For transgender and gender nonconforming people, swimming can be an uncomfortable experience partly due to gendered locker rooms and swimsuits.
In an effort to provide a more inclusive space for non-cisgender students to swim, a lifeguard at the University of Minnesota has taken steps to make swimming more accessible. Trans Swim, a biweekly meeting of transgender and nonbinary students at a pool in Cooke Hall, was started by University of Minnesota student Michael Klemann last fall after he found there was not a program in place at the time.
“I thought it would be really cool for non-cis people to swim in an environment they felt comfortable,” Klemann said. “Swimming is a really important skill to have, and it’s a fun way to get exercise.”
Cisgender people are those whose identified gender aligns with their birth sex. Non-cis are people who do not identify with their assigned gender at birth.
The hours take place at a pool only five feet deep to accommodate those who are unable to swim. Klemann, who is transgender, also works as the lifeguard during the hours so the space remains exclusive to non-cisgender people.
While the open swim hours are not an official University program, Klemann can rent out the pool as a student group. The hours are the first Recreation and Wellness Center option specifically designated for non-cisgender students, said Director of Aquatics Linda McKee.
“We would definitely want to work on expanding these resources in the future,” McKee said. “Right now, just having the dedicated swim time has been our start to see what the interest level is.”
According to Mariejo Truex, senior director of education, programs and services at USA Swimming, there has been an uptick in interest around the country surrounding transgender swimming policies.
Athlete requests to update their gender in the USA Swimming database have doubled in the past three months, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association is planning to release updated revisions of its transgender athlete policies soon, she said.
“There has been a lot of attention and a lot of interest in national [sports] governing bodies within the year. ... A lot of them are coming out with good policies and have formalized supporting a culture of inclusion,” Truex said.
Klemann said that while the University has begun instituting inclusive options like the consideration of a new pronoun policy, options like gender neutral bathrooms and locker rooms at RecWell are still fairly inaccessible for transgender and gender nonconforming students.
While there are several family locker rooms in the RecWell buildings, they remain difficult to access for students at Trans Swim. Klemann must walk back with them to the locker rooms and unlock the doors before and after the swimming hours.
As of 2016, there were approximately 290 gender-neutral bathrooms at the University.
Despite potential challenges such as lack of lifeguards and limited promotional options, Klemann, a sophomore, wants Trans Swim to continue even after he graduates.
“A lot of transgender and gender-neutral students don’t feel comfortable swimming because swimsuits are revealing. It’s nice to be in an environment where all genders are accepted and accommodated,” he said.