Meet Ana B, Brighton’s first LGBTQ+ specific massage therapist. Her pronouns are Her/She (we know this because we asked – and it wasn’t intimidating at all!).
We came across @TheRealMassage back in December and immediately knew that Ana B’s consent led, trauma informed LQBTQ+ massage therapy is exactly the kind of individual act of inspiration, creativity, and inclusiveness that Brighton is all about. A little bit of cyber to-ing and fro-ing later, and Ana B kindly agreed to meet us for a chat to share her knowledge and passion so that we could share it with you. Pretty cool, right?
Trigger warning: brief mention of survivors of sexual assault.
What are the values and ethos that underpin The Real Massage?
Originally, The Real Massage was about creating a safe environment for the LGBTQ community to access massage. I wanted it to be safe, warm, informed and empowering experience. But as it’s grown, it’s expanded beyond that. My massage is about helping the community rewrite their relationships with their body. So many LGBTQ people, particularly those who are Trans, struggle with body image and self-esteem. Teaching people to embrace touch as something empowering and affirming can help. The main value and ethos behind The Real Massage is that this is set up for the LGBTQ community to help us learn our bodies aren’t shameful and can be a source of happiness.
What made you want to create The Real Massage?
As a Queer person, I knew what my experiences of massage had been. It had felt clinical, cold, uninformed about my needs, and at times judgemental. I didn’t realise until I started studying massage and completing case studies that this was the experience of massage by large groups of our community. Case studies flagged to me that for many LGBTQ people, they either had never experienced massage due to fear and anxiety around their body and identity or that they had tried massage once and felt so upset by the experience they had never gone back. That was the moment The Real Massage was born. The name reflects the aim of allowing people to bring their real self into the massage space – whatever their gender, orientation, body type, scars or anxieties. The conversations around being consent led and trauma informed were a natural next step.
Who is The Real Massage for?
First and foremost this is for the LGBTQ community but the comfort and safety of my trans siblings within that is also paramount. My case studies showed the need for this and I stay close to this ethos. I’m careful about the spaces and people I work with, to ensure that they too have the community in mind. As the venture grew, I started to find there was an overlap in that my massage appealed to those who were survivors of sexual assault. My massage is slow and consent lead, I take the time to check in about trauma and this meant those who were struggling to reconnect with touch about assault, found it a safe experience. This lead to having some clients from both within and outside the LGBTQ community who I use massage to work with to help them reconnect with touch, intimacy and their own body. This was a beautiful extra that I didn’t see coming and these survivors are always welcome in my space.
LGBTQ people shouldn’t have to take a gamble and work out if a service is safe for them or not.
What are the key aspects of LGBTQ+ massage?
The vibe is the most important thing. I actively promote my service as LGBTQ friendly – we are living in dark times and LGBTQ people shouldn’t have to take a gamble and work out if a service is safe for them or not. By being open about this in everything I do, I remove any anxiety around that and affirm myself as a safe experience for the community. I check in on pronouns, name, previous experience of massage, feelings around their body – I make no assumptions. Secondary to this, I have an awareness of trans and queer specific body issues such as binder pain, pelvic tilt pain, surgical scar tissue and working with dysphoria. I’m also experienced working with conditions which are more prevalent within our community such as Ehlers Danlos syndrome, hypermobility and fibromyalgia. The LGBTQ community has higher than average rates of trauma and so I bring my training in trauma in to the practice too to ensure those with body-related trauma can experience touch safely too. Lastly, consent is a big one. All my massages are co-created with clients, I check in throughout and I verbally guide them through the massage so they know where my hands are going. This helps to remove touch related anxiety and drop them into a space whereby they can enjoy touch.
What is important about LGBTQ+ massage that gets overlooked in traditional forms of massage?
As much as my service is for LGBTQ people and I’m providing a specialist service, my work is part of a bigger wave of change coming around bodywork. Traditional forms of massage can sometimes feel mass-produced, cold and lacking in understanding of different peoples body types and needs. Taking your clothes off to have someone touch you is an intimate act which deserves preparation time, gentleness and aftercare. When you start to think about it that way, you realise that this shift is not just about the LGBTQ community, but large portions of our world. We are all healing. We are all struggling with our bodies. And we all want to feel safe. For Massage to move with the times and adapt, an understanding that consent isn’t just about signing a form and that for touch to feel truly safe, it needs to feel kind. Intention and energy matters.
How does your donation based pricing structure effect The Real Massage? and what motivates this?
I wanted my service to be accessible to people from different levels of income. For this reason, it was important that I set up with a sliding payment scale. Those who pay full price are paying the massage foward so that someone with less money can still access. The community has responded well to this as it makes my work a community initiative and has meant lots of people who had previously never had massage, now access it regularly.
There’s a running joke that I’m massaging every Queer in the city.
People come to see me because I’ve already massaged three of their friends – it makes them feel safe coming to me. Being so expensive that large sections of society can’t access me, wouldn’t get me that.
What sort of difficulties do you encounter as ‘The Real Masseuse’?
Fortunately, I’ve encountered very few difficulties. The community has been very welcoming towards me and what I’m doing. I have had some amazing doors open to me and I have great mentors, people and support around me. Having so much support has allowed me to grow this the way I wanted to and retain the intimacy and warmth I have with my clients. They trust me and I trust them and that matters in this community.
What’s does the future hold for The Real Massage?
I’m feeling really positive for 2020. Becoming The Real Masseuse has opened up a lot of opportunities and I recently launched a LGBTQ well-being podcast with Queer friendly PT George Goldsmith called SWELL. I’m also giving my support and services to monthly Queer well-being pop up, @theriahproject, with Dan Chapman from House of Hair in Kemptown. Being able to participate and push on projects like these is part of a drive to grow the conversation around LGBTQ well being within our city. But specific to The Real Massage, I’m exploring avenues of how to take my message beyond just the people who visit me in my massage space, but I’m in no rush. I’m enjoying being part of the community, making amazing friends and growing in myself as a masseuse.
Ana B’s presence (both on and offline) is open, soft, compassionate and warming. We were left with a ‘post-interview glow’ not dissimilar to the feelings cited by so many of her clients across social media platforms. There is such a strong united and supportive following surrounding Ana B and @therealmassage that truly speaks volumes.
Thanks for sharing your message with us Ana B. We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for you and the growth of LGBTQ massage.