I joined ManFriday after watching Amy’s Mumsnet thread in real time, being really impressed by her imagination and bravery. I loved the concept of highlighting the nonsense of self-ID by shining a light on how easy it was to abuse. My initial activism was a little lame – I joined the Facebook group and donated to the crowdfunder for the badges and I watched. I considered joining Amy for her first swim but the weather and an innate laziness kept me at home that day.
By the next Friday I had my badges and I decided to join in, but in a slightly understated way. We were going to the theatre so I made my husband do all the boring admin regarding the tickets and planning, and I made sure to manspread on the tube on the way there. We were at a theatre with gender neutral loos so I didn’t have an opportunity to pee in the men’s but I did my (tiny) bit.
I had also spent some time looking at local swimming pools, noting that Dulwich had a men-only session on a Friday night. Perfect! I emailed them asking about their attitude to female bodied self-identified men (now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d type) using their facilities and whether they would support me accessing the men’s changing rooms and attending the men only swimming session on Friday evening. I resolved to attend the following week regardless of the response, or lack thereof, but was delighted to receive a reply telling me that I could attend and would have the full support of centre staff.
ManFriday #3 arrived and it appeared we were beginning to be noticed. The hashtag was gaining traction on Twitter and we were contacted by a couple of journalists. Amy had been in contact with The Mail on Sunday and I had with The Sunday Times, and I arranged to meet them both before the swim as I was a) local and b) not at work. Chatting to them beforehand sent my anxiety level sky high as it made the whole event real. Mark from The Mail on Sunday told me that I had to register at the leisure centre so had me panicking I wouldn’t get in, though this turned out to be something I was able to do at the reception desk.
I walked into the centre, presenting as I normally do (which I think is middle aged woman). Short hair, Barbour, jeans, boots, so nothing particularly feminine but I am clearly a woman. Once I had registered I asked to swim and the receptionist checked the timetable and told me that unfortunately it was a men-only swim that evening. I responded with a cheery “but I identify as a man” and she let me pay and let me in. I did feel a little unkind lying to the receptionist as they’re not the people implementing these insane processes but they’re at the front line of dealing with it, and will get abuse if Trans Rights Activists feel misgendered, so I send her my heartfelt apologies.
Once through the turnstile I walked into the men’s changing rooms. Most people didn’t seem to pay me any attention at first but as I started to change into my trunks and rash vest a couple of the older men behind me said “she shouldn’t be in here” to each other, but nobody approached me. I also had more dirty looks than I’d care to count as the men started to realise that I was there.
I walked to the pool and waited whilst they finished the swimming class and asked other female pool users to vacate the pool for the men only swim. The women asked to leave could see me at the side of the pool and were clearly nonplussed by this but again didn’t speak to me. I’m actually pretty grateful for this as I was really rather nervous. I swam a few lengths, got out for a drink, swam a few more and remembered how boring swimming is.
By that stage it was 7.20pm and I was beginning to think Amy had abandoned me (we had arranged to meet in the pool) so I got out and headed back to the changing room. I was told that Amy had been refused access so we may as well head home. Of course, there was someone with their bag in front of my locker so I had to interact with someone, but again he was too polite to say anything about me being a woman. I threw a leaflet in his bag and headed for the showers. Once I was out Amy appeared, they had let her through. It’s odd meeting someone for the first time in a men’s changing room, whilst completely naked, but it was lovely to finally meet the woman that started this whole thing. She had, unfortunately, forgotten her shorts and the pair she panic bought in reception didn’t fit so she borrowed mine (I had washed them in the shower). I think that’s what comes under Sisterhood!
Amy headed into the pool with my trunks and her hat on and started her swim. I think that attending separately was actually better in getting noticed. One man actually challenged her but backed down after she stated she was a man, and by the time she got out there were four or five men talking to the lifeguard, and the manager had been in a few times. She stayed in the pool for about 15 minutes and then got out and changed.
I spoke to a couple of the men who had been in the pool as they were leaving. Most were confused by our presence. They had chosen to attend a men-only swim for a variety of reasons, including body consciousness, faith, structure and for all I know, misogyny. We debriefed with the journalists and went our separate ways.
This sounds like a particularly boring story, mainly because it is. I certainly didn’t expect the response from the press and the public. I had hoped we’d raise consciousness of the idiocy of allowing people to choose their own changing rooms, but didn’t think it would happen on the 3rd Man Friday with just two of us at the pool. We seem to have got the issue that we are being forced to accept penises in women’s changing rooms by stealth noticed on a national level and the public aren’t happy. Swim England’s Guide to Engaging Trans People in Swimming is no longer on their website.
You don’t have to have a big platform to make a difference on an issue. If you want to see change sometimes doing something really small can make all the difference. Two women went for a swim.