Dreaming About Access: The Experiences of Transgender Individuals in Public Recreation


  • Linda Oakleaf Missouri Western State University
  • Laurel P. Richmond




Transgender, inclusion, social equity, parks, public recreation


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: There has been little research about transgender individuals and their needs, especially within leisure settings (Grossman, O’Connell, & D’Augelli, 2005; Lewis & Johnson, 2011). Nevertheless, public recreation agencies are responsible for ensuring that all of the citizens they serve have equitable access to leisure facilities and programming. Additional research is needed to understand the barriers, needs, and wants of the transgender community. The purpose of this study was to explore the experience of transgender adults and their perceptions of public recreation. This study, rooted in transgender theory (Nagoshi & Brzuzy, 2010) and using qualitative research methods (Charmaz, 2006), consisted of semi-structured interviews with adults who self-identified as transgender. Three major themes emerged from the data: managing risk, negotiating privilege, and embodying gender. Participants stated that they felt parks to be safe places, but also described their struggles to keep themselves safe within public recreation spaces. Participants also discussed their changing access to privilege and the effects of cisnormativity, the presumption that everyone’s gender matches their assigned gender at birth and is immutable. The cisnormative assumptions participants faced affected their daily interactions with others, including encounters they had within public recreation. Finally, participants related ways in which they embodied gender and were able to express themselves more fully through leisure. Practitioners who wish to translate data from this study into policy should focus on two areas: removing barriers to access, and affirmatively encouraging participation. The barriers discussed most often by participants related to public/ private spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers. Practitioners should ensure that all locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers allow for privacy. As is frequently the case with universal design, this will benefit many users who are not transgender. While the best practice would be to provide gender neutral spaces, at a minimum there should be at least one stall with a door in each bathroom and curtains or other barriers in all showers. Policies and procedures should affirmatively include participants across the gender spectrum and should be aimed at increasing participation. 






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