Lockdown Life: transgender community denied the solace of swimming

people swimming in different lanes of an indoor pool
Swimming in an indoor pool. Pic: Benjamin Basch

On Transgender Awareness Day, Eastlondonlines spoke to Lewisham’s founder of London’s first transgender swimming group about the impact of the lockdown on East London’s transgender community.

The lockdown and lack of access to sports facilities since the pandemic began has had a disproportionate affect on East London transgender community, says Roberta Francis, founder of London’s first transgender swimming group.

The group, TAGS, was created in 2014 from a shared’ desire to have “a place for trans people to swim safely”. The group have been meeting on a weekly basis at the Glass Mill Leisure Centre in Lewisham. It has gender-neutral changing, and a time slot where the pool is privatised so that members of the group can enjoy privacy.

But TAGS members have not been able to swim or see each other for 9 months which has had a negative impact on the community

Francis told ELL: “It is very difficult for trans people to access public sports spaces, not only because of the world landscape, but because of people’s attitudes towards trans people.”

After the first lockdown, as sports clubs opened up again across the UK, entry had to be booked online. “This was a problem for trans people, not the online booking, but [the uncertainty of ] what was going to happen once you get there,” said Francis. Whether it is the fear of being misgendered, ridiculed or even attacked, a lot of reasons discourage trans people from accessing sports facilities.

Transgender Awareness Day: this takes place every year on November 20. It aims to increase visibility and educate about gender nonconforming people.

The UN Human Rights Office said in an April report: “LGBTI people regularly experience stigma and discrimination while seeking health services,” which elevate the risk of Covid-19. The report adds that transgender people suffered from the de-prioritization of hormonal and gender affirming treatments and that the stay-at-home restrictions amplified their isolation. Then, The International LGBT Association (ILGA World), found that 96 international human rights experts published statements highlighting the hardships LGBT community faced during the Covid-19. They underlined the importance of civil society, providing support throughout the pandemic, and urges governments to increase their protections.

TAGS has since expanded to swimming pools in Camden, Shadwell and Birmingham, as demand for the service increased. They also run a weekly body-positive yoga group in Greenwich and hope to fund even more spaces for trans people in the future.

Zelda Le Louarn, lead 2018 volunteer of TAGS Lewisham branch said: “Most public sports facilities do not cater for those who are transitioning. During this time period, individuals can be sensitive and fearful of exposing their bodies to people that don’t necessarily share their experience. Thus, TAGS can help build confidence and reassurance in individuals actualizing their true selves outside and in.”

TAGS members during a session in Birmingham. Pic: Roberta Francis

Le Louarn told ELL: “We all understand and know the benefits of exercise on mental and physical health, this space is fundamental for those individuals’ well-being and it also creates a vital hub for a minority community and thus is social peer support network.”

The LGBTQ+ Metro Charity said in a report that 20 per cent of the existing trans adult counselling clients would not engage in online or phone sessions, as most of them felt that they did not have “a safe and confidential space at home” to do it. They may be living with others who do not know about their situation or their counselling, or are simply not supportive. For the charity, without that support and counselling, the mental well-being of its users is at stake.

Many individuals from the trans community are not coping well with the lockdown, explains Le Louarn: “Those who seek reassurance and comfort from the people around them are finding this time very difficult. Having contact through social media and technology is never a substitute for real in-person interaction.”

One Response

  1. Roberta Francis November 29, 2020

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