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Gender Neutral Swimwear

Feb 19, 2024

Gender Neutral Swimwear

Finnegan Shepard

When you are searching for gender neutral swimwear, you are really searching for something deeper. You are searching for something to help make the experience of swimming more comfortable, and like a more accurate version of yourself. For many people who are AFAB, non-binary, GNC, transmasc, or trans men, swimming is one of the most challenging arenas. In fact, it can be so challenging that folks avoid the experience all together. 

Fortunately, we live in a time where there are more options available for people who aren’t comfortable or fit into the highly gendered cis-oriented swimwear industry. But what exactly does comfort look like to you? To what extent is gender neutral swimwear a question of functionality versus identity versus style? These are all important questions. In this blog, we are going to run through some of the top questions we get asked, and give you our honest answer. 

Of course, there is no single or definitive answer about any of this, so please don’t interpret our opinion as the ‘right’ one. We simply have the advantage and privilege of having been on the front lines, interviewing, discussing, and surveying transmasc, enby, gnc, and gender non conforming folks for the last three years. All of this discussion has helped inform how we approach not only design, but thinking about design and how clothing can and should work for us. 

Without further ado, let’s jump in!

What is gender neutral swimwear?

To answer this question, we need to first discuss the term ‘gender neutral.’ This term is used in a variety of ways, but its most common usage or interpretation is to essentially mean ‘gender does not apply here.’ So when we talk about gender neutral toilets, it means anyone and everyone can use them. When we say gender neutral clothing or gender neutral swimwear, we mean that anyone can wear it.

In practicality, what this tends to mean in clothing is that it is oversized, so as to accommodate the areas of bodies that are larger proportionally–for instance, people who were assigned male at birth tend to have longer torso. People who were assigned female at birth tend to have wider hips. If you are making a swim tank that will fit both (regardless of how they identify, as cis, trans, enby, gnc, or anywhere on the spectrum) then you will need a swim tank that is quite long and also wide enough to accommodate the hips. The result? Baggier or more oversized clothing.

With swimwear, there is a bit more nuance. Because of the fact that drag in the water is a key element to consider, most of the companies that are designing and advertising gender neutral swimwear today have gone for a slightly different interpretation. Companies like TomboyX and Humankind have made gender neutral swimwear that is a kind of compromise between traditionally masc swimwear (swim trunks) and femme swimwear (bikinis or revealing one pieces). The results are more form fitting trunks or shorts and a top that has more coverage but usually still reveals some of the back.

Woman wearing fitted turquoise swimtank and swim bottoms
Image source: TomboyX

  

The gender neutral swimwear I’m finding still feels really femme. Are there other options?

As we mentioned before, swimwear is one of the most challenging categories for masc of center folks, because you have to deal with the external elements of water, drying time, and how silhouette is impacted when wet. However, Both& has designed a swimwear set that is slightly different from the other suits on the market, for anyone who wants a specifically masc look while swimming.

The set is comprised of a pair of swim trunks, made in a vintage-style textured fabric that looks like a style choice rather than a choice based around gender presentation. The trunks come in a square shape, with front pockets so as to minimize curve as the hips, and they also have an inbuilt packing pouch for anyone who wants to safely pack while swimming. As a side note, we also commissioned a great trans creator on Etsy to make one of a kind swimming packers for the trunks–these packers are lightweight, don’t take on water, and create a subtle bulge:

Elliot swimtrunks, drawstring & lightweight elastic for maximum control around hips, in-built packing pouch, long square pockets to create square shape, boxy fit

The trunks can be worn by themselves, paired with any top, or you can get a matching Both& tank, made in the same fabric. These tanks are not compression tanks. Instead, they are meant to be worn comfortably as a top by themselves, or to cover whatever makes you most comfortable underneath (sports bra, tape, compression top, etc.).

Romeo swimtank, raised collar & tight arm opening covers binder, A-frame shape slightly wider at hips than shoulders, side slits and longer back for extra movement around hips

Paired together, they look like this:

Transmasc person posing by the water in lilac Romeo swimtank and Elliot swimtrunks

 

I’m interested in packing while swimming, but nervous. How does that work?

Packing is a deeply personal choice. Transmasc, gnc, non-binary folks and trans men can and do have very different relationships to it. Some people never pack. Some people pack all the time. Some people like to pack in very particular circumstances, or would like to, if they had the right packers, but haven’t found a solution yet.

One of the most common scenarios to fit that last description is for people when they go swimming. Because of the way fabric clings when wet, it can be a time when people most want to pack, so as to feel safer and less exposed. The problem is that most packers aren’t well suited for swimming. Silicone breaks down in chlorine or salt water, and is also very heavy, meaning it can drag down the trunks and/or require a very tight elastic band, which then squeezes the hips in dysphoric ways. Historically, some people have used balled up socks, but the problem there is obvious–they get wet, drag down, could come un-balled and even fall out of the shorts.

