On Swimming & Sport

Swimming as a transguy, generally; do I have to give up swimming if I’m transgender? What do I wear if I haven’t had/don’t want top surgery?

In my opinion, you shouldn’t ever write off the possibility of swimming because you’re transgender. There are options. Also, in terms of rules and suits — you actually can get a uniform exemption and wear a one-piece “women’s” suit. If you’re in high school, the USA swimming rules are actually pretty accepting of gender-nonconforming and trans individuals. USA Swimming actually has an entire task force working on trans* inclusion. I can’t be sure about your specific high school, of course. Still, I wouldn’t ever lose hope. The NCAA and the IOC have pretty inclusive rules. Check out my blog post on testosterone for more about the NCAA’s rules.  See the following question for more about what to wear!

 

I just started high school in September and I swim on the girls’ swim team. That’s been really uncomfortable and I want to swim on the boys’ team. But the big question is: What do I wear? I looked on Underworks for a swim binder but it seems too baggy for competitive swimming. So I was thinking about using a nude half binder along with the longer speedo shorts. Do you think that would be okay to wear and also would it be easy enough to maneuver in? I hope I don’t have to wait for top surgery to swim…

The reality is there is no perfect answer. I wore a women’s swim suit for the entire time I had breasts. It was the easiest way for me. My logic was that my body had these parts and the suit fit those parts and that was that. But I also get that’s not always that easy. So here are my suggestions/the ideas I’ve come up with thus far:

  1. Wearing a boys’ jammers with a Jolyn bikini top.
    1. Downside: you have to wear a bikini top.
    2. Upside: this is the best option for your hydrodynamics and training.
  2. Wearing boys’ jammers with a women’s suit underneath or a bikini top and then a rash guard on top.
    1. Upside: no bikini/”women’s” suit shows.
    2. Downside: this will create a ton of drag, and it could be really bad for your shoulders and terrible for your form.
  3. Wear the women’s suit as I mentioned above and practice this perspective shift: Don’t think of the swim suit as women’s clothes. “Women’s clothes” are just clothes that other people have deemed “female,” but the reality is all of these gender boxes are completely arbitrary boxes that humans have shoved into categories because we like categories. The reality is wearing those clothes or suit doesn’t make you a woman, or even womanly. They are just clothes. It is just a swim suit. Hundreds of years ago in Korea, men wore dresses! Men used to wear full body swim suits for racing like women do now. That was considered appropriate attire! (You might remember they got banned not for gender reasons but for cost reasons.) So I guess what I’m trying to say is you should try shifting perspective so that you can recognize just for yourself that the clothes/swim suit does not define you – you define you. Even if other people might use the clothes to define you. YOU know that that isn’t true. You are you, all the same. This might not be a panacea, but if you feel trapped by what you feel you must wear or have to show, this perspective shift might be helpful! I know it was for me.

Please note:

  1. You should never wear a binder and exercise. It is really bad for your lungs – it doesn’t let them expand and you could actually fracture a rib and then potentially puncture a lung. It’s really not safe. I 100% advise against working out with a binder on.
  2. You could replace the bikini in any of the above options with a sports bra. The only reason I recommend the Jolyn top is because they are made for competitive swimming and have a hole in the center so the water flows through the suit and doesn’t get trapped, which would create a lot of drag.

 

I recently saw an article about two MTF transgender track athletes and how people think it is unfair. I was wondering what your take is, being a trans athlete yourself? Do people’s opinions on fairness differ because you’re FTM and, supposedly, it is more difficult for you to compete against cis men? I’m just curious about how you feel about something like this, because I think people typically don’t take as much notice to FTM athletes, because as you said in your Ellen interview “I’m not winning anything,” but you were pushing yourself to complete new goals and better times. Do you think people are only complaining because they’re winning?

This is a hot-topic, and the short answer is yes. Trans women most definitely receive more pushback as athletes than trans men do. I can’t claim to understand a trans women’s experience, but what I will say about it is this: in most leagues (for example, the NCAA, any FINA regulated or IOC regulated competition) follow rules that regulate gender by hormone levels. So a trans women cannot compete as a female athlete unless she can prove one documented year of hormone suppressants. This makes it so the trans woman has no biological advantage over other women.

People’s next argument in response is usually, “Well, what if the trans woman has already gone through male puberty! She’s going to be taller and bigger than other (cisgender) girls!” And my response is this: Well, yes, maybe she’ll be taller. But there are tall cisgender girls, too. There are all sorts of variation in bodies within cisgender people and in sports, and you know what, that’s actually why we have sports competitions! Because bodies are different – they are shaped and sized differently; they perform differently, based on biology. And this difference is the same: a difference based in biology.

 

As an athlete, how do you stay determined and motivated both during your season and off season? 

In terms of motivation for sport: I am motivated because I love my sport. I think that when things get hard, that’s what I remind myself of. I take extra time during warm up and warm down to really feel the water crashing over my head, slipping past my arms. I love that sensation. The quiet of the underwater. I stay under a second longer than I need to. I gulp in the quiet, the peace. I remind myself: this is why I am here. I talk to my teammates, I laugh with them, even when practice is really hard.

 

How do you balance the gym and the pool? When you go to the gym and then to the pool but your muscles hurt or ache (from the gym)?

I’m on the swim team at my school and I mostly just follow our planned training regimen. In season, my group on the team swims 8x a week and we do strength training (the gym) 3x a week. Out of the season, I try to lift 4-6 times a week (nearly every day) and swim as much as I feel like it. I have a tough shoulder injury that is exacerbated most by swimming so I try to give it a good rest when we’re out of the season.

 

For more questions, please EMAIL me at schuyler@pinkmantaray.com. Do not DM me lengthy questions on Instagram, please! I won’t get back to you there. I answer every email. 

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