How Trans Writer Estelle Grignon Overcame Her Fear of Swimsuits

Design by Kayleen Dicuangco

“As I started to reveal myself as a woman, I started to conceal myself as a human. The idea of a swimsuit was nightmare material.”

By
Estelle Grignon

Date August 18, 2021

When I came out as trans in 2018, a part of me was always trying to hide.

Sure, I was still a loudmouth who craved attention, and I loved wearing the most outrageous lipstick possible. But I also started wearing a lot of black, as if to blend into the darkness. I’d cover almost every inch of my body, and I’d mostly avoid public spaces.

And for about three years, I never came close to a body of water other than my own private bathtub.

Like many transgender individuals, I had severe gender dysphoria (psychological distress caused when your gender identity differs from your sex-related physical characteristics) where I felt uneasy and uncomfortable in my body. As I was starting to reveal myself as a woman, I began to conceal myself as a human. In this context, the idea of a swimsuit was a nightmare: the skin-tight fabric, revealing every nook and cranny of my body, the naked legs, the naked arms — everything about a swimsuit frightened me.

Two years into my transition, however, I started to feel more comfortable with myself. Hormone therapy was helping me develop some new curves, and I finally started to become confident enough to show my legs in public.

Then one hot summer day in 2020 I got a text message from a friend inviting me to the beach with her roommates. In front of my mirror, I managed to put together a pretty cute outfit that showed just enough skin for me to be comfortable. I wore a black bralette with a sleeveless denim vest and lightweight orange mini skirt over the same pair of yoga shorts I would usually discreetly wear for modesty reasons. It felt as beach-y as I could be for someone who didn’t own a swimsuit, and I felt good.

COVID-19 restrictions were more relaxed and I was looking forward to hanging out with people. I’d stay by the beach, chat with friends, eat some snacks, listen to music and enjoy the sun. Most importantly, I’d stay dry. But my friends had other plans.

They didn’t throw me in the river. I wasn’t pushed, or forced, or anything. But instead, my friends casually offered to come in the water with me. I hesitated at first, but with their puppy-like stares and the scorching weather, I eventually relented. I dropped my vest, and I slowly made my way into the lake. The water rose from my ankles to my knees, then to my waist.

I didn’t make it all the way — my bralette remained dry, and only the end of my long, wavy hair got to touch the water. But it felt like a small victory. A new accomplishment to add to my resume. I almost wished someone would have given me a medal by the time I came back to the beach. In my little, shaky heart, I felt fireworks. It wasn’t much, but it still felt like a lot.

And now, I was ready for more. I wanted a real bathing suit, albeit one with enough fabric to respect the limits of my dysphoria. And I figured I would find the answer to my questions online.

After an intensive search, however, I realized that the fashion industry was not ready for me.

I browsed through every Canadian brand that I could think of for something modest yet affordable. Ideally, I was looking for some sort of swimsuit-skirt hybrid, covering what I needed to cover. But I was out of luck. As it turns out, I was unable to find a local brand of trans-specific swimwear. Even worse, it seemed like everything else was as minimal as possible from the waist down, and that didn’t do it.

Before transitioning, every pair of swim trunks I’d ever owned came from the boys’ section. Loose and falling right above the knee, I never had to think about the skin I was showing before then. But now, those new “feminine” options were starting to make me feel sick.

I was again invited to spend a day by a lake with some girls, and as excited as I was about the occasion, I still knew that I had little time to find a swim alternative. No matter how much I tried to resist helping Jeff Bezos, I only found what I was looking for on Amazon.

It was a one-piece, ruby red bathing suit, with the built-in skirt I wanted from the start, from some random manufacturer without so much as a website to show for it. The article page made no mention of trans women, but I can only imagine I’m not the first to buy one. It was a bit tight on my body which, I know, is sort of the point, but to me, it still felt so foreign. Although my swimsuit had as much fabric as all of my friends’ suits combined, I still needed to take a deep breath before leaving the bathroom. Could I look good in a swimsuit? How big would my shoulders look in it? Was I feminine enough to rock this? What if my closest friends hated it?

As it turns out, they all loved it. Part of it might have been the colour that flattered me, and part of it was probably just how proud they were of me for reaching a milestone in my new life.

I was now free to roam through the waters like I used to, without having to worry about so many external things. I was free from the burden of my dysphoria, from the shores that kept me prisoner for so long. I’d get out of the water only to return minutes later. I never wanted to leave. Through this new bathing suit, I finally felt good in my skin.

Transitioning isn’t like doing a cannonball. More often than not, it feels like entering one toe at a time. This time I had water up to my shoulders, and it felt good.