Swimming and Locker Room Tips for Trans Men
If a trans man has not had chest and/or genital reconstruction surgery, public swimming and public locker room use can be a challenge. Additionally, during the early period of transition when a trans guy may not yet always be read as a man, choosing which locker room to use can be a tricky task. Both swimming and locker rooms require at least a certain amount of disrobing in public, and locker rooms are spaces where the cultural need to "belong" to the gender listed on the entrance door tends to be heightened.
This page includes some strategies for dealing with both swimming and locker room situations. Included in the "swimming" section are listings for men's swimwear options that cover the chest area, tips for packing in swim trunks, and other general tips for presenting in pool and beach situations. The section on "locker rooms" deals with strategies for locker room use during early transition, general etiquette for men's locker rooms, tips for undressing discreetly, and dealing with binders and packers.
Swimming suit options for pre-chest surgery trans men
For guys who have not had chest surgery, finding a swimming suit that covers your chest can be a challenge, but such suits are available through a number of retailers. The key words to look for when searching for these kind of suits are "unitard" or "bodysuit;" "rash guard" or "surf shirt;" "wetsuit;" and "swim vest." These terms are described further below.
A "unitard" or "bodysuit" (in the context of swimwear) simply refers to a one-piece suit, typically made of lycra, nylon, or other specially-made fabric combinations, that covers the chest and the legs. "Unitard" usually refers to a one-piece garment that covers to thigh level, while a "bodysuit" can refer to a suit that covers some or all of the legs and arms. A web keyword search on "men swim unitard," "men swim bodysuit," or "men swim full body suit" will usually turn up a number of results (some specific brands are listed below).
A "rash guard" or "surf shirt" is a type of athletic shirt made of either lycra or nylon that is intended to be worn in the water, paired with swim trunks of the wearer's preference. Rash guards/surf shirts are used for light coverage in warm to moderately warm temperatures for several water sports including surfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, wakeboarding, and kayaking. They can be long sleeved or short sleeved, and protect against sunburn and rash. The advantage of a rash guard/surf shirt versus simply wearing a T-shirt is that rash guards are designed to be worn in the water and thus dry more quickly and don't get heavy and waterlogged. A possible disadvantage is that such shirts are typically tight-fitting, which might be a problem for those who are very big-chested. You may need to bind in combination with these shirts.
A "wetsuit" is a garment typically made of neoprene foam which insulates against the chill of cold water. They are often used by divers, surfers, snorkelers, and kayakers. Wetsuits come in different thicknesses (usually measured in millimeters), and the lighter weights can be worn in warmer water situations. Scuba.com offers a helpful explanation of different neoprene thicknesses (www.scuba.com/shop/shopon.asp_category_Wet+Suits), as well as tips on wetsuit fit. Neoprene has the quality of being a somewhat buoyant fabric, and the thicker the material, the greater the added buoyancy. Wetsuits can come in full-body options (long sleeves and legs that run to the ankles or feet) or short-sleeve/no-sleeve and thigh-length options (sometimes called a "shorty"). They can consist of one piece or two pieces (top and bottom).
"Swim vests" are typically made of thick neoprene, and are usually designed to be personal flotation aids. They are often worn by people learning to swim, or by those engaging in water sports such as kayaking, windsurfing, boating, etc. While they are not exactly swimsuits, they can be used in some situations to help cover a large chest. Because they are thicker and tend to be more bulky (they sometimes have buckles that attach around the midsection) these might be a better choice for outdoor wear rather than in your local pool (unless you are learning to swim).
You may also wish to do a web search on "triathlon swim wear," which can also return results for swimming bodysuits and unitards. However, be cautious when considering triathlon wear, as it occasionally includes padding in the crotch area for long-distance bicycling.
If you bind
When choosing a bodysuit, wetsuit, surf shirt, or the like, be sure that it will be compatible with whatever binder you choose to wear, or that the suit itself can act as a binder. Some of the thicker neoprene vests and wetsuits can act to bind the chest fairly well, but may still need to be worn in combination with some binding solution.
Keep in mind also that when your regular binder is wet, it may not bind as well and/or may be uncomfortable. If you are swimming in a chlorinated pool, the chlorine may degrade the material of your binder over time. You may wish to try some sort of water-resistant binding device, such as a neoprene vest, a sleeveless wetsuit shirt, or some other kind of tight fitting compression shirt (see the binding page for more information on compression shirts).
