Swimwear Anxiety: Cis Vs. Trans

Today’s blog post comes to you from North Carolina, where the wife and kids and I are visiting my in-laws. There’s going to be plenty of time in the pool, as well as a trip to an indoor water park that’s inside of a hotel.

So what’s one of the main pieces of attire that’ll be worn on this trip?

You got it, a bathing suit.

So Lauren and I have spent more time than we should have going from store to store to try on suits. We’re both almost forty years old, so there’s a certain amount of hip-ness combined with modesty that’s needed at this point in the suits we select.

Then there’s the actual preparation for getting ready to wear the suits, i.e. the shaving.  Above the knees and below the knees, the “bikini area,” the armpits. At some point during this process I notice how my body has changed over the past year. A little less of a paunch thanks to going gluten-free this year. The varicose veins on the back of my legs getting more noticeable. More dimples in the thighs.

Le sigh, what an ordeal!

All of this made me think about one of my clients who’s also been planning a summer vacation for her wife and kids. We started talking about the vacation several months in advance, due to the concerns and challenges that were coming up for her.

“Should I go in ‘girl’ mode or ‘guy’ mode?”

“If I go in girl mode, should I wear a bathing suit?”

“If I wear a bathing suit, will I look okay? Or will I be making a fool of myself?”

 “Will I be able to use the ladies’ restrooms and changing rooms at the hotel, restaurants, and tourist attractions? What should I do if anybody gives me a hard time about it?”

And I thought I had a lot on my mind about my vacation.

The question of going in “girl” or “guy” mode seemed, at first, to be a no-brainer. She had already been on HRT for a year and a half and was at a point where her feminizing results were very pleasing to her. She was really enjoying the new level of confidence and comfort she felt about herself and her body, and her daughters had scolded her for even thinking about not going as her true female self.

As a matter of precaution she called the hotel in the city in which they’d be vacationing and asked about their policies for transgender patrons. She was referred to the head of security, who proceeded to let her know that she must present as male during her visit because she was pre-op (i.e. she had not yet had gender reassignment surgery). She must “dress a male at all times (whatever that’s supposed to mean!), use the men’s restroom and the men’s dressing room.”

At first this conversation left my client hurt, confused, and angry. All she wanted was to be able to go on vacation with her family, and now she was being told she had to revert back to being someone she never even felt she was.

In previous sessions we had already been discussing the issue of “to wear or not to wear” a ladies swimsuit while on this vacation. Although she felt comfortable and confident when it came to looking “cute” in the suit, she was unable to afford the high price of laser treatments and/or electrolysis to remove her excess body hair. She initially was hit with what I’ve heard many clients call “a really bad gender dysphoria day” when she realized she wouldn’t be able to enjoy time at the swimming pool with her family while on the trip.

It just so happens that earlier that week I had heard about a local couple who provided electrolysis on a donation-bases for trans persons who were having a hard time affording the cost of it. My client’s face lit up and, without delay, she scheduled herself several appointments leading up to the date of the vacation.

So the disappointment brought up by the conversation with the head of security was compounded by knowing that all of the effort she was already putting towards making this a pleasant experience for herself and everyone involved was for naught.

Until she decided she would get a second opinion.

At the end of our session she said to me, “You know, I already have a super cute bathing suit picked out, and I’m not about to let this one security person stand in my way from being able to show it off.”

This time she emailed Guest Relations at the hotel, asking if the hotel is friendly to transgender people. She received a response which stated they do indeed have a strict policy in regards to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation that applies to persons who are transgender. Including her being able to use whichever restroom is consistent with her “full time gender appearance.” The writer of the email signed it, “Have a wonderful day!” And you bet my client did.

So tomorrow I’ll be going to the pool, and I’ll be wearing my new bathing suit, and I’ll wonder if I look okay in it, and I’ll be annoyed when I’ll have to pee while wearing it and I’ll grumble all the way to the ladies room to do so…

But these concerns are embarrassingly small compared to what a person who is transgender goes through when going on vacation. Especially if they are in the earlier stages of transitioning – they may not even have their name changed yet on their driver’s license or passport, or their gender marker, and they have to wonder at what point is someone going to make an issue of this.

The client I described earlier is a trans female. But what about someone who is a trans male who hasn’t yet had top/chest surgery? His options for a bathing suit are either “don’t bother” or “wear a binder under a big t-shirt” (i.e. tremendously uncomfortable).

And having to pee while you’re wearing your swimsuit? Imagine if your bigger concern is whether or not someone is going to demand you leave “their” restroom, or even having to deal with scowls from onlookers.

