Summer is finally upon us and you know what that means: suns out, bums out. With bluer skies, warmer weather, and the new Charli XCX album coming to almost every part of the Northern Hemisphere, it’s time to bust out your swimwear and hit the pool, Jacob Riis, Ginger Rodgers, or your fave local body of water. Regardless of how you feel about the summer months and the inevitable chafing that comes along with it, water is wet and swimming is back in season.
However, swimming isn’t always a straightforward experience for everyone in the queer community. While having access to queer beaches can be a game-changer for many LGBQ+ people to feel safe, for those of us who are transgender, non-binary, and/or gender non-conforming, the experience of swimming can come with specific anxieties. Trans bodies (or bodies that are visibly gender non-conforming in any way) are always under more scrutiny in public spaces, be that in bathrooms or on the beach. This, coupled with the fact that the majority of swimwear is still designed for cisgender bodies, can make swimming a complicated and stressful experience for many trans people.
A brief history of swimwear
Swimwear has made quite a lot of progress since the beginning of time. The scantily clad beach goers that you see these days most likely would have been arrested for public indecency back in the day. In the 19th century, women often wore full-sleeve chemise-type gowns made of wool or flannel so that modesty and decency were not threatened. Oftentimes these fabric gowns had weights sewn into the hems so that they would not rise in the water, god forbid a little skin was shown.
However, in the early 1900s form-fitting styles were proving more and more popular despite opposition from some groups. This phenomenon eventually led to the “swimsuit,” which gave way to bikinis, tankinis, mankinis…and the list goes on.
While public nudity was a major concern in designing early swimwear, it seems to be all the rage these days. However, despite movements forward in the world of swimwear, no one has quite yet addressed the gap in the industry for transgender and gender non-conforming bodies. While the fact that most swimsuits are designed for cisgender bodies is frustrating, there are some queer and trans brands breaking down these barriers. But even if you can’t find a trans-specific swimsuit that works for you, there are a few tips and tricks to managing swimming while transgender or non-binary for every type of gender expression and identity.
Trans Masc Swimming Tips
If you identify on the trans masculine spectrum, you might have a few different concerns about swimming in public. If you haven’t had top surgery (either because you haven’t been able to access it yet or don’t plan on getting it), you might need to find a swimsuit that both affirms your gender while covering your chest. While you might not feel uncomfortable with this part of your body, it’s not always easy to go swimming as a visibly trans or gender non-conforming person.
As far as tops go, you have a few different options in terms of what to wear on top while you swim. Some people opt for swimming shirts, neoprene shirts, or rashguards. Rashguards are designed for surfing, so they are typically tighter and more like a water-ready compression shirt, whereas swim shirts can fit looser and are designed to protect against UV rays. You can also always wear a heavyweight baggier t-shirt over a pair of swim trunks or boy shorts. Neoprene is the same material that wetsuits are made out of. Some people opt to buy a shorter wetsuit known as a spring suit or a neoprene top and wear either of these over a binder.
Can you wear a binder while swimming?
If your binder is made from a spandex and nylon blend, you can absolutely swim in it. However, you’ll typically want to size up or make sure that your binder is loose enough to not restrict your breathing while you swim, especially if you are planning on doing laps or swimming for exercise. If you do end up taking your binder for a dip, make sure to soak it in cold water afterward or rinse the chlorine out in the shower when you get home.
You can also explore alternatives to binders such as KT Tape or Trans Tape, although be aware that the adhesive might not be as effective in the water. If you have had top surgery within the last year, make sure that you cover up your scars when you are in the sun, or make sure you are wearing strong sunscreen with high SPF.
Also, it’s important to know that you don’t have to bind when you are in public or at the beach unless you want to. Trans bodies should be normalized and deserve to be able to exist freely in public spaces including swimming spaces. Whether or not you bind while swimming should be based on your comfort level when assessing the space that you will be in.
How do you pack while swimming?
The good news is that most packers can be submerged in water for extended periods of time, especially the ones made of silicone. If you sometimes pack with a pair of rolled-up socks, you’re going to want to invest in something a little more substantial when it comes to swimming while packing. The not so good news is that it’s relatively hard to find swim trunks designed specifically for packing.
