Fin Burgess (he/they) is a scuba diver, a youth ambassador for San Diego Pride, an activist, and an amateur photographer. He draws a beautiful comparison between trans people and tiger sharks, and if that doesn’t make you want to keep reading, we don’t know what will.
TomboyX: What’s your story? What do you do?
Fin Burgess: I was born and raised in San Diego. I came out as a lesbian in middle school, and then I got involved with San Diego Pride early on in high school. I joined their youth programs and met trans people for the first time, and I had seen videos on YouTube of people transitioning, but I'd never knowingly met a trans person. I kind of felt like, “oh my god, that's me.” So I just dove into San Diego Pride and all of their programs and very quickly came out as non-binary, and started using they/them. I became a youth ambassador and helped to run the youth programs. I'm still with Pride now, stepping back from the youth programs and stepping more into helping out with parade and festival stuff.
I also love doing photography, and I've been working on doing more portraits of queer and trans people. Pre-top surgery, pre-testosterone, I wanted very specific pictures of me that didn't show my chest, maybe at an angle where my jawline looks a little sharper or my face looks a little less round. Talking to a cis photographer about that and feeling like they're really going to capture what you want them to is really hard. So I'll talk to people beforehand to be like, “okay, send me some pictures that you like of yourself that make you feel like you.” I really tailor my shoots and how I edit things to make sure I capture pictures that they want to see. I know how damaging it can be to take all these cool pictures and you get all of them back and you see them and you're like, “that's what I look like? That's not what I want to look like. That's not how I feel.” I've been working on getting better at that and capturing what people want to see in themselves.
There's lots of weird little spaces that you don't really realize are issues for trans people until you're in it. All the little things that don't really matter to anyone else but that are just really important for queer people.
TBX: Tell me about your relationship with clothing.
FB: So pre-surgery and pre-testosterone, my biggest goals with clothes weren’t necessarily like, “I really like that shirt. I'm gonna buy it.” It was the layers of, “does it hide my chest or does it show my chest a lot? Does it square out my hips or does it cling to my hips and show my figure more?” It was kind of a draining process. Trying clothes on can be super dysphoric because you don't know how something is going to fit you. I'd look in the mirror and either love it and be like, “I'm going to live in this shirt until it has holes in it,” or “I want to peel my skin off and leave the store and go curl up in a dark room.”
Now, after top surgery, I can wear these cool crop tops and mesh shirts that I never got to wear comfortably before. Of course you can always wear whatever you want, but what you actually feel good in is a lot harder to find. So it’s been super fun buying more low cut shirts that show my scar a little bit or shirts that are cut down the sides. It's just been a really cool journey of actually being able to come into a style that I like.
TBX: What are your feelings about your scar being a part of an outfit? Is that something that you're excited about?
FB: I love it. I think every once in a while I can be a little anxious about it in situations where I don't necessarily know the vibe of the space. I like having an option to wear a jacket or something just in case, because I love it, but also it's not always safe. But when I can, I absolutely love it. I think it's cool, it's unique and something different that can spice up an outfit. I'm also a huge fan of doing any kind of body art, like putting glitter across the scar.
TBX: I know you’re passionate about saving sharks. Tell me about that.
FB: So that's actually where the name Fin came from– like a shark fin. My brother got into scuba diving when he was 11. I’ve always looked up to him, like anything that he was doing was the coolest thing ever. So then when I turned 12, I got scuba certified and ended up loving it.
I live part time in Hawaii, on the Big Island, which is a pretty small town. It’s fifteen or twenty years behind in everything; I’m the only trans person anyone knows there. One time pre-top surgery, I was wearing my binder a little too much and I had to go to the E.R. I had to explain to the person checking me in what being trans was while I was being treated for a trans-related issue.
