I haven’t been swimming for years. A whole host of issues surrounding my body and transition effectively ruled out swimming for me.

The number one problem was what to wear. Swimming is one of the few sports where there is a distinct difference in the way men and women dress. And anybody not identifying with either of those poles has to make a decision which way to go, swimming cozzie-wise. Easier said than done, when your body says one thing, and your brain very definitely says another.

Technically, of course, I could have continued wearing a woman’s swimming costume. But in reality this would have been far too much of a mind-f*ck. Having my breasts on display in skin-tight lycra would, psychologically, have been disastrous. I contemplated wearing a T-shirt over the top, but let’s face it, once water hits a T-shirt, everything’s still clingy.

I know that in other parts of the country, it is more common for people to swim in T-shirts, or rash vests, but round here that seems to be less common (in my experience) and the last thing I wanted was to draw attention to myself.

I did briefly contemplate going swimming wearing my binder, and then a T-shirt, but bearing in mind how hard it was to breathe in a binder, and how close the whole scenario was getting to that part of your swimming badge where you have to jump into the pool in your pyjamas, I gave up.

Fast forward to the present, post-chest-surgery, and a little further on in my body’s slow but steady creep towards the stereotypically masculine. My bum, hips and thighs are smaller, I have a ‘treasure trail’ creeping up my stomach, no breasts, man-sized nipples, oh, and quite a lot of tattoos (which, whilst playing no part in my actual transition, do seem to mark me in people’s eyes as less feminine. Ridiculous, but true.) My hair is a shade short of a buzzcut, so most things are pointing, at a casual glance, towards me being a man.

There is the small issue of scars. I have a purpley-red raised scar running from not-quite the centre of my chest to my armpit on both sides. It’ll fade with time, but given my track-record with scars, probably not entirely. It was suggested to me that I wait to go swimming until the scars were less obvious, but sometimes you’ve just got to bite the bullet, haven’t you?

Besides – what could anyone possibly say that would stop me in my track? “Cor, you’ve got big ugly scars!” Yes, yes I have. “I saw that Transsexual Summer programme, and they had scars like that! Are you a tranny [sic]?” Close. I prefer the word transgender. “That’s disgusting!” You’re entitled to your opinion. “Woah! Were you in a car crash?” Yes, yes I was – they had to operate to reconstruct most of my ribcage. Etc.

So anyway, I decided recently that it was Time. I purchased my first pair of swimshorts – which contrary to my promises to friends are NOT covered in palm trees and scantily clad ladies. Remember the bit about not wanting to stick out? I sat at the computer plotting my movements, checking the timetable, price, etc. I decided to go to a particular pool as it has a unisex ‘Changing Village’, so no immediate ‘what are you doing in here’ issues, hopefully. I also had to plan when to put on my testosterone gel, as it has to stay on your skin for 6 hours, so that went into my bag. Deciding whether or not to ‘pack’ at the pool was an easy one. Quite apart from not feeling it was necessary, I had horrible visions of something coming loose, and my little silicone buddy floating off towards the shallow end (or doing the front-crawl, depending on how imaginative I was feeling) so that also had to go in my bag. It was like packing for a military campaign.

I walked down to the pool, feeling far more nervous than I had anticipated. Visions of being laughed at, pointed at, etc. filled my mind. I was having to do a serious job of calming myself down. After all, what could possibly REALLY go wrong?

The pool was shut. A pool cover problem meant no swimming til it could be repaired. I was devastated.

Which is ridiculous – this was just a trip to have a swim, but for me it meant far more. I was finally going to do what I’d never done before, courage girded, and suddenly couldn’t. As I was close to work, and it was raining, I called the boss, and arranged to start work a couple of hours early, and sat at my desk in a sulk for the rest of the day.

I tried again the following day, this time phoning to check all was well with the pool cover. Changing was no problem, but that moment when I unlocked my cubicle to go put my stuff in a locker took an unreasonable amount of courage. The other problem I had is that I take my glasses off to swim, and prefer to leave them in the locker, so I was flying blind. This could be an advantage, as if anyone had stared at me, I couldn’t see them! It did mean, though, I couldn’t work out which was the gents toilet (the sign was at the top of the door…too far away), and anyway, there was no way I was going into the loo barefoot without being able to see the contents of the floor, so I saved it for later (and no, I DIDN’T pee in the pool!!)

Getting into the water was a dream come true. It was cool, embracing, and on ME, not cloth. Amazingly, I could still remember how to swim (just – I’m a one-stroke-and-not-all-that-good-at-that kinda guy) but honestly most of my time was spent just enjoying how good the water felt, and how good I felt. How free. I stopped worrying about how I looked after the first 2 minutes. Having achieved a real dream has given me a huge confidence boost. And swimming 30 lengths, albeit slowly, made me feel pretty pleased with myself.

Having got myself out of the water without losing my shorts, and changed, and testosteroned, etc. I decided to treat myself to a cup of dodgy coffee and some crisps. I’d just sat down with my goodies, and was giving myself a mental pat on the back for surviving the experience, when the fire-alarm went off, and the whole building, including the pool, was evacuated. Had that happened 15 or 30 minutes earlier, I can leave it to your imagination how I’d have felt…

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