When considering bodysuits and wetsuits, check to see how low the neck and sleeves of the suit are cut. If the cut on the neck and/or sleeves is too low, it may show evidence of your binder.
If your binder does show under your suit, and someone calls attention to it, chances are they won't know what the binder is. You can tell people a variety of things to deflect attention from your binder, such as that it is an athletic brace for your back, or that it is a post-surgical support device. In general, most people who are swimming are doing their own thing in the water, and will probably not press you about your binder, if they even notice it in the first place.
Finally, remember that swimming is a vigorous form of exercise, so be sure that your binder allows for ample movement and breathing room without discomfort or pain. You should be able to breathe freely in your binder, which is especially important during exercise.
Swimming in a T-shirt or tank top
You've probably noticed that some guys, especially teenagers and heavier guys, wear T-shirts on the beach, and even in the water when swimming. Some do this because they are self-conscious, and some to avoid sunburn. People will probably not look twice if you choose to wear your T-shirt at the beach (in or out of the water), around a friend's backyard pool, or even at a motel pool, but some public pools do not allow T-shirts or any other street clothes to be worn in the water. Check the rules of the pool before wearing your T-shirt in the water. Also, keep in mind that light colored T-shirts can be seen through when they are wet, and even a dark shirt might show outlines of your binder when wet. If you bind, you might want to experiment at home before taking to the water in public; consider how close you will be to others, and consider how much you care whether they may see your binder.
Packing in swim trunks
Because your swim trunks will tend to cling to you when wet, thus showing off your genital area, you may wish to pack when swimming. However, if you have to shower and/or change in a locker room situation without privacy areas, packing can be more complicated. (For tips about locker room changing if you wear a packer, see the "Tips for undressing and showering in locker rooms" section further below.)
In general, if you choose to pack in your swim trunks, there are a few points to consider. First and foremost, your packer should be able to be submerged in water without losing its shape or taking on water. Therefore, a sock as a pants-stuffer, or something that could potentially leak or disintegrate in water would not be good choices. Most store-bought soft packers should be okay in water, though they may feel tacky/sticky afterward until you have a chance to dust them with cornstarch. You can always dust a packer later in the privacy of your home.
Once you've chosen a good packer, the next thing to consider is how to keep the packer safely in your swim trunks. Perhaps the best method is to get some sort of small pocket or pouch, like a baby sock, nylon sock, or the FTM Packin' Sack , place the packer securely in the pouch/sack so it cannot slip out, and then fasten the sack to the inside of your swim trunks with a safety pin. This is a fairly unobtrusive method of keeping the packer from slipping out while active in the water. Another method is to use a swimmer's jock strap, which is a smaller, lightweight mesh version of a regular athletic jock strap. However, unless you are wearing fairly tight trunks like briefs or jammers, this method may allow the packer to wriggle free during high activity. In general, the safety pin/pouch method will guarantee more security in all trunks and allows for less straps and material under your suit.
Men's swimwear that covers the chest: some examples
Below are a few examples of men's swimwear options that cover the chest. Keep in mind that other companies and retailers sell similar items; you may be able to find less expensive items at your local department store or sports store, where you'll have the option of trying them on in person.
If you choose to purchase a wetsuit made of neoprene, keep in mind that the thicker the neoprene, the warmer the material. Thinner wetsuits are appropriate for warmer water, thicker wetsuits are appropriate for colder water. Check the wetsuit's description to find the right thickness for your activity. Some wetsuits have a thicker layer on the front of the suit and a thinner layer on the back. If you are choosing a thicker wetsuit top or vest for binding purposes, keep in mind that it might feel very warm in warm weather. Be sure to be prepared for warm weather if that is your situation.
Disrobing and/or showering in a public locker room can be a challenge for trans men who have not had chest and/or genital reconstruction surgery, and also for those who may wear binders or packers. There may be additional challenges in choosing which locker room to use during early transition, when a trans guy might not yet always be read as male. This section offers practical tips for these situations, in addition to some general etiquette pointers to help guys feel more confident and at ease in locker rooms.
Locker room choices: early transition
An FTM transsexual might opt to use the women's locker room rather than the men's during very early transition if he is not yet being read as a man in public at all times. However, using the women's locker room during that period can bring its own problems, as some women might read an early-transitioning trans guy as a man, at best causing discomfort and at worst causing confrontation or a visit from a gym official or security person.