Homework Assignment

The next time you go on vacation, take a moment to think about what it might be like for someone who is transgender. If you are female, think about what it’d be like for trans females – if you’re male, think about how it could be for trans men. If you have any opportunity at your place of business to make a vacation more comfortable and enjoyable for a trans person, I encourage you to think of ways you can do so.

Also, if there are ways in which you have been challenged while traveling (such as a handicap, your ethnicity, your weight, your sexual orientation), then you probably have more compassion for what a trans person goes through than you even know. Use this opportunity to connect with this feeling of being a minority and the potential challenges which come with this.

If you are trans, take a lesson from my client and don’t give up! I know this is easier said than done, so bite off just a little bit at a time. With every victory, with every time you stand up for yourself, you not only are empowering yourself but also the other trans people who they’ll encounter in the future.

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  • Grafton Kevan

    July 26, 2013 at 11:07 PM Reply

    An aside — a lot of FtM people who’ve not had chest surgery can get away with men’s swimming trunks + sports-bra type swim top + rash guard shirt.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      July 27, 2013 at 9:18 AM Reply

      Great tip, I’ll be sure to pass that on to a few clients who I know will appreciate it. 🙂

  • Rachel Seifert

    July 27, 2013 at 11:42 PM Reply

    I am so not ready for a swimsuit. I’ve read about ways to to “tuck” etc,,, I don’t think I’d even ask a hotel about their policies. I’d simply show up and do what I do and figure it out as I went. I’m looking at this issue as I consider using the Gym and facilities and my university. But it’s a serious consideration…

  • Jenna Powell

    August 31, 2013 at 12:16 AM Reply

    Hi Dara, I’ve just found your blog from your post on PINKessence and this post leaped out at me.
    I’ve managed to get around the swimsuit issue so far by wearing a trisuit when swimming as it provides all the cover I need. However, I’ve been toying with the thought that I need to get a swimsuit at some point. When I can find one that I like I’m going to get a skirted swimsuit to provide a bit of extra coverage where its needed. Hopefully I’ll have got one before next summer because although it would be nice to wear it to the pool its going to take me a while to get confident for that but it would be nice to be able to wear it to the beach.

    • darahoffmanfox

      September 5, 2013 at 11:21 PM Reply

      Hi Jenna, I just came across your comment, sorry for the delay in responding! I’m glad you shared your ideas with me and our readers, and I wish you luck in finding the bathing suit of your dreams!

  • April Kristie

    November 7, 2013 at 2:39 PM Reply

    As a very tall transwoman who is only two months into HRT, I wonder what next summer will bring as I am developed in my new puberty. I am 6’8″ and currently 295lbs and in my sixties, should I dress appropriate for a woman my age? I really do not like skirted suits at all, but hiding my physical sex would be more than appropriate. Heck, I do not even know if I could find a long enough torso suit, but thank the universe for lyrca LOL.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      November 8, 2013 at 12:07 PM Reply

      You bring up a challenge that I hear from my clients often – can I dress the way I want to, or because of certain physical limitations do I “need” to dress a certain way instead? I like your spunk and I hope you will be able to find a solution next summer that allows you to be you. 🙂

      • April Christie

        November 8, 2013 at 4:12 PM Reply

        I like your style Dara, I will keep you in the loop!

  • Dianne P

    July 20, 2014 at 5:31 PM Reply

    For my MtF sisters; Do it! Get a suit with a little skirt and try it with maybe just two pairs of your regular panties underneath to keep things under cover. My personal favorite is my middle aged lady one piece suit, that has a skirt, with the bottoms from another “full coverage” two piece. You can’t see a thing. And you would be surprised how little you need up top to fill the thing out. Whatever your trigger is you can bet you share it with a bunch of cis women. Try hydrochic.com For a bunch of modest bathing suits marketed to LDS women.

    We live in Boise Idaho and we have an antique Doughboy pool. Every year we have a Trans* pool party. It makes my heart sing to see a bunch of Tgals take off their hair and trans men put on a tshirt and sports bra and jump in the pool and have a nice good private time. LIBERATING!!! Every year someone decides, “Yes, I can do this!”

  • Adele

    February 2, 2016 at 5:00 AM Reply

    I am a nudist (yes really), so imagine how complicated it would be for me. I am a 51 year old mtf just starting to transition (pre-everything). I went to my usual nudist swim, and I painted my toenails red and felt so self concious. It wasn’t my mismatched boobs or my tiny penis, it was the red toenails it felt liberating and scary, even though I have been going to the swims for 30 years!

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