To solve for this, we designed the Emmett, a light weight, small packer that remains snugly inside the Elliot short, doesn’t have any drag, and provides a subtle bulge.

Packer for swimtrunks

 

Is it safe to bind while swimming?

We are not medical experts. We urge anyone who is swimming to always think about the fact that oxygen and staying oxygenated is absolutely critical to your safety.

 

Can I use binding tape and be topless?

If you identify as transmasc, swimming topless can be one of the most euphoric experiences. In fact, the origin story of Both& was that our founder Finn was healing from top surgery during lockdown and started fantasizing about being able to go swimming at a public pool, topless, wearing a pair of swim trunks that actually fit.

Swimming topless, whether you have had top surgery or use binding tape, is an entirely personal choice, and highly dependent on the environment and cultural norms of wherever you are. Some places, like Brighton in the UK, for instance, have a particular beach where there are regular ‘queer’ takeovers, in which trans and enby folks can go be on the beach, swim, and wear whatever they want with a sense of security and safety. Some trans men are very comfortable swimming topless and showing off their scars. Some trans men, transmasc, enby or gnc identifying folks are very comfortable going to a public beach or pool and using binding tape, while others feel highly visible and uncomfortable.

There is no right or wrong way to do it. The best thing is to find the tools that make you feel most comfortable.

 

How has the increase in gender queer, nonbinary, and trans people in public spaces shifted gender expression at pools and beaches? 

The increase in visibility and recognition of genderqueer, nonbinary, and transgender individuals has contributed significantly to shifts in gender expression in public spaces, including pools and beaches. These changes are part of broader societal shifts towards greater acceptance and understanding of diverse gender identities and expressions. While much work remains to be done, here are some ways in which these shifts have manifested:

1. Expansion of Gender-Neutral Facilities:* There's a growing trend towards the creation and designation of gender-neutral spaces, including changing rooms and bathrooms, at pools and beaches. This move is a direct response to the needs of nonbinary and transgender individuals, providing safer and more inclusive environments.

2. Inclusive Policies and Practices: Many public spaces, including recreational facilities, have started to implement more inclusive policies. This includes allowing individuals to wear swimwear that aligns with their gender identity, rather than enforcing traditional gender norms. For example, trans men and nonbinary individuals who prefer to swim topless or wear binders can do so in more places without facing discrimination. Again, this varies widely based on location, and is not a blanket suggestion or truth, but there are exciting signs of progress on this front.

3. Visibility and Representation: As more genderqueer, nonbinary, and transgender individuals express themselves freely in public spaces, it helps normalize diverse gender expressions. This visibility is crucial for societal acceptance and can inspire others to feel comfortable with their identity. It also challenges stereotypes and prompts conversations about gender diversity.

4. Design and Availability of Gender-Inclusive Swimwear: While the traditional fashion industry has yet to wrap their head around the experience of swimming as a gender queer person, more queer or trans owned and operated businesses have sprung up to address this need. Brands specializing in gender-neutral or inclusive swimwear are emerging, offering designs that cater to a wide range of bodies and identities, thereby making it easier for people to find swimwear that makes them feel comfortable and confident.

5. Community Support and Solidarity: The presence of gender-diverse individuals in public spaces like pools and beaches has also fostered a sense of community and solidarity. Events or designated areas for LGBTQ+ individuals can provide safe spaces for expression and support, encouraging even those who might feel vulnerable to participate in public life more fully.

6. Educational Impact: Increased visibility and acceptance have an educational component, teaching the public about the spectrum of gender identities and the importance of inclusivity. This can lead to more respectful interactions and a decrease in discrimination based on gender expression.

Are there specific pools that gender queer folks are allowed to swim topless at?

We don't have a comprehensive list, but there are some encouraging signs in recent legal and cultural battles. In Berlin, after a discrimination complaint and subsequent public discussion, the city's municipal pool operator announced that all swimmers, regardless of gender, are allowed to go topless at public pools. This decision was influenced by the city's Anti-Discrimination Act, emphasizing equality and non-discrimination based on gender or sex characteristics.

Similarly, in Catalonia, Spain, public pools must allow individuals to swim topless, following the regional government's reinforcement of this policy. The Catalan government reminded public swimming facilities of their obligation under Catalan equality law to permit topless swimmers of any sex, aiming to prevent discrimination and support the free choice of individuals regarding their bodies. Pools that fail to adhere to this policy risk facing substantial fines.

These examples reflect growing movements towards gender equality and the desexualization of bodies in public spaces, supporting the rights of all individuals, including those who are genderqueer, nonbinary, and transgender, to express themselves freely and comfortably in settings like pools and beaches.

