Swimming has always been an escape for me. It’s an hour to let my mind be free and my fatigue of the day to be washed away. Before I transitioned I would swim regularly to relax from the stresses of my veterinary training. My swimming was not for competition or really to share with others, but more a chance to get away from myself in a sense. Any problems I had would either melt away, pushed aside as my arms pulled through the water or the solution would present itself to me. My mind could wander onto any topic I wished or just switch off entirely hearing nothing but the slosh of the water and the bubbles I blew out as I breathed rhythmically during my strokes.
However, during this time I was still battling with my inner self, the identity I had but hid from the world and also from myself. I was body conscious, wearing just a pair of black shorts and nothing on my torso. To all around me I wasn’t out of place, just another 20 year old student doing “his” lengths. The changing rooms at my university pool in the early 2000s had no cubicles so changing was not the most pleasant of experiences. I would do my best to change under my towel or time my exit from the pool for when I knew the male changing room was likely to be empty. Over time the battle grew tougher and tougher and I became much more aware of the dichotomy between my actual body I saw in the mirror and the body I saw in my mind. By 21 I was living a double life. Most of my friends and colleagues and certainly family were not aware of my feelings. I have memories of expressing them as a very young child aged about 3, but I had been hiding since 7. So, by day I was the male presenting, studious and quiet yet miserable vet student and by night I was a happy, friendly, confident and vibrant young woman having a dance in a club. The pain of detransitioning after a weekend as myself, or having to expose an incongruent body at the pool became too much so I stopped swimming for many years.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I gained confidence to go swimming again. I began my full-time transition in 2014, coming out to work, the friends who didn’t already know and my family. Since starting my social transition and being prescribed HRT my confidence, happiness and overall wellbeing increased dramatically. Finally my body outside began to match the person I was inside. For me, early transition was still a tough time fighting the dysphoria that many trans people experience. I still lacked the confidence to present my body in a public pool. Swimming is an extremely exposing sport. You feel that all eyes are on you judging your body shape, choice of swimming attire and as a trans person, whether you have been “read” or not. However, my confidence did grow as I felt my body change. I finally plucked up the courage to dive in so to speak in September 2015. I was very nervous about going into the female changing room at first. There are cubicles to change in now compared with 2003 which allayed my fears. So, I went in; changed; swam; and changed back into my clothes. Nobody looked at me in a hostile manner, said anything or gave any sign that I did not belong. To all around me I wasn’t out of place, just another 30 year old staff member doing her lengths. Success!
This feeling that I could get back into my mindspace, my escape from the difficulties of a research job, my problems melting away as I pulled my arms through the water and kicked my legs was just so liberating. It was something I had missed so much yet not truly realised it until I was back in the water. The dysphoria and lack of confidence came back to me and I thought of all those out there who were, right now, experiencing those same feelings and what the chance to swim would mean to them.
A chance encounter at a friend’s house led me to meet Kate Adair. We shared experiences as many trans people do when we meet someone new. We both found a similar love for swimming and the loss we felt at not being comfortable to do it. We decided a safe space in Glasgow was needed. TAGS had achieved this in England, we wanted something in Scotland. The idea of Seahorses was born. With perseverance on both our parts and incredibly supportive assistance in the name of Hugh Torrance from LEAP Sports, we finally had our first session of Seahorses at Whiteinch Pool in Glasgow. Including Kate and me we had 11 people come along. Their stories were all captivating in their differences and also their similarities. What we all shared though, was an inner peace being back in the water in a truly safe space with no eyes on us questioning whether we belonged there, or should we be wearing a swimsuit or shorts or t-shirt or indeed anything other than, did you have a nice swim?
You can find out more about Seahorses Trans & Non-Binary Swimming in Glasgow on their Facebook page
This article was originally published on the excellent TransGirlsCan blog!
Charlotte S. McCarroll (@TransCharlotte)