In much of the western world, decency laws require women to wear swimwear that covers their breasts; for men there is no such requirement.

In jurisdictions that recognize individuals' self-identification -- such as transsexuals (in various degree of transition), non-binary and intersex persons -- how do these laws apply?

Must a man, who has just started to transition into a female, wear female swimwear eventhough he is still flat-chested? Can a woman, who feels that she is actually a man, take off het bikini top and expose her breasts?

  • 3
    I think the extraneous commentary obscures a suitably narrow (and interesting) legal question: If the law requires women to cover their breasts in public, how does that law apply to gender-nonconforming people, etc.?
    – bdb484
    Aug 8, 2022 at 18:56
  • 1
    @bdb484 Yes that is an interesting and possibly answerable question. Aug 8, 2022 at 19:04
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    The laws requiring women to cover their breasts would by all means intend to be concerned about the factual body morphology rather than gender identification. Simply put, if you have female-looking breasts you've got to cover them, no matter how you identify yourself.
    – Greendrake
    Aug 8, 2022 at 19:10
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    I'm going to question the initial assumption of question: "In much of the western world, decency laws require women to wear swimwear that covers their breasts [...]" according to Wikipedia (warning: NSFW images), most countries listed there which I would consider Western do not have these laws or leave it to municipal by-laws (though this is by no means a complete list). To my surprise, this includes most US states too.
    – DPenner1
    Aug 8, 2022 at 20:12
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    In the context of transgender persons: Transgender men will likely not want to show themselves in a way that makes it obvious they once had a female body. So this is very much a question desperately looking for a problem.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 9, 2022 at 8:31

2 Answers 2


Your assumption that males can and females can’t is invalid

The law has not been decided.

The law on obscene exposure is found in Section 5 of the Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW), which states a “person shall not, in or within view of a public place or school, wilfully and obscenely expose his or her person”.

This has so far been interpreted by the courts to mean the male or female genitals - transition status is irrelevant here. It is an open question if it includes buttocks or breasts.

Anecdotally, it is not uncommon for people of all sexes on beaches to expose their breasts, although woman who do so are in the minority.


Assuming exposing the chest is not illegal, any dress code imposed by the owner of a beach or pool to which the public has access, would likely need to be non-discriminatory to comply with State and Federal anti-discrimination law.

I am unaware of any case law on point but analogous situations on school uniforms (which are ubiquitous in Australia) are that it is not discriminatory to have boys and girls uniforms so long as each student can choose which to wear.

  • In the Netherlands there are no specific rules for beaches. Women may expose their breasts if they want to. I don't think anybody will be offended by this. Commercial swimming pools is a different matter. They all have house rules that mandate suitable swimwear (i.e shorts for men and bikini or bathing suit for women). Many of them also state specifically that topless swimming or sunbathing is prohibited (this rule obviously applies to women).
    – M. Wind
    Aug 9, 2022 at 5:11
  • @M.Wind That would likely fall foul of anti-discrimination law in Australia.
    – Dale M
    Sep 8, 2022 at 2:09
  • So the everyday reality in Australia is that women can co to commercial swimming pools in order to swim topless. And irrespective of what the house rules are on this matter the women will not be stopped or harassed by the swimming pool staff ?
    – M. Wind
    Sep 8, 2022 at 3:53
  • @M.Wind no - but the restriction is cultural, not legal.
    – Dale M
    Sep 8, 2022 at 7:05

In the US, the question only comes up in Arizona and Louisiana. ARS 13-1402(A) says that "A person commits indecent exposure if he or she exposes his or her genitals or anus or she exposes the areola or nipple of her breast or breasts and another person is present, and the defendant is reckless about whether the other person, as a reasonable person, would be offended or alarmed by the act", and LA Rev Stat §14:106 "The crime of obscenity is the intentional: (1) Exposure of the genitals, pubic hair, anus, vulva, or female breast nipples in any public place or place open to the public view, or in any prison or jail, with the intent of arousing sexual desire or which appeals to prurient interest or is patently offensive...".

The size of the breast is thus immaterial. In Arizona, the question is whether the exposure would offend or alarm a reasonable person, and in Louisiana, the question is whether the exposure had the intent of arousing sexual desire, or appealed to prurient interest or is patently offensive. Furthermore, an unsettled question is whether a person legally qualifies as a female. It is, however, correct to conclude that a statutory male can lewdly or patently offensively display his nipple(s) without suffering legal repercussions. In neither state is there a statutory definition of "female" as applicable to criminal law.

Discrimination based on sex is widely prohibited in the US, so there are very few opportunities to discover whether a person's gender self-identification is legally recognized, and from what I can tell, there are no test cases in Arizona or Louisiana whereby one can find out whether those states accept gender self-identification.

  • You say that discrimination based on sex is widely prohibited in the US. Does this imply that it is unconstitutional for a commercial swimming pool or holiday resort to have in its House Rules or Dress Code a provision that prohibits women from going topless? And are women really free to expose their breasts, without being hassled? For example at Disney World ?
    – M. Wind
    Aug 9, 2022 at 16:13
  • The anti-discriminatory laws are not constitutional, they are statutory. Your question was not framed as a question about property rights, it was framed in terms of criminal law ("decency laws"). My answer this addressed the question of decency laws: which in the area asked about, are limited to two states. There is no definite answer to the legal "is a female" question that applies to those laws.
    – user6726
    Aug 9, 2022 at 16:42
  • I just googled it. Disney World certainly does not allow women to go topless. I also read that in Florida most hotels have a "No Topless Bathing" sign.
    – M. Wind
    Aug 9, 2022 at 16:48

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