Now that summer is here, so is hot weather, and swimwear. While it’s probably not an intersection many people think of, swimwear can present struggles for those who are part of the LGBTQ+ Community, with its range of gender identities and expressions. This is going to get a little fashion-themed, but for a good cause! Originally, I was going to focus on gender identity, mainly the Transgender and Genderqueer Communities, but then I found a lot of material on various LGBTQ+ identities. So in order to be more inclusive, I decided to write about swimwear within lesbian and queer women, gay men, in addition to transgender and genderqueer communities.
I’ll start off by stating the obvious: our society’s selection of swimsuits caters to present women as feminine, so the only struggle femme female-presenting individuals would face might be with their body image (we’ll get to that later).
While swimwear can get tricky when we talk about gender identities and expressions outside of the binary, for gay men, it’s not really much different. I talked with a friend of mine, who clarified that the stereotype is speedos. However, they aren’t something you see on the regular, outside of gay-specific environments, like gay clubs with bars. (my friend Austin)
For multiple gender identities, swimwear causes a struggle arises: this means wearing a bikini top, or exposing their chest, which not everyone is comfortable with. While some people wear bikini tops for this occasion (and maybe only these), I found something really rad. Just this year, FLAVNT Streetwear released an awesome product: bareskin binders, that can be used as bikini tops, sport bras, binders, or shirts. As a Kickstarter supported project, they are hoping to launch in August.
In my research on swimwear bottoms, I’ve seen a lot of board shorts and via this blog featured in a Buzzfeed article, learned that “for those assigned female at birth, cutting out the netting inside men’s swim shorts will make for a more comfortable swim” (Listy).
As for those assigned male at birth that present more feminine, there is a website that caters specifically to the transgender individual called Danaë.
A part of body image and views of the body that I find interesting that correlates with swimwear is body hair. Their are many mixed views on this and I think it can also really depend on one’s gender identity, and maybe also their sexual orientation. In a survey done in 2013, bikini line hair removal was typical for women. However, this study was predominantly heterosexual. (Braun). As for queer women, in a study of twenty women that included a majority of cisgender, non-heterosexual people who were mostly women, “only two let their pubic hair grow…and a majority…who groomed their pubic hair shaved completely or trimmed their bikini line year round” (Pan).
For more on swimwear for different gender expressions, check out this Autostraddle piece.
As for gay men and body image, in a study done: “In examining the relationship between sexual objectification and body image concerns, Martins et al. (2007) experimentally manipulated state self-objectification by having gay and heterosexual men wear either a speedo swimsuit (i.e., objectification) or a sweater (i.e., nonobjectification). The investigators found that gay men in the objectifying condition experienced a greater amount of body dissatisfaction, body shame, and eating restraint than gay men in the nonobjectifying condition” (Davids).
For more swimwear options for gay men, check out this OUT Magazine piece.
For some individuals, conforming to the binary, or being pressured to do so can lead to gender dyphoria. Gender dysphoria is “a psychiatric classification describing persons experiencing a strong and persistent incongruity between their anatomy (their sex) and the gender with which they identify” (Mathiesen). In 2013, the fifth edition of American Psychological Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) replaced its records of “gender identity disorder” to gender dysphoria (Mathiesen).
As you can see (and maybe you experience yourself), swimwear can be tricky for those who identify within the LGBTQ+ Community. If you are facing these struggles, remember that it’s okay to say no to wearing swimwear if you are not comfortable. While these struggles doesn’t neccesarily correlate with sexual orientation, they definitely does so with gender identity. I hope this gave you some resources and/or helped you recognize a privilege you might have. Enjoy!
, V., , G., and“It Shouldn’t Stick Out from Your Bikini at the Beach”: Meaning, Gender, and the Hairy/Hairless Body Psychology of Women Quarterly December 2013 37: 478–493, first published on July 2, 2013 doi:10.1177/0361684313492950
Davids, C. M., Watson, L. B., Nilsson, J. E., & Marszalek, J. M. (2015). Body dissatisfaction among gay men: The roles of sexual objectification, gay community involvement, and psychological sense of community. Psychology Of Sexual Orientation And Gender Diversity, 2(4), 376-385. doi:10.1037/sgd0000127
Erin. “Autostraddle’s 2016 Swimsuit Issue: Secret Gay Beach Party for Lots of Gender Presentations” Autostraddle. 6 July 2016.
Flavnt Streetwear Bareskin Binder http://www.flavnt.com/bareskin-swim-top/
Keating, Shannon. “Mix And Match Androgynous Swimwear For People Of Any Gender” Buzzfeed. 6 March 2015.
Listy, Bee. The Sartorial Butch. “But She Swam Too Far Against the Tide.” WordPress. 27 Nov 2012.
Martins, Y., Tiggemann, M., & Kirkbride, A. (2007). Those speedos become them: The role of self-objectification in gay and heterosexual men’s body image. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 634–647. 10.1177/0146167206297403
Mathiesen, A. M. (2016). Gender dysphoria. Magill’S Medical Guide (Online Edition)
Pan, K. “Good Bush, Bad Bush: Self Representation of Women’s Gender/Sexual Identities in Grooming Behavior.” Department of Sociology Senior Honors Thesis. New York University. 6 May 2011.