Jodi Jaecks, a breast cancer and double mastectomy survivor, recently won the right to swim topless at Seattle public pools during adult lap swim times. According to media coverage, the general rule about attire at public pools is that all women must wear tops. (I couldn’t find a direct link to actual policy from the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department.) According to a recent press release from Seattle Parks and Recreation, the decision for Jaecks extends only to her, and only for adult lap swim times. At present, any subsequent similar requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Of course, additional case-by-case evaluations seem like an inefficient waste of time, money, and other procedural resources. Why should Parks and Recreation require similarly situated people to go through the appeals process to get essentially the same exception to the rule? Maybe they officials realized this problem; additional coverage of the issue suggests that the Parks and Recreation Superintendent is considering a “wholesale” change to the policy governing attire at public pools, and that such a broad spectrum change wouldn’t destroy the “family friendly” pool environment. (Parks and Recreation offered this “family friendly” argument in support of its initial denial of Jaecks’s request.)
Let’s think a bit about what the Superintendent and any committee members should consider when evaluating a wholesale policy change. There has been much chatter in the press about normalizing visions of breast cancer survivors. (Go here and here for a couple of examples.) There’s also the fact that full bathing suits can be quite painful for women living after double mastectomies. But I want to focus on a broader issue that The Stranger touched upon briefly in its early coverage of Jaecks’s story. How does the current policy apply to trans and queer individuals? A post-op trans FTM person might look similar to Jaecks, but would be allowed to swim topless because he’s a he. A pre-op trans FTM also identifies as a he, but has breasts. So Parks and Recreation would force him to wear a bikini top. After all, the current policy requires “gender appropriate swimwear.” And what about a pre-op MTF? In this case, a woman with no breasts… is she forced to go topless to conform to her current gender designation, socially imposed upon her? (Interestingly, that would produce a result directly opposite of that which Jaecks initially received… a woman with no breasts forced to go *with* a top.) How are cross-dressers treated?
In short, what exactly are the officials trying to cover up through the current policy? It seems to reach beyond breasts and nipples. It seems to reach a much broader policy of covering up bodies that do not conform to traditional notions of sex and gender (not to mention bodies that violate conventional ideas of functionality and ability). Especially in a city known nationwide for its queer and trans activism (and apparently one of 2012’s “Gayest Cities”), in a state whose legislature legalized marriage equality, Seattle Parks and Recreation has much to consider here… beyond breasts.