I do most of my diving there and I started diving with tiger sharks, which are notoriously in the top three most dangerous, most aggressive sharks. They're pretty big, like ten to fifteen feet. They're called the garbage disposal of the sea because other sharks will bite you and be like, “oh, that's gross” and leave you alone. But tiger sharks are like, “oh, that's gross. I'm going to finish it anyway. I'm hungry.”
I feel like they're really misunderstood. Since shark attacks have been recorded in Hawaii, since 1940, not a single scuba diver has been attacked. When you're diving, you're under the water and you're at their level. But if you're on the surface, like they look up and they see a shadow, and they don't really know what you are. And so in their brain, you might be food. But if you're down there, you're blowing bubbles, you have all this gear on and you're in the same lighting as they are, and they can see you a little bit better. They don't want to hurt people. It's an accident. People kill millions of sharks every year, and then maybe one person is accidentally tapped by a shark, and suddenly they're the bad guy?
It's kind of like how sometimes people have fear around trans people in bathrooms. I don't care that you're in the bathroom. I'm trying to pee. Sharks don't care that you're in the water. They're like, can you move out of the way so I can eat that fish behind you?
TBX: What’s your dream job?
FB: I think what I want to do is get my dive master and then go straight to getting my instructor's license and be able to teach courses. I also think that's a space that can be difficult for trans people, because you're in the water, you're in a swimsuit and your body is very visible. I think it would be kind of cool to be visible, like, “hi, I'm Fin, I'm your dive instructor and I have my shirt off and I have this top surgery scar.”
TBX: What does your perfect world look like?
FB: I think that there should not be as much stress around money. I don't think anyone should have to work three miserable jobs to survive. If you didn't have to work, where would you be? What would you be doing? Everyone has a really fucking awesome answer to that. It's always something really personal and creative. But school and work and money and all those things really just snuff out any creativity that exists in anyone. Everyone has passions and deserves to live in a world that allows them to explore that.
Also, everyone should be willing to share their entire astrological chart with me before I interact with them.
TBX: I'm so sorry we didn't open with that. I am unfortunately a Leo sun, which is the worst thing about me.
FB: I’m a Scorpio, and I have a Gemini Moon and rising, and Geminis are very hit-or-miss with people. I'm also into therapy, and I think every sign has a chance of being really cool if they're in therapy.
The San Diego Pride youth programs have lots of trainings on communication and consent. I would love to send everyone to all the trainings that I've been through. Communication is so important and so many people are so bad at it. You're almost always going to be some level of wrong if you try to guess what someone else needs and wants. It's okay to just ask someone like, “hey, I have this heavier thing that I want to talk about. Would you rather talk in person or would you rather text about it? Is that what's easier for you to process? Would you want to have this conversation now or do you need some time to prepare and gather your thoughts?”
TBX: What made you decide to share about your life on social media?
FB: I made one video of me taking my shirt off for the first time at the beach, and it blew up. It got like 3.3 million views. I was so overwhelmed because I was getting pretty consistently, like, 500 views on things, and then all of a sudden, my phone would not stop buzzing. It was really hard for me for a bit because I never had anything that big. I couldn't say thank you to everyone who said congratulations.
Trans creators in my youth were really influential for me finding my identity and coming into myself. All of these creators who I looked up to a lot, they really did a lot for me. The media shows all these stories of trauma and hardships and coming out and how hard that is, and there's not a lot of just trans people existing and being happy. I've tried to be a little intentional about sharing my story, but also being intentional that sometimes I just post and it has nothing to do with the fact that I'm trans. I'll post cute pictures with my partners and we're just existing, just three people in a relationship. All of us are gender-fucked in some way and we're just happy. I’m intentional about not always being intentional.
Sometimes people are like, “trans people won't stop talking about the fact that they're trans.” Well, I spent sixteen years of my life not talking about being trans and talking about your boy drama at this middle school, so now that I'm talking about this, you can listen or not, I don't care, but I'm going to put it out there anyway.
You can find Fin on Instagram @FinBurgess1 and TikTok @Fin.likes.sharks.