In Iceland, where I’m from, swimming is without a doubt our most popular pastime, often light-heartedly referred to as the cradle of our civilisation.
The importance of swimming in our culture was perfectly encapsulated by one of my family members, whose first reaction to me coming out as trans was to ask which changing room I would now be using when I went for a dip.
I told them I wouldn’t be going swimming anytime soon, as most public pools in Iceland require you to shower naked in front of other pool guests to ensure hygiene, given that they are not usually chlorinated. The mere thought of that is enough to make anyone shudder in embarrassment, let alone trans people.
There’s regular complaints from mortified tourists who find themselves in an unexpected face-off with a shower guard who insists they take off all their clothes and soap up their private parts before putting their swimsuits on and entering the pool.
It wasn’t until many years later that I ventured back and was able to enjoy the mental and physical benefits of swimming, like everybody else. Basking like a walrus in the Icelandic midnight sun while gossiping with friends isn’t a privilege I take lightly.
After all the hoo-ha earlier this year about trans women using the Hampstead Heath Pond in London, the pool finally announced that trans women would indeed be allowed to continue using the women-only pond. But trans women (and trans people in general) have been going there for decades already without trouble. Nevertheless, it was a welcomed clarification of their policies, in light of the misleading and toxic media debate about trans people.
This debate has become so muddled with baseless attacks on the trans community that I wouldn’t really blame anyone who consumes the media uncritically for thinking trans people were the root of all evil. And it would be dishonest of me to say that this debate hasn’t impacted me or the people around me.
Despite personally having used the women’s facilities for well over a decade now without issues, lately I have felt more unsafe than usual while enjoying recreational activities like swimming. Now I don’t only fear the everyday sexualisation, harassment and possible (and sometimes very real) abuse from cisgender men, but now also increasingly from cisgender women.
But despite this, I recently went swimming with some friends. In the changing room I was feeling a bit uncomfortable and found a secluded spot at the back to have more privacy. As I started to get undressed I was approached by another woman who called out my name. I froze and braced for abuse to be hurled at me.
I flinched in shock as the woman laid her hands on my shoulders. She stared me in the eyes with conviction as she explained that she had been following me on social media and just wanted to tell me how impressed she was by the work that I did and declared her support for the trans community.
She said she just wanted to tell me all this before we were naked together in the communal showers. I never thought I’d share a naked shower of solidarity with a stranger, but life is full of surprises.
It was a much needed reminder that trans people deserve access to these facilities just as much as anyone else. To exclude me or other trans people on the basis of what genitals they were born with, or what reproductive organs they have, or chromosomes or whatever reason they are using that day is unjust, unhelpful and completely unfounded.
Trans people should not be punished based on the fear that someone might pretend to be something they’re not. If that were to happen, those individuals should be punished accordingly. And let’s be honest – cisgender men certainly don’t need to pretend to be women in order to abuse them. They already have that power as we still live in an unequal society at large.
To be perfectly clear – trans people using the right facilities certainly isn’t the problem here, and conflating trans women with fictional cisgender men is a cheap and a devious way of misgendering them.
If there is a problem with trans people and swimming pools, it certainly has nothing to do with them prancing around and flashing their naked bodies at other pool guests. On the contrary, their absence from swimming pools and other recreational activities due to fear of abuse is a problem.
Hampstead Heath Pond re-affirming their policy is therefore not only important to show solidarity with trans people, but also upholds the Equality Act (2010) that explicitly says trans people can use facilities in accordance with who they really are. It is literally our legally protected right to do so.
This sudden stir has never had anything to do with safety and protection. The people responsible for it simply don’t like trans people, and it would be far more honest of them to just say that straight out. It’s just a malicious attempt to push trans people out of public life as an exercise of power and scapegoating.
So let Hampshead Heath Pond be an example to other facilities. It is time that these masked ‘concerns’ are finally laid to rest.
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