Being non-binary in public is always complicated, but at the beach it’s a veritable minefield. As the long months of Hot Misgendered-as-a-Girl spring and summer stretch before me, I find myself returning to a desperate, lingering question: What the heck is a non-binary swimsuit?
I, for one, love to swim topless, so for me (a trans-masc-leaning enby), the dream would be to just wear some trunks to the beach and call it sufficient swimwear. But, even though toplessness is technically legal for all chests where I live, legality doesn’t protect one from the nasty comments of straight parents, deeply offended by betitted humans going topless near their precious angel child. I’m sensitive. I’d much rather not have this interaction—and I bet you wouldn’t either.
It’s not fun to have people ask you about your sex organs, or to have to dress in a way that minimizes the possibility of it happening. Which is to say nothing of the real threat of physical violence faced by gender non-conforming people—especially trans femmes of color—when we openly flout gender expectations.
Here’s my creed: All non-binary people deserve swimwear that feels delightful for our gender, keeps the sand out of our junk, and defends against the slings and arrows of strangers.
So, once again, what does that look like?
Well, before we can answer that question, we must first acknowledge that “non-binary” is not a singular gender expression or experience. As the mainstream’s awareness of our existence grows, I’ve noticed cis culture constructing an idea of non-binariness that’s not quite right—non-binary as a monolothic third gender, one that exists on halfway between man and woman. And I, personally, hate it.
If being a man or a woman is like being vanilla or chocolate, being non-binary is like being strawberry, or chocolate chip cookie dough, or Phish food. One may contain chocolate (or vanilla, or both, or neither), but being lumped in with either category doesn’t really describe which flavor one is.
What does this have to do with bathing suits? Everything! As mama Judith Butler teaches us, gender is a performance, and whether we like it or not, non-binary people often find ourselves center stage. Swimwear bares the body, and without our usual full complement of costumes and props, we can feel especially vulnerable—but that doesn’t have to be the case.
Think of constructing a non-binary bathing suit like building your perfect ice cream sundae: Start with a hefty scoop of your own gender and experiment with the toppings below. What tastes good together, to you? What makes you feel delicious and fulfilled? More of that, please!
If you’re dreaming of bikinis but really not trying to tape anything that might get sand in it, these thick tucking bottoms are for you. They come in black, pink, and neon green; and they’re available in sizes XS-3XL. Mix and match with your favorite string bikini, or complete the suit with a matching ruffle top that’s flattering and femme on all shapes.
Thick Tucking Bikini Bottoms
$58 at Etsy
Another solid brand for bottoms is TomboyX, which makes “underwear that any body could feel comfortable in, regardless of where they fell on the size or gender spectrum.” The Tucking Bikini comes in sizes XS to 4X, is available in four colors, and is designed for snug, secure compression with breathability and an antibacterial treatment on the moisture-wicking fabric. In other words, it’s got it all.
$25$19.99 at TomboyX
A compression top (that you can play volleyball in)
Pro tip: Most binders are NOT exercise-safe. And yes, splashing around a little bit in the ocean counts. Give your ribs a break while keeping your chest flattened and covered with this activity-friendly compression top, available in sizes XS to 4XL.
Active Top for Swim and Exercise Safe Compression
$47 at Etsy
A wrestling singlet
You could pick one with more chest coverage if that’s a priority for your body, but I cannot because I am obsessed with the homoerotic power of these product photographs. This chest-baring cut is called a “freestyle singlet” in ‘rastlin jargon; I would wear it as-is to Riis beach and throw some pasties under it if I was going somewhere I’d be worried about the locals.
Men’s Wrestling Singlet
$23.85 at Amazon
Reversible Wrestling Singlet
$79.99 at Amazon
A surf shirt
There comes a time, for whatever reason, that you need to swim with your whole torso covered. And for people of all genders, there is this rash guard, which comes in the sweetest snakeskin print (as well as a variety of other patterns and textures).
$165 at Vitamin A
A simple swim short
Wear a shirt, or bikini top, or pasties, or just your top surgery scars with these Adidas three-stripe swim shorts—they’re absolutely classic and extremely gender-flexible. Bonus points because you can just wear these around as regular athletic shorts. Plus, they have pockets!
Classic 3-Stripes Swim Shorts
$35$21 at Adidas
A long-line scoop-neck swim top
For something a little swim-friendlier and less high-femme than a string bikini, I love a scoop-neck swim top. The shape is halfway between a sports bra and a bikini top, the long line gives the body a nice shape.
$59 at Athleta
Or try these other “midkini” tops that offer a little extra coverage and compression for all body types, without being drab or physically restricting.
Women’s Scoop Neck Midkini Swim Top
$54 at Nike
Conscious Crop Bikini Top
$64 at Athleta
High Waisted Tankini Scoop Neck
$19.99 at Amazon
Remember: Your safety and comfort come first. You deserve to feel cute and enjoy the beach, bb!
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.