 

What are the specific care instructions for gender-neutral swimwear, especially for those with unique features like packing pouches?

For gender-neutral swimwear, especially those with unique features like packing pouches, care instructions might not be significantly different from standard swimwear but require some additional attention. Typically, it's advised to rinse the swimwear in cold, fresh water after use to remove chlorine, salt, sand, or body oils. Gentle, mild soap can be used for washing, and the garment should be laid flat or hung to dry, away from direct sunlight to prevent fading and maintain the integrity of the fabric and any added features like packing pouches. It's also recommended to avoid wringing out the garment to prevent misshaping or damaging the material.

Are there waterproof alternatives to traditional packing materials that are specifically designed for swimming?

When it comes to waterproof alternatives for traditional packing materials designed specifically for swimming, there are products available that cater to this need. Some companies design packers made from materials that do not absorb water and are resistant to chlorine and salt, thus making them suitable for swimming. These packers maintain their shape and position in swimwear, offering a natural look without the risk of water damage. It’s important to look for products that specify compatibility with water activities and ensure they fit securely within the swimwear’s packing pouch. Both& has a lightweight packer that is specifically built to be totally water-friendly.

How does one choose the right size in gender-neutral swimwear to ensure both comfort and proper coverage, especially for individuals in transition or with non-conventional body shapes?

Choosing the right size in gender-neutral swimwear to ensure both comfort and proper coverage can be more nuanced than selecting traditional swimwear due to varying body shapes and transition stages. It's essential to consult the sizing charts provided by the manufacturer, which often include measurements for chest, waist, and hips. If you are between sizes or if your body does not conform to standard sizing, it may be beneficial to focus on adjustable or elastic features that offer a more flexible fit. Because of the way water interacts with fabrics, you have to strike a balance between the right coverage, the right features, and not too much material to get waterlogged. 

 

Finally, we have been asked the rather umbrella question of:

How can I feel comfortable going swimming as a trans, nonbinary, or gender queer person?

There is no one size fits all solution. Creating a comfortable swimming experience for transgender, nonbinary, and gender queer individuals involves addressing both physical comfort and emotional safety. We've put together a list of ten things that have helped us and/or that our community has talk about as ways of helping the experience:

1. Find Supportive Swimwear: Choose swimwear that makes you feel confident and comfortable. We've talked about this plenty above. Feeling good in what you wear to the beach or the pool can make all the difference. 

2. Bind or compress safely: If binding, consider a binder designed specifically for swimming, which allows for easier breathing and movement. Always prioritize your safety and comfort over aesthetics.

3. Research Inclusive Venues: Look for swimming pools, beaches, or resorts known for their inclusivity or designated as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals. Some places might have gender-neutral changing areas or host specific hours for transgender and non-binary swimmers.

4. Visit During Less Busy Times: If possible, swim during off-peak hours when pools or beaches are less crowded. This can help reduce anxiety related to crowding or staring, making the experience more enjoyable.

5. Bring a Friend or Ally: Having a supportive friend or ally with you can boost your confidence and provide a sense of safety. Plus, swimming is more fun with company!

6. Practice Self-Care: Prepare for swimming by engaging in self-care practices that boost your confidence, such as wearing sunscreen, hydrating well, or doing a skin care routine that makes you feel good.

7. Set Boundaries: Feel empowered to set boundaries about how much skin you want to show and what kind of swimwear you’re comfortable wearing. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your choices.

8. Consider Private Lessons: If you’re learning to swim or want to improve your skills, private lessons can offer a safer and more comfortable environment than group lessons.

9. Familiarize Yourself with the Venue: Before going, check out the venue’s layout, including the location of changing rooms and restrooms. Knowing what to expect can help reduce anxiety.

10. Focus on Your Enjoyment: Remember, the goal of swimming is to enjoy yourself and the water. Try to focus on the sensations of swimming and the fun of the activity, rather than on what others might think.

Feeling comfortable while swimming is deeply personal and can involve a mix of practical, emotional, and social strategies. The key is finding what works best for you and embracing the joy of swimming in a way that respects your identity and comfort.

 

Summary

Swimming can be a challenge for transmasc, non-binary, and gender nonconforming people. It’s one of the most highly gendered spaces, in which deviance from the ‘norm’ is most visible. However, it can also be an extremely fun and empowering space, and it shouldn’t be a space that our community needs to self-exile themselves from. We encourage you to explore all of the options out there to figure out what gender neutral swimwear options are right for you.

 

Elliot, the ultimate transmasc swim trunks
Romeo swim, Stylish, versatile, and intentional coverage swim top
Romeo, hide your binder and show your arms with this tank

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