so, I decided to start swimming in the pool again. It has been almost 6 months since I last swam laps, something I had done quite regularly. Formerly I had been swimming as a male. I wore a male speedo and used the Men’s locker room. That had been fine until I started to develop breasts. About a month before my surgery my breasts had gotten too large for me to swim comfortably dressed as a male. I began swimming at my local beach in a bikini. Although my body was changing, my face and voice hadn’t kept pace. I still felt a bit awkward. Fast forward to a few days ago and I pass easily as a woman every day. In most of my daily life I feel comfortable now, but the pool, and the Women’s locker room presented a daunting new frontier. How would this work? What is it like and how do women behave differently there?
My big opportunity to find out was as I said, just a few days ago. I had purchased a new one piece blue and pink Speedo racing suit. Looking in the mirror at Sportmart I thought I looked pretty good all things considered. The young salesman had even flirted with me when I was looking for the ‘swim’ section. I imagined I looked like a powerful older female athlete dressed in my slacks and tailored blouse. Maybe he was ‘cougar hunting.’ He had seemed disappointed when I had thanked and dismissed him. In the mirror I felt confidently feminine. I decided to wear my suit under my yoga pants and tank top as I prepared for the big outing. That way I could undress on the pool deck if I wanted. I felt like a child on my way to Disneyland as I drove the 10 minutes down the coast to the pool. I loved swimming that much and had really missed the sensation of gliding weightlessly in the water. Butterflies hit me as the sunny pool deck came into view. I checked the mirror one last time as I parked. Light make-up, my hair in a bun wearing only two earring studs. I felt appropriately athletic as I walked through the front door of the small pool facility. Even that was something a man would hardly need consider I thought. Women have to consider everything more. Having mascara or shadow bleeding down your eyes is no one’s idea of beauty. I purchased my entry from the woman at the front desk. No problem there. She was nonchalant and friendly talking to a young male lifeguard as I walked onto the warm sunny pool deck itself. 25 yards and eight lanes wide this was a small local pool. Only 4 of the lanes had swimmers doing laps I noticed as I scanned the scene. A female guard sat slumping in the guard tower on the near side. She looked barely awake wearing dark Ray Bans. I selected an empty lane setting my pink bag on the plastic chair behind the starting block. I looked around again. No one paid me any attention as I pulled off my pants and black tank top. The male guard from the front desk walked by as I dropped my clothes into my bag and began putting on my yellow “King of the beach” cap. I got this cap for a one mile ocean swim and 6 mile paddle I’d won a couple of years back. Even then I wasn’t exactly anyone’s idea of the classic beach ‘King.” Tall and lean I had hair past my shoulders. I had never paddled a racing paddle board before that day and all the macho “contenders” were shocked when I snatched the trophy out from under them winning both parts of the event. I jumped in the water feet first with goggles in hand. The water felt warm and wonderful. My body exhilarating in the sensation of being completely immersed. I grabbed the wall as I surfaced and put my green reflective goggles on. The woman in the next lane stopped and looked over with a friendly smile. I smiled back and then pushed off the wall under water, my arms overhead and toes pointed gliding away in a streamlined position. I could feel all my muscles and joints rejoice as every connection extended into the wonderful weightless environment. I rolled to my right side my arm pulling back as I took my first breath. My lungs expanded deeply pulling the air in before I rolled back into my next stroke. I crossed 25 yards in a dozen pulls and then rotated over into a flip turn my muscles responding to the memory of thousands it had done before. My legs landed back near the wall my momentum carrying my feet expertly against it as I compressed and then pushed off once again streamlining now returning towards my starting point. I swam like this for about 500 yards before stopping for a rest. I hung on the wall and pulled up my goggles. Even though I was easily the fastest swimmer in the pool, no one paid me any attention. “This is wonderful” I thought to myself. I really had missed being in the water like this. My body felt alive again. I changed things up doing some laps kicking on my back and a few doing other strokes. After about 30 minutes of swimming I felt ready to call it a day.
I pulled off my goggles and looked around. There were a few more people in the pool. It looked like the lunch time triathletes were arriving. I was familiar with this phenomenon from the other pool I used to swim in prior to my transition. Triathletes are classically very serious about their training. Former competitive swimmers tend to be faster but don’t take themselves as seriously. A few triathletes in a pool can change the vibe from relaxed to tense quickly. It was definitely time to go. I realized yanking myself straight up doing a press with my arms on the pool deck to get out would be unusual for most women. I decided to follow a method I’d seen women often use by grabbing the start block and pulling myself into a seated position on the edge of the pool deck. From there I stood up and walked to the plastic chair where my bag was and pulled out my towel. As I dried off I decided I would leave my cap on. I was still a bit self-conscious about my hairline scarring especially when my hair is wet. It’s very likely no one would notice but I decided to play it safe until I got in the locker room. In addition I wasn’t sure if the small amount of mascara and eye shadow I had on when I got in the water was now running down my face. I realized these are probably exactly the same concerns every woman has getting out of the water especially if they don’t do it often. I had many female friends in the past make a big deal of going in the water and now I understood much more why they had felt that way. I dabbed my face and gathered my things walking past a tall lean male triathlete who had seen me getting out and was clearly going to take my lane. I realized I was at least his height and perhaps an inch taller but his build was similar to mine about a year and a half ago. My body had changed significantly since I’d begun hormones but even still I’m sure I must have appeared a very powerful female athlete. I pondered what I used to think seeing a woman like myself. There was a time I would have been slightly intimidated by a valkyrie like me but that had been when I was much younger. As I matured I found powerful women more and more appealing. Perhaps I began to see people as more than just their gender classification. Athletic women were typically fun because they liked to DO things and were less fearful of life. These were qualities I enjoyed in all people, especially those I wanted to spend time with.
