On Swimming & Sport

 min read
August 19, 2023
Swimming as a trans guy, generally; do I have to give up swimming if I'm transgender? What do I wear if I haven't had/don't want top surgery?

I never want anyone to dismiss the possibility of swimming because they are transgender. There are options! Also, in terms of rules and suits, in many organizations, a uniform exemption is permitted so that a trans masculine person can wear a one-piece “women’s” suit in men's or boys' competition. I'd advise reviewing regulations via the organization website or at transathlete.com.

See the next question for more about what to wear!

I just started high school in September and I swim on the girls’ swim team. That’s been really uncomfortable and I want to swim on the boys’ team. But the big question is: What do I wear? I looked on Underworks for a swim binder but it seems too baggy for competitive swimming. So I was thinking about using a nude half binder along with the longer speedo shorts. Do you think that would be okay to wear and also would it be easy enough to maneuver in? I hope I don't have to wait for top surgery to swim...

The first and most important thing is this: never exercise in a binder that isn't explicitly made for exercise. This can be incredibly dangerous for your health! See note below for more.

Now on to the swimsuits themselves. Swimsuits are hard for most people! You don't have to be trans to hate them. It's important to be gentle with yourself, no matter who you are.

Many people ask me what I did before transition - I wore a women's swimsuit for the entire time I had breasts, and even for a few months after top surgery before I decided to swim for the men's team. This was easiest for me. My logic was that my body had these parts and the "women's" suit fit those parts and that was that. But I also get that's not always that easy. So here are a few other suggestions:

  1. Check out gender neutral swimwear like Beefcake Swimwear, TomboyX, Outplay, Humankind, or Both& Apparel.
  2. Wearing a boys’ jammers with a Jolyn bikini top or other similar top. (Downside: you have to wear a bikini top. Upside: this is the best option for your hydrodynamics and training.)
  3. Wearing boys’ jammers with a women’s suit underneath or a bikini top and then a rash guard on top. (Upside: no bikini/”women’s” suit shows. Downside: this will create a ton of drag, which can be bad for your shoulders and your form. If you decide to do this, just make sure you’re doing your shoulder rehab exercises & paying lots of attention to technique!)
  4. Wear the women’s suit as I mentioned above and practice this perspective shift: Don’t think of the swimsuit as women’s clothes. “Women’s clothes” are just clothes that other people have deemed “female,” but the reality is all of these gender boxes are completely arbitrary categories humans have made and rely upon because we like categories. And categories are productive to a point. And then they can be harmful. (Like with gender, here.) In the end, wearing certain clothes or specific suit doesn’t make you a woman, or even womanly. They are just clothes. It is just a swimsuit. Hundreds of years ago in Korea, men wore dresses! Up until 2008, men around the globe wore full body swimsuits for racing like women do now. (The full-body suits for men got banned not for gender reasons but because they were so costly and FINA was attempting to level that playing field.) My point is not to invalidate the dysphoria you might experience but rather to urge you to try shifting perspective so that you can recognize for yourself that the clothes/swimsuit you wear do not define you – you define you. Even if other people might use the clothes to define you. YOU can know that that isn’t true. You are you, all the same. Of course, this thought process might not be a panacea, but if you feel trapped by what you feel you must wear or have to show, this perspective shift might be helpful! I know it was for me.

Please note:

  1. Again, you should never wear a binder that is not explicitly made for exercises and exercise. This can damage your lungs as the tightness of the binder might not let them expand. Rib fractures are a possibility - and resulting lung punctures can follow. I advise against working out with a binder on.
  2. You could replace the bikini in any of the above options with a sports bra. The only reason I recommend the Jolyn top is because they are made for competitive swimming and have a hole in the center so the water flows through the suit and doesn’t get trapped, which would create a lot of drag. The less drag, the less risk you run impacting your technique and injuring your shoulders.

Check out this gallery for an evolution of my own swim attire & for some examples of the above mentioned suggestions.

As an athlete, how do you stay determined and motivated both during your season and off season? 

In terms of motivation for sport: I am motivated because I love my sport. I think that when things get hard, that’s what I remind myself of. I take extra time during warm up and warm down to really feel the water crashing over my head, slipping past my arms. I love that sensation. The quiet of the underwater. I stay under a second longer than I need to. I gulp in the quiet, the peace. I remind myself: this is why I am here. I talk to my teammates, I laugh with them, even when practice is really hard.

How do you balance the gym and the pool? When you go to the gym and then to the pool but your muscles hurt or ache (from the gym)?

I was on the swim team at my college and I mostly just followed our planned training regimen. In season, my group swam 8x a week and we did strength training (the gym) 3x a week. Out of the season, I tried to lift 4-6 times a week (nearly every day) and swam as much as I felt like it. I have a tough shoulder injury that was exacerbated most by swimming so I tried to give it a good rest when we were out of the season.

For more questions, please contact me HERE. Do not DM me lengthy questions on Instagram, please! I won't get back to you there.