouraging has been the interest and support of more cis people.
“We had the usual core group of people join us this time, but what has been really heartening is the growing interest in cis folks who have reached out wanting to come with us and support us during future iterations,” he told us. “Several cis women have already contacted us about joining in to show support for trans women and femme people who would like to use the women’s locker room and might need solidarity from the cis guests around them. We’re hoping to open the next event up for all genders–not just trans men and their allies in the men’s locker room.”
The approach of arriving en masse, with trans people using the locker rooms for their gender and both trans and cis allies going with them in a show of support, has had a demonstrable positive effect, and this occasion was no exception. He says that while a shower guard briefly stopped him from entering the men’s locker rooms, someone accompanying Prodhi corrected the guard, who then apologised and let them enter.
“I did notice them staring at me in the showers while I was making a solid point of not missing a single red-circled spot shown on the massive human body diagrams at the pools,” Prodhi says. “Personally, as long as it’s not invasive or marred with harassment, I don’t really mind the staring. Everybody is always learning; if anything, maybe if someone stares long enough they will realize that it’s just another person who is just washing their bits out before jumping into a hot tub–that contrary to the disgusting caricatures of trans people carved out by transphobia as of late, our genitals don’t morph into pedophilic-sexual-assaulting headless babadook in bathrooms and locker rooms when we step in. I had a lovely day in the water under the sun, and in a transphobic world that tells us trans people we don’t get to have such a day, that in itself is a massive revolt.”
Like many activists breaking new ground, Prodhi also experiences a blend of optimism and trepidation; that despite the success of the past three iterations of this campaign, “I am forced to walk in with the weight of the world on my shoulders, a dry mouth from nerves and the sheer hope in the absence of clear inclusive policies that hopefully I will not have to fend myself against an avalanche of transphobia and have my body policed for merely existing.”
He says that multiple trans men who have been made aware of the campaign have expressed the desire to be able to simply go swimming at public pools without fear of bigoted confrontations. At the heart of it, he says, simple things that cis people take for granted are monumental undertakings for trans people, due to the discrimination they very often face in gendered spaces.
“When you think about it, it is the bastardisation of the mundane and the daily at its finest” he says. “Simple joys–like going to the pool, hitting up the gym, going into a bar for our sibling’s birthday celebration, dressing as we want to, taking a darned leak, feeling okay during seemingly innocuous events without having to hide who we are–are sullied for us without policing, harassment, exclusion and violence. We are not at all our suffering, but transphobic systems love reducing us down to just that.”
Prodhi would like cis people to be more empathetic and supportive, but the burden of responsibility also rests upon Reykjavík City Council. While the city does have a human rights policy that bars discrimination based on “sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics”, there is still no clear policy that explicitly protects trans people, either—despite city council acknowledging the issue and saying they were exploring the matter late last year.
Dóra Björt Guðjónsdóttir, a Reykjavík city councilperson for the Pirate Party and chair of the Human Rights and Democracy Committee for the city, told the Grapevine that they are hoping to change the city regulations pertaining to city pools to be more inclusive to trans people—something she wholeheartedly supports. All that is required is approval from relevant Ministries to be able to make the changes to be sure any new regulations in this area will be in accordance with Icelandic law. If this approval comes through, then the work begins on building political will amongst parties within City Council to make it a reality.
“In the summer my committee decided to change the toilets so they would be accessible for all and start checking the circumstances for trans people and their accessibility to city services in collaboration with the grassroot,” she told the Grapevine. “This conversation lead us to this swimming pool issue – and before we decide anything (this might become complicated since I don’t know where everyone stands) we need to know whether we have the power to decide this – everything we do must follow the law. If yes – then we need to have the political discussion. But I’m for this, trans people should be allowed to bathe with their own gender (as well as cis-people).”
“I want to ask cis folks why they feel the need to police us when we’re not going out of our way to cause anybody harm,” Prodhi says. “All we are asking for here is access to the things that cis people don’t have to think twice about without having to lose our sleep, peace or safety over it. Even when doing these demonstrations, we have noticed variability in attitudes and reception of trans folks in the locker rooms with which they identify. Unlike what certain institutions have wrongly implied in the past, there is no law nor policy barring trans people from using the locker rooms they identify with. However, in the lack of clear and explicit policies ensuring our inclusion and safety, our well-being in these spaces is suspended on the yay vs. nay of a shower guard, or a management personnel, who may or may not be transphobic and throw back an entire lifetime’s weight of being made to feel like the ‘other’ back into our faces on a day when we were just trying to get by and be ourselves. I really hope city council and eventually national bodies will enact explicit anti-discrimination policies for public facilities like locker rooms soon, so that us trans folks can experience daily life as daily life, rather than as a 24-hour battlezone.”
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