An unexpected commotion is taking place place at the Soho House in Jaffa, disturbing the afternoon dip in the pool by the hotel’s guests, among which are a Hollywood producer, a famous chef, an Indie musician, a reality show refugee, a group of tourists who have come to Israel to celebrate Pride Month, and some businessmen in flowered swimwear and open shirts.
A colorful group has taken over the far end of the pool, gradually driving other guests toward the exit over the next few hours with lively splashing and rhythmic twerking.
Toxic masculinity made me feel, as a short gay man, that people wouldn’t give me attention unless I occupied some spaceFounder Liel Bomberg
The group is wearing miniscule, vibrant bathing suits made by SYS (a deliberate take on the word “system”), a local brand of swimwear created at the beginning of the pandemic by entrepreneurs Liel Bomberg and Sasha Perez, which is now being sold online. The brand’s website describes it as “[i]nspired by the notion of inclusivity” and “handcrafted in harmony by our multicultural team of experts in Tel Aviv.” The brand has set an ambitious goal: the revival of Israel’s swimwear industry and its restoration to its former days of glory, while empowering people who “dare to be who they are.”
“We want to break Israel’s ‘system’, the ‘system’ of swimwear in general.” Says Bomberg. “We want to make people wearing our bathing gear feel comfortable with themselves and their bodies, to celebrate what society has told us to hide for so long. Our style fits everyone – skinny, fat, tall, short, straight, transgender women or men, and drag queens.”
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He says you can play with the swimwear, making it larger or smaller in circumference, wearing the undergarment as a G-string or as a wider piece. He says they are now working on designing some new models that will expand their target population. This includes a chest binder, which is intended to flatten the breasts of transgender men, and underwear with an inbuilt compartment allowing the wearer to conceal or emphasize their genitals.
Gabby Scaramucci, an Italian currently in the transition process, stands out in her long wig, glittering hat and long nails. She’s dating an Israeli DJ, who told her about the brand and invited her to visit Israel during Pride Month. “I love the idea that every gender can wear these bathing suits,” she says. “For me, as someone now transitioning from male to female, it’s particularly suitable.
Most days I really feel I’m more feminine, but sometimes I want to connect to my masculine side. One could say that both genders dwell inside me, emotionally and physically, since my process has not ended yet. This bathing suit allows me to express these feelings. The underpants leave room for my genitals, and the bra emphasizes my breasts, and it still looks good and doesn’t seem strange to anyone.”
The others also look quite relaxed in their tiny bathing suits. One of them admits, while carefully examining his reflection in an opaque window, that he’s never felt so safe wearing anything so revealing in public. “I’m over 30 and it’s odd, since I’d expect to feel uncomfortable next to all these young people, but somehow I feel like them, and it seems that they welcome me for who I am.”
Standing out in the landscape
“The bathing suits are the only thing that unites everyone here,” says Bomberg. “It’s not that we deliberately come here to show off or express defiance, but I believe that in order to regain confidence in one’s body, after years of people telling us there was something wrong with it, we need to celebrate ourselves in an exaggerated manner and do what we feel like, in all shapes and sizes. Everyone is accepted. Everyone is invited to decide who and what they want to be at any given moment.”
Why choose to celebrate it here, of all places, in an affluent location, white and homogenous, where not everyone is invited?
“It wasn’t really our first idea. I agree to some extent that this is a white and expensive location, but they agreed to host us and embrace us, the queer, the colorful and the exceptions who couldn’t afford membership, while other locations objected. For example, there was a marketing director of a large hotel chain in the city who told us she didn’t think the bathing suits were flattering, and that not not everyone is meant to wear everything. Another hotel refused to host us, but they did agree to host a swimming pool party of gay men attired in pink bathing gear. We stand out in the landscape, but we’re also outsiders in the community. We’re not accepted because we don’t follow clear dictates such as ‘get some training, become buff, get rid of the hair, get a haircut, take off the mustache and beard.’ We’re doing the exact opposite.”
It’s ironic that a very muscular man is saying this.
“The muscles, in this respect, are something I find it hard to contend with. I’m aware of the fact that I’m saying what I say and look the way I look, but there is something there that tells the story. My body looks this way because I grew up in the 2000s. My sexual orientation came along with dictates regarding what it should look like.
"It’s a product of toxic masculinity which made me feel, as a short gay man, that people wouldn’t give me attention unless I occupied some space. When I started to train and take steroids, people started seeing me for the first time. And yet, the Tel Aviv bubble I live in explodes sometimes. Yesterday, someone pushed me in the gym and called me a ‘tranny.’
"When I walked with my partner on the promenade, wearing a G-string, dozens of people took photos of us, calling us names. We’re still in a place where we have to fight in order to be ourselves, and we want to change that. If, on the way there, we need to exaggerate and stage a circus, so be it. We want to make people understand that they can feel comfortable they way they are, that men can also wear a G-string and expose their rear ends, and that maybe they should.”