I walked around the deck to the woman’s locker room door. It’s difficult to describe what I felt as I opened the door with the woman logo and walked in. I suppose I had done so many moments like these over the years that I knew to just follow through and not over think it. I can clearly remember the first time I went to a public place dressed as a woman. I had been terrified and actually shaking. Sine then there had been many challenging thresholds to cross including the woman’s restroom years ago. The oddest part of these experiences is that the brain behind my eyes is the same one I had all those years as a man. The only difference now is on the exterior. The movie being played in front of my eyes has changed but the viewer hasn’t. Sometimes I find my anxiety building when I forget how I appear now on the outside thinking I still look male. It’s only when I pass in front of a mirror that I realize I appear as a woman and the anxiety goes away. Entering the locker room I had one of those moments. I felt a bit anxious but followed my technique of suppressing my thoughts from racing. There were 3 other women in the first space which was a shower area. An older woman was rinsing with her one piece suit on as a mother and young daughter toweled off on a nearby bench that lined the wall. The girl was talking in a whisper to her mom trying had not to look at me. I looked over and smiled. My female partner had informed me that women tend to be very private in locker rooms often attempting to not make eye contact. She said it was out of respect for each other because women tended to be self-conscious of their bodies. I found this fascinating because it was quite a bit different in the men’s locker room. Men will often stand naked and have long conversations with another man just as if they were wearing clothes. No one is ashamed or self-conscious at all. I thought of a joke my partner had shared, “Men always think they look better than they do and women always think they look worse.” I would have to say that is an accurate statement from what I had witnessed in life so far. I set my bag down on the bench and hung my towel on a hook above it. I turned and walked over to the shower avoiding eye contact with the older woman now finished washing. I rinsed off leaving my suit on. I had decided earlier I would just leave it on under my clothes and change at home. I noticed there were shower stalls where a woman could have privacy if needed. This was something I had never seen in a men’s locker room. Apparently this difference in modesty had been translated into the construction of the 2 locker rooms. Maybe I would use those in the future, but would stick with my plan today. After rinsing I walked back to my towel and began drying off. The mother and daughter were almost dressed. I began pulling on my pants and top. I noticed the little girl attempting not to look at me again and whispering to her Mom. Children are so guileless. She couldn’t hide her curiosity about me. My mind ran through the reasons she may find me interesting. Number one was probably my size and strength. At 6’1″ and 160 lbs. I am a powerful and tall woman. I have learned that ALWAYS gets attention no matter where I go. If I wear heels it gets even more. It can be fun to walk into a club or bar in 5″ heels and see the heads snap around. The second reason may be the 25 inch scar I have running down my right leg. I broke my femur in 5 places mountain-biking when I was 28 and had 3 surgeries to fix it. I had metal put in and then taken out. The scar ran from my hip to my knee and although no longer bright red as it had once been was still very obvious. The last reason and probably least likely was that I was just an odd woman. This was the kind of thought I sometimes had to work hard to not entertain. Fear and paranoia are never good under any circumstances and certainly won’t improve any situation. I had leaned from many years of going out as a much more obvious man in a dress that it is always best to act with confidence and let anyone who has a problem just get over it. Operating from fear just identifies you as a victim and I wanted none of that.
The Mother and daughter finished dressing quietly and exited the locker room. I moved to the dry area beyond the showers where the actual lockers were. Women’s racing suits hung from many of the gray locker doors. I guessed there were age-group or high school girls who actually had assigned lockers here. The fact that they felt comfortable just hanging their suits like that said a lot about the security and safety of the pool facility and community. The older woman I had seen in the showers was getting dressed on a bench across the room. There was a row of sinks and mirrors along one side of the space. I guessed this part of the locker room was identical to the Men’s. There was an outside chance there were less mirrors, but everyone needs sinks and mirrors. Women just tend to spend more time using them. I know my mirror time has gone way up. I finished drying my hair and had a look in the mirror. “Ooh” I thought, “drowned rat with red eyes, Lovely.” I hadn’t brought my hair brush in my bag but did have a beenie so pulled that out and arranged it over my flat tangled hair trying to improve or at least hide it. After arranging as best I could I admitted I wouldn’t be winning any beauty pageants like this. I knew I wasn’t far from home and made a mental note of other things I should bring next time to facilitate a better look exiting the locker room. Once again, very few men spend much more than a glance at themselves as they exit. The majority never look at all. Their apparent self-confidence or society’s lack of interest in their appearance evident in this small behavioral difference. For now I had finished up my first excursion into the women’s side and learned a few things. I would be more comfortable the next time and the next and soon think nothing of it all.