Life continues to be relentlessly punishing in my transition and yet I remain focused on my goals and resolute in overcoming everything that gets thrown at me. There are so many blog posts I could have written about it and I will – eventually – but improving my immediate situation to relieve stress has to come first.
This post is by request, but it ties into my story pretty intricately so I am happy to make time for it. Swimming is an excellent way of dissipating stress, besides being good exercise.
I first went swimming in my one piece swimsuit in 1999. It was on one of Antigua’s 365 beaches. The mile long beach was completely deserted except for my family. It was one of the more inaccessible beaches and had no facilities of any description. Perfect for me, being extremely self conscious. I floated in the sea, swam and glided around. I laid in the hot sand to dry, just as any woman would, the difference being my body was incongruous and did not fit. If my body had fit, I would not have cared if the beach were busy, but I cared very much and the beach had to be empty. I got a sunburn that day and the outline of my swimsuit was visible on my body for weeks after. I could look in the mirror and it would reveal my ‘secret’ and enable me to relive that precious day.
I have been swimming in my one piece swimsuit in public many times since, on our more exotic holidays where the sea is warm enough to stay in for more than a few minutes. In fact, the one I wore in Antigua wore out and was discarded. However, I have always covered it with a T-shirt, because I never found a deserted beach again. More often, I wore a plain bikini bottom, but no top. The more attentive might have noticed the feminine cut of the cloth, but not realised. It was intended not to be obvious.
Swimming in a public swimming pool as my authentic self in my swimsuit without a T-shirt was always going to require a quantum leap. My self-acceptance and ‘coming out’ preceded it and was necessary to force the issue. I became expert at tucking using sports tape to produce a good facsimile of female figure but still felt very obvious and vulnerable.
The Transgender and Gender Non-conforming Swimming (TAGS) group in Lewisham provided me with the opportunity I needed to overcome my social anxiety. I was in the same position as everyone else there. The first time I went, I wore a plain, pretty conservative one piece suit, and my concerns evaporated. If pre-op trans men could be authentic by letting their tops all hang out then, for goodness sake, what was I worried about being all taped up and held in place by tight fitting lycra? I decided I was done with conservatism and bought myself a beautiful orange flowery one piece swimsuit with huge cut-outs baring my skin. I have worn it ever since. It’s me. I love it. I feel comfortable in it.
The trouble with Lewisham is that it is the wrong side of London and the swimming session is late. I could get there by train quite quickly but would feel too vulnerable to travel back late at night with wet hair and no make-up. Late night trains on Fridays are uncomfortable at the best of times, occupied by drunk alpha males who are most likely to feel their masculinity assaulted by the mere presence of an obviously trans woman. I drove there. 3.5 hours in the rush hour to get there, 1.5 hours to get back. That was driving 5 hours for a 1 hour swim, yet I did it, week in, week out, because the swimming is so important to me. It was truly affirming.
Then life got in the way. I stopped going because there was too much else going on. I went swimming at a local pool just the once with a trans friend and the choice of pool was very specific because it had a single mixed changing area with cubicles. It was OK. The difference was that I felt the need to present as obviously feminine as I could. I wore my breast augmentation ‘chicken fillets’, wore nail varnish on my fingers and toes. Yet I felt I was being clocked by everyone. I probably wasn’t, but I could not achieve the relaxed state of mind I’d enjoyed in the pool in Lewisham or on the beach on Antigua. I was on edge, constantly on alert for danger like a Meerkat. Having been with a friend, I know I could go alone and swim whenever I want to, but the self-affirmation of saying to myself “This is the real me, get over it” when stared at is no substitute for being relaxed in the pool.
Swimming is as integral a part of human life as it is for any other animals. It is not something that trans people should feel uncomfortable doing. We should be able to relax and enjoy the experience, like anyone else. This is why transgender swimming spaces like TAGS are precious. We need them everywhere.