How do you know when it is time to start using the men's locker room? The short answer to this question is: when you feel confident and ready, and when you are being read as male for a good portion of the time by strangers (i.e., people at the checkout line in the grocery store, wait staff, etc.) However, there are a few additional matters that you may want to consider when getting ready to make the switch to the men's locker room, as described below.
First, if you are going to the same gym that you have already been attending for some time as a female, a sudden switch to the men's room might cause confusion or raise questions from gym members and staff. There are a few ways of dealing with this situation. The most obvious solution is to change to a different gym and start fresh as a man, but this may not always be possible due to cost, distance from home or work, personal preference, or other factors. If you cannot or do not wish to change gyms permanently, you could take a temporary break and work out at home for a while until you have begun to change in appearance, or until you have a legal change of name or other such "official" marker of your transition. You could then return from your break and begin using the men's locker room. A variation of this approach is to keep using the gym, but change and shower only at home for some months while physical changes begin to set in, and then begin to use the men's locker room when the time feels right. You can also try changing the time of day you go to the gym once your physical changes start, so that you will not cross paths with the same people you are used to seeing (for example, if you typically go to the gym in the early morning, try changing to evening hours). Finally, some gyms offer family changing rooms or special needs changing rooms that may be used by people of any sex. You may wish to use such facilities--if they are available--temporarily until your physical appearance is more male, or permanently if you are more comfortable doing so.
If someone from the gym stops you or questions you when you begin to use the men's locker room, ask to speak to them in private to explain your situation, so that you don't have to have a conversation in front of everyone else at the gym. If you have legally changed your name, you can and should have your name changed on your ID card, so that you can produce it when needed. If your gym's staff does not react kindly to your transition, or forces you to use a locker facility that you are not comfortable with (such as the women's or unisex locker rooms), you could try reasoning with them, but if that fails you may wish to start fresh at a new gym. Keep in mind, too, that some gyms will be welcoming and accommodating to their customers, and will simply treat your transition like it is no big deal. Some even have locker policies that are supportive of trans people. How supportive your gym will be may depend on the culture of the gym itself, how much of a "regular" you are, what staff person you happen to deal with, whether other members make a fuss, etc.
Another matter to consider when making the switch to the men's locker room is personal safety. It is a good idea to try to assess the risks of being discovered as transsexual in the specific locker room your considering. In most health clubs and gyms, the men who are changing in the locker room are most likely focused on going about their business, and they will probably not notice or care very much if you are a transsexual. However, in some sports team locker room situations, as well as school locker situations, the pressure to fit certain social and gender norms can be heightened, and the possible retaliation to differences is greater. If you do not feel safe in any locker room setting, walk away from it, either temporarily until you feel it is safer, or permanently. You can always change or shower later or at home.
In general, no matter which locker room you are using, it is best to have a feel for your gym's atmosphere, know the layout and features of the locker room you are using, and to keep your gym membership card on hand in case you are questioned by staff. Know that you are just as entitled as anyone else to use the locker room facilities, and go about your business with that in mind. Confidence and calm go a long way to setting yourself, and everyone around you, at ease.
Locker room etiquette
When a trans man begins using men's locker rooms, he may notice some serious differences from women's locker rooms. Perhaps the biggest difference is that men's showers are often shared "gang shower" facilities, where there are many shower heads in one common room, while women's showers are more often in private, curtained stalls. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule; women's locker facilities with older construction feature gang showers, while some newer men's facilities offer private stalls. Some will have a combination of stalls and gang showers. The type of facilities available might influence your choice in gyms-- when you tour a potential gym, inquire about the privacy features of the showers.
If your locker room has gang showers, then the same etiquette applies that is followed in the case of urinals (see the bathroom page for more on urinal etiquette); you should always leave at least one showerhead between you and the next person, unless the shower is very crowded and you are forced to take an adjacent spot. If the shower is fairly empty, try to leave as much space as you can between yourself and the other guys in the room. While showering with others in the room, you should step up to the showerhead, do your business, and leave. Do not look at other guys penises, and try not to make a lot of eye contact. If you do make eye contact, it should be brief and only as a point of acknowledgement.
Most showers have towel hooks, though their location can vary. Wear your towel around your waist to and from the shower (you may also drape a second towel strategically over your shoulders if you have not had chest surgery). Leave your towel(s) on towel hooks, and don't leave wet towels lying around where they don't belong. If you are coming out of the pool and wearing swimming trunks, it is generally acceptable to leave them on on the way to the shower, and also in the shower to rinse away the chlorine.
