Last year, on a typical cold, gray January morning, I cycled down the river to meet some friends on the Lido. I decided to go with them on a whim the day before, watching them organize the swim in a WhatsApp group. Even though they don’t know it yet, these three queer guys are about to witness my first adult swim in a public pool.
My fingers were numb and my chin was tucked deep into my coat as I rode south with mist rising from the River Lee. As I approached, I felt a sudden pang of dread, rising fear and anxiety at the thought of voluntarily going to a place I had avoided for so long.
Even though I have lived near the Lido in East London for most of my adult life, I have never swam there. As a non-binary person, public spaces where facilities are divided into “men” and “women” exclude me by default. Especially in pools, there are two genders: those in trunks or swimsuits. I don’t fall into any category.
I tried a few times to swim in the leisure center in my but ended up hunched over in the corner of the women’s locker room trying not to be seen or to see myself and panicking away. Before my top surgery, in
, it was socially unacceptable for me to wear swimming trunks to the pool, and I absolutely hated wearing swimsuits – they were completely incompatible with my gender – so I almost never swam in public. Because I didn’t understand these feelings until I learned more about being trans, I see them as an implicit shame because I can’t function like many other people who seem to just enjoy everyday activities like swimming because they’re fun and good for you.
It’s sad because I like swimming. I lived in Hong Kong as a kid and everywhere we lived there was a shared swimming pool. I swim like a marine mammal and play fearlessly in the water with kids and adults alike. Most of my childhood memories revolve around playing in the pool or swimming in the ocean. Back in England at eight o’clock, it felt like swimming was one of the few things I would do in this wet country. I competed in competitive swimming for a few years, went to swimming galas with my classmates, and being chased in the pool as a child turned into a fast and smooth breaststroke.