Je suis toujours, déjà un plongeur.

As an academic who has studied the languages of gender performance, and the other thousand ways we continually bring our various identities into being by our actions, I can’t help the wry grin on my face when I read diving magazines and online forums or stroll through a dive shop. Wow. Such masculine. So tech. Although there are plenty of adept and veteran women divers—including the amazing Rustie Stuke, who certified me off Palm Beach in 1972—both sport and professional diving are still dominated by men defining themselves through risk, fitness, scientism, authority, and other ways we People Of The Penis have tended to go about things. (I’ve just given myself an idea for a paper….)

So today as I’m pre-checking my gear for a planned dive tomorrow with my brother Paul in Panama City, I’m smirking at myself—but also loving it. ALL the technologies. The evoked memories of past underwater adventures. The officialdom of certification cards and the smell of black neoprene rubber, creaking as I load it into the gear bag. The whoosh of a regulator and the heft and clink of weights.

Timewise, there are clear points at which I will break the plane of the water’s surface, transitioning between a world my body was built for and another that can’t sustain it without infusions of technology and, by implication, money. Even the deep meditative insights of Pranayama (for what else is the breath-awareness that divers practice?) don’t erase this material, physiological presence unda da sea, as well as the criticality of being totally present in the moment.

But I am realizing that prepping for a dive extends that dive backwards in time, just as the photographs we will take tomorrow stretch the experience long past our no-decompression limits or air supply. The Dive begins and ends, but putting my life-sustaining toys together before a dive reminds me that in many ways, to use a post-structuralist catchphrase, I am always already there. And that all those past dives are still in me, like extra nitrogen that never quite dissipated.

I guess that’s what I mean when I say I am a diver.