You will find that men have varying levels of comfort with nudity in most locker rooms. Some guys will walk around naked all over the locker room-- to and from the shower, to weigh themselves, to go to the bathroom, to look at themselves in the mirror, etc. Some will sit down naked on benches without a towel under them (unsanitary, as well as inconsiderate), and even will have no qualms about drying their pubic hair in the public hair dryers (also inconsiderate). On the other hand, you'll also see some very modest men, who will change their underwear with a towel wrapped around the waist, or who will change clothes in a bathroom stall to avoid being seen naked.
Perhaps the most common (and best) locker room etiquette is a middle ground of modesty. That is, most men will try to choose a locker that is not right next to another man who is changing clothes, and he will maintain an arm's length of distance between himself and any other man that is changing whenever possible. When changing, it is best to face your locker, do your business, and minimize socializing. Brief acknowledgements are acceptable, but it is best to not strike up conversation with a guy while you or he are completely naked. While you may feel perfectly comfortable chatting with the fellow next to you, he may feel the need for more privacy. In general, you should treat the locker room like the shared, semi-public space that it is, and not like your own private bathroom. Using benches and scales while naked should be avoided (except in the case of those who may have physical limitations who may need benches as an aid). Spreading your clothing or personal effects widely over the length of a shared bench while others are also changing should also be avoided-- the space should be shared equally.
There are other small things you can do to improve everyone's locker room experience. If you shower at the gym, wear a pair of shower shoes (i.e., flip flops) to avoid the spread of athlete's foot. Try not to leave large puddles of water on the bench and the floor in front of your locker-- wipe up excess water with a towel just before you leave. Leave your dirty towels in the proper towel bin when you are done. If you keep your gym clothes in a locker for more than a day or two at a time, be sure to clean them periodically and to not leave them in a sweaty pile for long stretches, as they will begin to smell bad. These things might seem obvious, but a little common courtesy can go a long way toward a more pleasant visit to the locker room.
Tips for undressing and showering in locker rooms
Adhering to the etiquette rules outlined above is the first step in helping you get through most locker room changing situations. If you find a locker that is reasonably spaced from the other guys who are changing, and you do your business quickly and with confidence, you will find it easier to hide things like binders, packers, or surgery scars. To follow are additional tips to help you maintain privacy as you change and shower in a locker room.
1. Choose a gym with updated privacy features, such as private shower stalls and changing areas with curtains. If you are switching gyms or looking for your first gym, this might be an important consideration for you. Some stalls include a shower and a separate curtained changing area. If the changing area has clothing hooks, you can strip down to just your underwear (and a T-shirt if you are binding), bring clean underwear (and shirt if needed) along with your towel when you shower, and change those items in privacy. You can return to your locker to put on your pants and other layers of clothing.
2. Know the layout of your locker room and shower facility. Find out where any privacy stalls or curtains may be located. Know the locations of towel hooks, so that you can wear your towel as long as possible when you go to and from the shower. Know which lockers are around a blind corner, or away from mirrors. Also learn the way to and from the pool if you are planning to swim, so you minimize time feeling lost or out of place. Again, confidence is important, and knowing the territory builds confidence.
3. If possible, try to use the locker room during off-peak hours. In a situation where there are only a few other people changing, you can easily find a locker in a row away from others.
4. Use a corner locker or a corner shower head. Corners provide a natural barrier to those who may see you from the side. If you are showering while turning slightly toward the corner, no one should be able to easily see your genital area. Similarly, a locker in the corner, or near a wall, might offer good shielding.
5. If you have been swimming, wear your trunks directly to the shower, and only take them off at the last moment (or leave them on until you get to your locker to change). Many guys wear their trunks to the shower right after the pool to help rinse out the chlorine, so keeping them on is not that unusual. If you do leave them on the whole time, be sure to dry off as much water as possible before returning to your locker.
6. Wear a towel around your waist to and from the shower. If you have not had chest surgery, wear a second towel over your shoulders, covering your chest. You might also consider purchasing a thigh-length terry cloth robe to wear to and from the shower if you are pre-chest surgery. Choose a shower near a towel hook so you minimize time without your towel(s).
7. If you cannot find enough privacy in a crowded locker room, consider changing in a bathroom stall that day. Though stalls can be cramped and sometimes dirty, they can work well in a pinch.
8. Feel free to kill a little time if the showers are extra crowded, or if someone is right next to your locker. If you come into the locker room to find privacy will be difficult, go back out the gym and stretch for a few minutes, then return later to change.
