Trans Sports Clubs: All Roberta Francis wanted was a peaceful place to swim. But, writes Kashmira Gander, what she has created has transformed into so much more.
It’s a Friday night in Lewisham and ten people have gathered for a weekly swimming club at the inner London borough’s modern leisure centre, an oasis of calm beyond which city life grinds on. Reflections from the red light of the emergency exit sign dance on the water of the dimly lit pool where Roberta Francis, the club’s head honcho, plays catch with another swimmer. Others are reclining at the water’s edge, their eyes closed and legs drifting outwards; some still chat quietly and catch their breath between laps. There’s no music, only the gentle murmur of chatter and the slop of water in the pool vents.
So, a bunch of people have gone swimming on a Friday night. Nothing remarkable about that. Look at the lifeguard’s bored face. Except that these people are trans (the term used to describe a person who does not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth) and simply popping out for a quick swim can be fraught with difficulty. Dedicated groups like the Trans and Gender non-conforming Swimming (TAGS) group in Lewisham take months to organise, and are only possible because of years of LGBT activism.