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Is Oasis Aqualounge’s club policy transphobic?

Club accused of misgendering trans people and charging non-binary people presenting as male the cis men’s admission fee

Toronto sex club Oasis Aqualounge has been criticized by attendees who say they’ve been misgendered by staff. Arshy Mann/Daily Xtra

Members of Toronto’s fetish community are calling for a boycott of a popular sex club after a series of transphobic incidents allegedly occurred in September 2016.

Last month, Oasis Aqualounge — which brands itself as a trans-inclusive, “water-themed adult’s playground in downtown Toronto” — was accused of banning non-binary people who present as male from a female- and trans-oriented sex event. Non-binary people identify as gender fluid, a mix of genders, genderless or any expression of gender not limited to the male-female dichotomy.  

The accusations come as the club’s management attempts to deal with an alleged influx of cisgender men posing as non-binary in order to receive special treatment, representatives of the club told Daily Xtra. Oasis Aqualounge is the only sex club in Toronto to advertise a reduced admission fee of $5 for trans and non-binary people. Cisgender men are charged $60.

Club staff are also accused of misgendering multiple trans people at the door and within the club.

“It sucks,” says Taylor J Mace, a porn producer, about his experience at the club. After allegedly being misgendered by staff multiple times, Mace says he no longer attends the club. He’s one of many who are calling on the club to implement better trans-inclusive training for staff.

“There are few places in the city, even in a city like Toronto, that welcome trans people to show up and get naked and express their sexuality,” he says.

Having initially told Xtra that “no one has ever been excluded from the club,” the club’s marketing director and public relations manager, Fatima Mechtab, later told Xtra in an email that Oasis did temporarily ban assigned male at birth (AMAB) non-binary people from one event in early September.

The ban was advertised for the club’s long-running bi-monthly Sapphic Aquatica event, which Mechtab produces. Mechtab says she spearheaded the ban to discourage cisgender men from posing as trans or non-binary people and infiltrating the event — last held on Sept 25. Sapphic Aquatica is exclusively for women and trans people, she notes.

“My initial fear was that more cis men would try to get into the event because overall, Oasis is pretty straight and many cis men know of the club,” Mechtab writes in an email to Xtra.

“So in all of the confusion and online hate at the time, I was worried about the rumours and so I tried to keep SA [Sapphic Aquatica] out of all of the drama.”

She says the policy was rescinded leading up to the event after she discussed it with trans people who regularly attend the club. She says she later apologized and removed any wording that excludes non-binary people who were assigned male at birth.

“I didn’t understand at the time that [t]rans could also include AMAB NB [assigned male at birth non-binary] folks. I honestly thought they were different identities and never was my [intention] to be transphobic, I was just ignorant at the time.”

She says staff continue to have trans-inclusive training and that, while “mistakes do happen,” staff do their best to be respectful and apologize without question when misgendering occurs.

“As far as myself, it is quite possible that I may have misgendered and if that did happen and I was corrected, I would absolutely apologize . . . I can admit my mistakes.”

Despite this, several other trans people who spoke directly to Xtra about their experiences at the club say it no longer feels like a safe space for trans people.

“The assumption that people AMAB are really men and that AFAB are really female . . . creates this idea that my gender is under question,” says longtime club-goer and fetish artist Maron de Sade.

“I really did enjoy going there,” de Sade says. “But not if it’s going to keep being like this.”

Another club-goer — known in the trans and fetish communities as Zero — says when they attended the club last month, they were told by staff that all non-binary people who present as male would have to pay the cis mens admissions price. When Zero described their account on Fetlife.com, it sparked outrage from some members of the fetish community, who then accused the club of being transphobic toward AMAB non-binary attendees.

“Basically I feel really let down by what I thought was a really good space, and they seem committed to avoiding addressing the issue of AMAB NB people’s gender dysphoria by claiming that doing so would hurt their bottom line,” Zero writes in a Twitter message to Xtra.

The club’s majority owner, Richard — who declined to give his last name — says the club has been experiencing issues with cis men claiming to be non-binary in order to receive special treatment, including access to the discounted admissions fee. Once entering the club, he says, they would then reveal to staff and other guests that they were cis.

“We are not sure what to do as they get more sophisticated,” he tells Xtra. “We went to the community on Fetlife to get suggestions of how to filter them out, without inconveniencing legitimate non-binary people.”

“We have done everything we possibly can to minimize the impact this will have on non-binary people, we are sorry that it has made some people so upset.”

He says the club won’t change its admissions price for people who truly identify as AMAB non-binary.

“That has never been our policy,” he says. Staff — who have been given “several rounds” of trans-inclusivity training, he says — were told instead to keep an eye out for cis men at the door. He maintains that staff go above and beyond to ensure guests aren’t misgendered at the club.

“I suspect we put more effort into this than just about any venue in Toronto, so we do not understand why we are being singled out for this level of scrutiny,” he says.

“I am confident that if anyone does get misgendered at Oasis that it is an honest mistake, that it would never be a deliberate attempt to make someone feel uncomfortable.”