What does a synchronised swimmer look like? Petite? Young? Dainty? And probably white, too, right? Wrong – or, wrong if you’re in the Subversive Sirens of Minnesota, anyway. The group is comprised of five women – Zoe Holloman, Signe Harriday, Nicki McCracken, Tana Hargest and Suzy Messerole – who are all in their late thirties and forties. They are mostly queer and mostly women of colour, joyful and talented, and they’re changing the face of synchronised swimming in a big way.
The Subversive Sirens aren’t focused only on the sport itself, but how inclusivity in sport can be freeing in other aspects of life. By delivering their message that bodies of any shape or size can do anything, they’re helping to eradicate tired, shaming stereotypes – and even alleviating their own internalised body-shaming. “We definitely want to blow up the whole idea that you have to look a certain way to do synchro,” Holloman told The Lily this week. Her teammate Messerole added that joining the group has changed the way she sees her own body. “I’m going to stop caring what size I am,” she said. “That is so fundamentally unimportant to this body that can do all of these things.”
To reflect their diversity, the team wanted to change the nature of the swimming itself to be a freer style, as traditional synchro is very strict, often with a no-splash rule. The Sirens will perform a free-combo routine – set to Prince music – plus two duets, swum by Messerole and Harriday, at the Gay Games in Paris next month.
I’m going to stop caring what size I am. That is so fundamentally unimportant to this body that can do all of these things
The Games are an inclusive, LGBTQ+ equivalent of the Olympics that began in 1982. But, unlike the Olympics, there aren’t qualifying standards, as it was founded on the basis that inclusion and participation were what mattered. R Tony Smith, who sits on the board of directors, says the Games promote equality through culture and sport.
It seems that, in sport, like in so many other areas such as film and television, we are moving towards better inclusivity and diversity – but the pace is painfully slow. We saw just this at the World Cup, where Gareth Southgate was heralded for his young, representative team who truly reflected “modern Britain” (over half of the ethnically diverse team were first- or second-generation immigrants).
By its nature, sport is a hugely public platform, and it makes perfect sense to use that platform to send a message. And no one is doing that better than the Sirens. Recently, they incorporated a black-power salute into the routine, subverting conventions both in terms of the sport itself, while simultaneously weaponising their routine to raise aware of social injustice. These women are sending the empowering message that you can do anything, regardless of what you look like, who you love, or where you come from. We’re in.