9. Remember you can always leave an uncomfortable situation. If showering suddenly feels unsafe, grab your towel and get back to your locker. If you can't face changing or showering for some reason, do it at home that particular day.
10. While changing your clothes after a shower, leave your towel around your waist while you put your shirt on first. You can then use your shirt-tail to partially block the view of your genital area while you slip into your underwear. Longer shirts are obviously better for this method.
11. Choose a taller locker if possible, so that you can leave it open while changing. If you turn slightly toward the open locker door while you are changing, it should block the view from your right and left.
12. Choose clothing that is easy to slip on and off quickly. Boxer shorts, for example, are easier to slip on than briefs, especially when you are still a little damp from a shower. The quicker you can change, the better.
13. Some guys choose to change their underwear while wearing a towel around their waist. While this method may work for you, it can cause problems if the towel slips or falls off. Also, because it is a more extreme form of modesty, it can sometimes have the unwanted effect of drawing more attention to you. Use your best judgment with this method.
14. Don't bend over very far when you are naked, as this may expose your genitals from behind. If you've dropped something, bend your knees and crouch to pick it up rather than bending all the way down at the waist.
15. There is always the option of not showering in the locker rooms at all, and only stripping down to an undershirt and underwear as you switch from your street clothes to your gym clothes and vice-versa. This is not an optimal method for those who go to the gym before work, but it can be functional for those who are going home right after the gym. If you do go to work right after the gym, you can change your underwear later and clean up a bit with a washcloth in the bathroom at work if that offers more privacy.
Tips for packers
1. If you want additional freedom in the locker room, consider a realistic prosthetic penis that can be attached to the skin with medical adhesive. Such prosthetics are described on the packing page, prosthetics section. They are more expensive than other soft packers, but they may allow you to shower and change without worrying about other guys seeing your genital area. Just be sure that the adhesive is secure, and that it will hold through sweating and vigorous activity.
2. If you attach your packer to the inside of your underwear or swim trunks in a pouch with a safety pin (generally a good way to securely pack at the gym; see the packing page, harness section for more details), consider having a second packer/pouch already pinned to the inside of the clean underwear you are about to change into. That way, you can discreetly slip off your dirty underwear/trunks and packer before your shower, tucking them away out of sight in your locker. After showering, you can slip into your clean underwear/packer combo quickly, thus not having to move the packer from one set of clothing to the other. This is probably the quickest and least complicated way of changing with a packer.
3. If you need to move your packer from one pair of underwear to the next, consider doing the removal and refastening of the packer in the privacy of a bathroom stall. You can keep the packer in your pocket or a bag until you need to make the switch. Plan your method carefully in advance, considering each step of the process, so that you don't end up with your packer in your hand or on the floor in plain view.
4. If you choose to wear your packer inside a jock strap or harness, be careful that it does not fall out while you change. Some jock straps come equipped with pouches, and you may want to place your packer inside the pouch to prevent such accidents. You may also wish to consider having a second, clean jock strap or harness to change into after your shower. Again, the actual switching of the packer may be best done in a bathroom stall.
5. Boxer shorts can be more forgiving than briefs when hiding and moving a packer (using the safety pin/pouch method), but remember that a packer can poke out of the fly of boxer shorts. Consider button-front boxers if this is an issue of concern.
6. Unless you happen to wear very tight workout clothes, it is unlikely that people will notice the lack of a bulge if you choose not to wear a packer, especially if you look otherwise male. A benefit of not wearing a packer is that you don't have to worry about moving it from one pair of clothes to another, or having it fall on the floor.
Tips for binders
Binders are much more difficult to hide than packers, so your options for showering and changing while binding are limited. Those with small chests might be able to get away with quick changes and strategically placed towels, but for guys with large chests, the choices are far more limited. You may choose to not shower or completely change at the locker room pre-chest surgery; otherwise you can specifically seek a locker room that has privacy features such as curtained stalls.
1. Change into and out of your binder in a bathroom stall. If your chest is small enough, you can wear a loose fitting shirt and/or a strategically placed towel around your shoulders to cover your chest once you leave the stall. Plan your changing method carefully in advance, considering each step of the process, so you are not left with your chest in full view at any point.
2. If anyone should ask about it, treat your binder as though it were an athletic brace, or post-surgical support device. Most people will not press for further details, but if they do, consider in advance what you might say to explain your situation.
3. If you wear a sports bra to bind, make sure you wear enough layers or dark enough colors so that it does not look like a bra through your clothing.