Today is my 27th birthday, but I'm so incensed over what happened to me last night that I can't focus on anything else. I have to write this out.
Since my birthday is a work day, and my boyfriend works until late in the evening, it was decided that yesterday, Sunday, would be "my day." He took me shopping and bought a dress for me, we perused the Sweetwater flea market, and the conclusion to "my day" was to be my absolute favorite activity - swimming in the lake. I grew up on a houseboat on South Holston Lake and spent so much time swimming that I acquired the nick name "Water Dog."
When it came time to head for the lake, there was a problem: I couldn't find my bathing suit. So, I thought, "Why not just wear a tank-top and undies?" The clothes I picked to swim in (a sleeveless shirt and granny panties) actually covered more skin than a traditional bathing suit would. No, it wasn't the mostly classy swimming attire, but I didn't care. I just wanted to swim. And it's not like it was crystal clear swimming pool water - it was a green lake. No one could even see my body from my shoulders down.
It was in the late evening that we arrived at the public, taxpayer funded Lenoir City Park. I found what I thought would be a good place to get in the water - the only people I could see was a family fishing on a pier that was pretty far away from me. My boyfriend took my two-year-old daughter to play on the playground in another area of the park. I estimate the time span between taking off my dress (with the tanktop and underwear underneath) and my being totally submerged in the water was around 6 seconds (there were some rocks at the edge of the water to navigate around).
*Apologies for the chance in tense here*
So, there I am swimming. The water felt great and I felt great. Minutes pass, and the next thing I know, there is a police officer at the shore calling for me to come to him. I comply and swim to him. "Is there a problem?" I ask. He tells me that I am not wearing appropriate swimwear, and I need to get out of the water and put on my clothes. I immediately feel embarrassed. The family on the pier in the distance is now gawking in my direction, but I do as he says. I proceed to tell him, now humiliated and in tears, that as far as I knew, I wasn't breaking any laws. The only parts of my body which were exposed were my arms and my legs, and that was for only a short time period. He then threatens to take me to jail. (On what charge? He didn't say, but I should have asked.)
Now my boyfriend is walking in our direction with my daughter. My daughter, upon seeing me in tears, gets upset and asks repeatedly "Okay, Mommy? Okay, Mommy?" I shakily reassure her that I am okay and the officer tells us to leave the park. As we get to the car, he asks to see my ID and calls it in to check for warrants, of which I have none. Now I'm feeling infuriated and harassed. He asks me if I understand what I did wrong.
No, I don't. I don't understand. And I'm mad about it.
I don't understand why I was shamed in front of my daughter. If a man had gone swimming in his boxer shorts, would anyone bat an eyelash? I doubt it. Why is it acceptable for women to wear string bikinis in public, but I can't swim in murky water in my freaking underwear. (And that's not a stab at women in bikinis, I'm all for women wearing whatever they are comfortable wearing.)
I don't understand why I was harassed when I was not breaking any laws. And I checked. I called the Lenoir City Parks and Recreation this morning and was told that it was NOT illegal to swim at Lenoir City Park. I called the Police Department and asked if there were any county or municipal ordinances which deviated from Tennessee's state law on indecent exposure, which reads:
“Nudity” or “state of nudity” means the showing of the bare human male or female genitals or pubic area with less than a fully opaque covering, the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of the areola, or the showing of the covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.” After I explained the situation to the woman at the police department, she told me that she was not aware of any ordinances, but she or the Chief of Police would call me back. Haven't heard back from them.
So no, I don't understand “what I did wrong.” What I DO understand, though, officer, are my rights. And you violated them.
- From a woman in Lenoir City, TN
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