For so many people, going to the pool is an anxiety inducing experience. With the media constantly bombarding us with images of what we should look like, it’s hard to as if we measure up. I’ve always struggled with my weight so I’ve felt as if I wasn’t meeting beauty standards from a young age. Before my transition I also felt, as someone who was assigned female at birth, I was in the “wrong” body. Last year, I was lucky enough to finally have top surgery and take those first steps to feeling like I was home in my own body. Going to the pool for the first time afterward was a very exciting time but also hard experience.
Waking up from top surgery was one of the most euphoric moments of my life. I had intense scars and bandages. There were tubes in my sides to drain any build up and I was still pretty drugged up. Still, lying there like that, I’d felt more at home in my body then I’d ever felt before. My relationship with my body had always been complicated. I didn’t know if I disliked it because of beauty standards or because my body didn’t match how I identify. In that moment, I loved my body because it felt like mine and I felt like myself. After I’d healed, I felt amazing and spent as much time as possible with my shirt off, loving my body.
This new relationship with my body made me so excited to go swimming. Unfortunately, my scars had to heal for me to go. It took twelve weeks to be completely healed and by the time that happened, fall had hit and it was too cold to go. Luckily, I moved into an apartment complex with a year-round hot tub. My first time taking my shirt off around more than one person was with a group of my closest friends. It was the first time I’d felt comfortable in a swimming suit. I’d always assumed it was my weight that made me so uncomfortable but it was being trapped in a body that simply just didn’t belong to me.
Hours went by and I kept touching my bare chest to remind myself how lucky and happy I was to exist in this new body. After a while, a group of strangers joined us in the hot tub and I instantly felt a shift. I felt their eyes on me and on my chest. My scars are hard to miss and they run from my side to the very center of my chest. I could hear the femininity in my voice pointing to my tranness and I lasted maybe 20 minutes before asking my friends to go back to my apartment. I think about that night and wonder how much of that uncomfortable feeling I got came from them and how much came from my own internalized transphobia.
I feel safe with my friends and with myself. I don’t feel transgender, I am just Henry. That all changes when I’m thrown into groups of people where I don’t know how they feel about transgender people. Over the years, watching the way people like me are treated for merely existing, I’ve internalized some of those harmful ideologies. I question my right to exist and my validity. I worry how I’ll make other people feel when I show up with top surgery scars.
My first experience in that hot tub was a perfect metaphor for my experience through my transition. It has been, in some ways, extremely freeing. Although, in other ways, its left me feeling like an outsider and trapped. I’m lucky to live in a time where trans people have spaces to exist. It’s not always easy but it’s possible. I want to say thank you to the amazing activists who came before me and those who are fighting for my rights right now.