Swimming Our Way Into Liberation
Op/Ed by Signe Harriday and Suzy Messerole
Photo by Mike Levad
We are the Subversive Sirens, a Minnesota-based synchronized swimming team committed to Black liberation, equity in the aquatic arts, body positivity in athleticism, and queer visibility. In our debut competition at the 2018 Gay Games, we won both a gold medal for the Team Free Combo and a silver medal for Duet. More important than the hardware, though, is that synchro gives us an opportunity to practice being free in the water so that we can work toward freedom out of the water.
The name Subversive Sirens was chosen with great care. We are aware that there exists a mainstream narrative that excludes black and queer folx all the time, including from synchro—a sport that is centered around whiteness and a certain body type. We love our bodies and we’re saying that one body type or style isn’t more important than another. Stereotypes seek to narrow our imagination and limit what we think is possible about other people. We are breaking stereotypes so that there can be more room for people to be free. That is why Black liberation is central to what we do.
The definition of subversive is “seeking or intending to subvert an established system or institution.” For us, the system we intend to dismantle is white supremacy and the many systems that seek to diminish our humanity—the systems that seek to silence us. We triumphantly denounce those notions and systems. We are swimming our way into liberation with joy. As Audre Lorde says, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
In June, we will be competing at the 2019 International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Championships in New York. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, our Free Combo routine begins with a recording of Sylvia Rivera saying, “I’ve been trying to get up here all day,” a quote from her iconic message to people gathered in New York for “pride” in 1973. This event, which took place just four years after the Stonewall uprising, didn’t center around her voice but could not have existed without her work. Our routine pays homage to the trans revolutionaries of color that ignited this movement and who inspire us to stay in the struggle with love and light.