I knew that as a trans person, my identity would have an effect on my life in a handful of ways—coming out time and time again, hopefully getting to wear clothes I actually found to be cute despite getting misgendered every day because of it, learning how to perfect my makeup and also perfectly administer a shot to myself. I didn’t know some of my biggest challenges would be remembering to subtract a size and a half for my shoe size, keeping calm when a stranger genders me correctly, or simply wanting to go for a swim.
As a girl who grew up on the East Coast with grandparents who lived on the beach, I took easy access to the ocean for granted and clearly didn’t quite think about how far away from the great big blue I’d be moving when I decided upon Denver, Colorado. I miss the water, and not only because I moved half a country away, but because even when I have the opportunity to swim, it feels like too big of a risk.
You see, when summer finally arrives, it feels necessary to go shopping for bathing suits, especially when living in a capitalist-driven, body image-obsessed society. Along with many other types of women, I found it to be a debilitating task this year, one that has left me sitting on the side of the pool, maybe feet dangling in, but still unable to get in and enjoy the water.
I hadn’t purchased my own bathing suit in years, because I misunderstood my dysphoria as believing I hated swimming, and anyway, I had some swim trunks that still fit me, right? So a month or so ago, I set out, with a supportive friend, of course, to find a bathing suit—one that would both affirm my body and my gender identity while still giving me sense of relief when swimming in pools overflowing with cisgender folk.
As a trans woman who “passes” for the most part, it had been a minute since I felt like an outsider shopping, but that feeling was quickly brought back to life when standing in the aisles of Target on Colorado Blvd.
My hands were getting clammy, my breath short, and my forehead drenched in sweat.
I was constantly moving for other shoppers who would come near me, as if I was an intruder, hoping it would keep be from getting “clocked”—a term frequently used to imply trans people are faking our identities by pulling the wool over society’s eyes. What I had hoped would be a cute bathing suit trip quickly turned into the realization that finding swimwear as a pre-op or non-op trans woman was a losing battle.
So, I now own two bathing suits, both of which I wear with shapewear underneath and sometimes multiple pairs for extra coverage. When I go to the pool, you can usually find me sitting under the umbrella in the corner of the patio away from everyone. I don’t really swim; at most I sit on the stairs in the water, which still feels like a huge step for me, pun intended.
Last week when I went, I wore a cover-up for the majority of the time and even had a hard time taking that off, much less attempting to take a dip. I don’t think I realized years ago how hard it would be to do such mundane tasks like bathing suit shopping, simply because I am trans.
I definitely didn’t realize how much I took for granted when I lived near the water and wasn’t drowning in society’s transphobia.
Honestly, it feels silly to go to pools and not swim, but that’s where I’m at with my body in a bathing suit. I may not touch the water, but I’m still out there, being myself under the sun, claiming space where trans bodies are often made to feel as if we don’t belong. And, frankly, if you find a space and some friends you feel safe around, you should try it too. We deserve it.