There are a few brands making a splash in this area but if you can’t afford these options, you might want to try layering packing underwear or packing trunks underneath your swimsuit, if you’re looking to achieve the same streamlined aesthetic as you would when wearing everyday clothes. You can also always opt to wear an EZ Bulge inside the lining of swim trunks you already own, or you can sew your own pouch in the inner lining of your swimsuit to hold it. Just make sure to use a similar mesh-like or quick-dry material if you’re going to go down this route.
If you choose to swim with a packer, it’s important to make sure that you let it air dry completely before storing. While chlorine isn’t great for things like binders and packers, you would have to submerge these for an extended period of time in chlorine in order for it to have a long-term effect.
Trans Femme Swimming Tips
We all have hang-ups about our bodies. Often summertime means warmer weather which means fewer clothes, and nothing says full display quite like swimming. It can be hard enough to feel confident and comfortable in your body while half-naked, let alone add in the fact that you’re trans. However, if you identify anywhere on the trans feminine spectrum, there are a few different types of bathing suits that can help.
Some of the biggest concerns that some trans femme folks might have when swimming might be around finding swimsuit bottoms that aren’t too revealing. While you by no means have to tuck or conceal any part of your body to make cis people comfortable, the reality is that the unwanted attention that can come from being read as trans in public can sometimes be too much. If you haven’t had bottom surgery yet (or don’t plan to), you might look for swim bottoms with a skirt or a ruffled option. This can help hide a bulge if that feels important for you.
You might also want to look into buying one-piece swimsuits that can help emphasize curves or consider using the extra breast pads that come along with some swimsuits, namely bikini tops. If you have dysphoria about your shoulders, wearing a high-neck halter top swimsuit can help offset this. You can always opt for a shorter wetsuit as well, for a more full-coverage look.
How do you tuck while swimming?
Tucking while swimming can be a challenge when you add in the element of water. If you are used to taping to tuck, the adhesive often doesn’t stick when wet and your tuck might end up coming undone in the water. If you are going to tuck with tape while you swim, try wearing bikini bottoms made from a compression material such as Lycra or spandex.
You can always opt to buy a swim gaff from independent sellers on Etsy or, if you have the money, consider investing in Unclockable’s Swim-Proof Tuck Kit. These tuck kits are waterproof for up to four hours and allow you to re-tuck after bathroom breaks. If you need a tucking option for longer swims, consider buying a gaff thong from brands like Origami Customs (or even off Amazon!) that you can layer under your swim bottoms.
It should also be noted that by no means do you have to tuck when swimming. Bulges belong on the beach and in any public space for that matter! If you don’t want to tuck or don’t care about the way people read you, just know that you can always rock whatever swim outfit feels the best and most affirming for you.
Non-binary/androgynous swimming tips
Many of us fall into gender categories outside of trans masculine and trans feminine, and some of us may identify more with androgyny or identify as no gender whatsoever. While swimming can provoke an extremely gendered environment, there are ways to mitigate your dysphoria by playing around with different gender-neutral expressions while swimming.
For those looking for two-piece swimsuit options, try out the shorts (either boardshorts or boy shorts) and a little top combo. The top can be a bikini top, sports bra-like top, chest binder, or crop top. For those looking for one-pieces, look for one-piece swimsuits without a plunging neckline. Some may have zippers that can be zipped up or down, but you can keep them zipped up. Many one-piece swimsuits also have a boy-short bottom rather than a bikini bottom look.
Another way to play around with gender expression is to accessorize with hats, cover-ups, and more. Try out floral button-down t-shirts to masc up an otherwise “femme” swimsuit like a bikini. Consider adding a shawl or wrap to femme up a “masc” chest binder and boy swim short combo.
Trans swimwear brands making a splash in the swim industry
If you’re new to FOLX and interested in gender-affirming healthcare, learn more about our estrogen and testosterone offerings. If you have additional questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. FOLX members with questions about swimming are encouraged to reach out to their clinician.