Trans Bodies Belong At The Beach!

Judy Virago.
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Judy Virago is ready to celebrate the Classic Kiwi Summer but that wasn’t always the case. She recalls hiding and hurting herself to fit into mainstream beauty standards before finding her place in the sun.

Summer hasn’t always been my favourite season.  I had severe eczema as a child; the heatwaves and high pollen counts created an altogether inhospitable environment for my delicate constitution.  I tried to cover up to hide my rashes, but that only exacerbated my symptoms. My skin would crack to the point where just the thought of getting into the sea would sting. At the beach I often opted to stay on the shore, fully clothed, collecting shells and scanning for treasure.

As I matured, my physical ailments subsided, and my comfort levels gradually rose. I started to feel healthy in the heat and I started hormone therapy. But this liberation presented a shiny new challenge for my burgeoning body image: feeling safe in a swimsuit.

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For many trans people, going swimming in public is a nightmare. A lack of safe changing rooms is still a major barrier and finding gender-affirming swimwear is not always easy.  Some trans social groups will go so far as to hire out a pool so trans folk can have their own swimming day free from the scrutiny of the cisgender gaze.

When I tell you that my skin was uncomfortable as a child, that was nothing compared to the crushing anxiety I had about people seeing my junk in a swimsuit and targeting me. To ameliorate this fear I applied the often painful, but seemingly necessary evil, the art of tucking. If you want to go swimming tucked, you have to use expensive, medical-grade, water-proof tape and fold your kitty away like origami. This system provided me with a sense of security that boosted my self-esteem in swimming settings.  That is until I visited a water park. It turns out that tape is not strong enough to hold up down a water slide!

I learned to implement backup systems: sarongs, kaftans, and that unfortunate season I chose to wear jorts?  But these were not always reliable fail safes.  One summer, my sartorially talented trans-sister discovered swimskirts (a one-piece with a skirt attached). This gender-affirming garment changed the game! These days there are whole brands of swimwear dedicated to trans bodies, run by people actively removing barriers to trans people’s participation in recreation.

Will we ever get to a place where garments like this are no longer required? As trans people, we are told that we don’t belong, that our bodies make other people uncomfortable. For a while, my body made me uncomfortable too, and to be honest some days I still struggle with that. Transition related costs are inconsistently covered across the country and the reality for many people in New Zealand is that surgery just isn’t an option and many others don’t want it at all. 

I try to focus on the magic I possess: gender alchemy. The power to transmute social constructs. Trans bodies are valid in all their shapes and forms. Trans girls with bulges, trans guys with breasts and non-binary babes with body hair all belong in public spaces.   Gender non-conforming people have started a new wave of the body positivity movement through radical visibility.

Body image is a bitch! If you want to show support for a trans person this summer, enable their presence in mainstream spaces and offer to take them to the beach! 

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