For transgender students, working out at Ryerson is a question of safety.
Along with getting the school to install all-gender washroom campaign across campus, Ryerson’s Trans Collective is working toward transforming the Recreation and Athletics Centre’s (RAC) facilities to make trans people feel more welcome.
In collaboration with the collective, the RAC plans to add a secluded changing space in each of the men’s and women’s locker rooms, as well as individual shower stalls within the men’s shower area, which already exist in the women’s shower area.
The collective hopes for small-scale changes to roll out by the winter semester, and fully established renovations by fall next year.
The gym campaign began at a Trans Collective meeting early this year, after a student brought up how challenging and unsafe she found changing at the RAC, in both the men and women’s locker rooms, neither which have private designated changing areas.
Fourth-year sociology student Markus Harwood-Jones, who also goes by Star, is a Trans Student Collective co-ordinator. Harwood-Jones uses “they” and “he” pronouns.
“We talked about a couple ways to help … the group decided we would go together and have each others’ backs, but also we wanted to address the institutional issues there,” Harwood-Jones said.
The collective has been in conversation with RAC recreation manager Anthony Seymour and they have toured the space together. In order to focus on the bathroom campaign, planning for RAC renovations was put on-hold in the spring until resuming this semester.
The proposed renovations are still in the initial stages, but will not include all-gender washrooms — bathroom facilities which anyone regardless of gender can use.
It’s not the ideal situation, Seymour said, but necessary because as an older underground facility, it’s not feasible to build a new all-gender washroom or convert the gendered washrooms.
“They understand the space limitations and challenges of construction underground … our goal is that every student that wants to work out feels comfortable doing that,” Seymour said.
In the meantime, RAC staff have undergone sexual violence training, and will be doing training from Positive Space Ryerson soon, a coalition that challenges transphobia and homophobia on campus. The coalition of staff and faculty offers training on sexual and gender diversity. For now, the collective is encouraging trans students to join its upcoming group workout trips to the RAC.
Most gyms do not make it a priority to reach out to trans communities. In Toronto, Savoy Howe owns Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, a gym that has explicitly welcomed trans individuals since 2000. She said that many trans people don’t work out in public for fear of being harassed.
“Part of the fear comes from ignorance,” Howe said. “Posting resources and teaching compassion is important because then people go ‘Oh my god, that person has a hell of a battle.’”
Newsgirls has an all-gender washroom, as well as a trans-positive safe space policy that is told to newcomers in their first boxing class.
Making sure private spaces exist within the RAC’s gendered spaces is important for Harwood-Jones as a first step toward a more overall trans-inclusive university.
“Ultimately the Trans Collective has lots of exciting visions for the future,” Harwood-Jones said. “We’d like to work with Ryerson as a whole to create more systematic inclusion so we can alter policy, alter building construction, and really start thinking about how can we move forward with trans- and gender-nonconforming people in mind.”
Harwood-Jones has advice for cisgender — a term meaning the majority of people who are not transgender — gym-goers who come across trans students.
“Don’t stare at trans people. Leave us alone. We don’t want to make you uncomfortable,” Harwood-Jones said. “We just want to use the space like everyone else.”
This article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on Oct. 28, 2015.