It has been almost two years since I went swimming. It is a shame. I love the beach and I love swimming in the ocean.
I stopped going to the beach because wearing a women’s swimsuit hit the perfect trifecta of dysphoria, negative body image, and self-consciousness. My Speedo made me look like I had breasts (or more accurately, I could not ignore my breasts when I wore it). My Speedo displayed my hairy armpits and a tract of dark hair running from my crotch to my big toe. I wore a T-shirt and shorts over my swimsuit except when I was in the water.
I was envious of the guys. Gangly teenagers in baggy knee-length board shorts. Collegiate life guards with ripped abs and a full body tan. Pale dads with beer bellies rolling over the edge of their trunks. There was not a woman on the beach whom I wanted to look like. Not even the other butch lesbians.
I don’t want to look like a woman. I look a little less like one now than I did three years ago, but I’m not sure what I actually look like. I’m not sure what I want to look like; how much further I want to go, what I’m willing to do to get there.
Currently, I have (knock wood) very little body dysphoria. I attribute this to top surgery, losing weight, and making an effort to wear clothing I feel comfortable in (refusing to wear anything that triggers my dysphoria). I have vestiges of negative body image. I am self-conscious.
I’ve never worn a bikini top (even with board shorts) or shown my midriff in public. The tops were too girly, and I was too chubby. Today, I like my chest but I’m still critical of my middle-aged jelly belly. I repeat to myself, over and over, that this year I’m going swimming in board shorts and a rash guard. It is my mantra.
I have dormant self-consciousness about not shaving. The last time I shaved was the last time I wore a skirt, and I forget how rare it is for women to have visible leg hair. When I feel self-conscious about it, I remind myself that shaving body hair is a cultural convention that I don’t take part in. Being hairy feels right to me because I associate it with being masculine.
I am actively self-conscious about how masculine I look, and how my gender expression makes me stick out. This is strictly about how others perceive me and potentially judge me as butch or transgender. I don’t blend in. I don’t identify with any of the media images of what women should look like. Sometimes I am grateful that there are so few media images of great looking butch, genderqueer, and non-binary people. There is no one to compare myself against. There is no genderqueer at the beach look.
As pasunhomme noted in last week’s post, the beach is the most cisgender place in the USA. The public beaches in Massachusetts don’t have formal dress codes, but they prohibit nudity (and women can’t go topless). There is an informal dress code; no cross-dressing at the beach. And my plan is to violate that rule, and swim.
Notes: I love this picture of The Beatles at Miami Beach. When I was six I wanted to look just like Paul McCartney in A Hard Day’s Night. Some things never change.
I recently came across a short essay by Dean Spade: Dress to Kill, Fight to Win. It encouraged me to find an alternative to that accursed Speedo.