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Reconnecting with myself by Ludo Foster

My name is Ludo and I identify as a mixed race trans man. I was born and raised in the South Wales Valleys and now live in Hove East Sussex.

As a young child I was quite adventurous. I didn’t have a sense of fear. I spent much of my time riding my bike, roller skating and climbing trees. Swimming began at a young age at the local leisure centre, with my mother and siblings. The busyness of the pool bothered me, but I would splashed around with my arm bands making sure I stayed close to my mother.

School sports on the other hand, I didn’t enjoy. Especially team sports like netball. They were boring, too many rules and I had to rely on what other people were doing. People were picking teams and I felt that I wasn’t very good at sports and I would shy away. I did however like gymnastics. It was so natural to me. Vaulting, standing on my hands and climbing over things. It was a great pleasure and I was good at it. I was free.

At 11 I started comprehensive school. Sport became regimented in a way that didn’t make sense. Things were gendered and I had no control over what I could wear. In gym I had to wear a little skirt and white top. Gymnastics changed into dance and became more group orientated. It felt very confining. Swimming became very formal with weekly school swimming lessons. The tutor was quite stern and everyone was afraid of him. It became a fearful thing. It was noisy, chaotic and I was body conscious. I made excuses not to attend and I had a note to be excused. I lost my interest and the desire to do sporty things were quashed. It would be decades before I rediscovered physical activity.

From that point I retreated more and did a lot of drawing, created stories and music came to the forefront. I was growing up, but during this time I didn’t have access to LGBT information. Being trans wasn’t spoken about and I first heard about trans men existing in my late 20s. I came out as trans myself in my mid 30s and had top surgery in my late 30s. About 12 months after the procedure I had a yearning to try out different things. I had the feeling for a while that I wanted to try swimming. So I began checking out my options.

The pools in my area are larger and deeper than the local pool I had grown up using as a child. I didn’t think that I could do it. In fact once again it was my mother who encouraged me, when she came to visit me. I chose one of the local authority swimming pools and we went and visited it together. On arrival I was intimidated and didn’t know what to expect. It was all new to me. I was relieved to discover that they had gender neutral changing room with cubicles.

When changing I reflected on the fact that for many years I had had an eating disorder, something which is sadly very common in trans people. As a result my body was very emaciated. Something I used to disguise by wear baggy clothes. I was worried that people might judge me or ask me to leave. I walked onto poolside with my trunks, googles and I was very underweight. No one said anything to me.

When I first went back to swimming, it had been 25 years and I felt that I had forgotten how to swim. I find it difficult to be taught things. So, I watched some YouTube videos and taught myself how to not only to swim again, but to dive. The water felt cold, but I soon acclimatised. Being diagnosed with autism later in life, my sensory issues were a test of my passion, but I found ways to manage. First with ear plugs then later an underwater MP3 player. I got used to the layout, the people and the staff. I was around people and felt a sense of community, without having to know anything about the people.

What ignited my passion for swimming was putting the googles on and going under water. It was just so calm and lovely. I realised that I could still tumble while submerged and I felt connected again to gymnastics. It was a childlike pleasure. I woke up to that. It felt amazing. It was this feeling that kept me going back.

When it comes to swimming I think many people will feel that they will be a minority and made to feel unwelcome. Whether its in reference to their race or gender identity. For me it became part of my daily routine and an obsession. Once in the water I am often rather oblivious to what everyone else is thinking. I feel comfortable in my body and the process is all very natural to me. Someone would have to be very overt for me to pay them any attention. I don’t take this for granted, as I know it's not the same for everyone.

Obviously with lock down the public pool has been closed. During this time I‘ve been taking part in Trans Can Sport online sessions. The various instructors give a holistic approach to the sessions. It's now become a routine and it makes me feel a part of things. I feel a sense of familiarity and it's been psychologically useful. I was initially interested in Trans Can Core, but I’m also taking part in Trans Can Fight and HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). I’m particularly enjoying HIIT. Like all TCS sessions the exercises are being tailored to suit individual needs and there is a real emphasis on going at your own pace. Even though it's a group setting I don’t feel overwhelmed as I would do in a face to face sessions.

As we start to come out of lock down I’m going to continue with Trans Can Sport online, build up to do some sea swimming, go for walks and eventually get back in the pool.

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