Harvard Transgender Swimmer Dives Into New Waters

Harvard Transgender Swimmer Dives Into New Waters
Susan Dutca-Lovell

What happens when your high school 100-meter breast stroke time is almost as fast as the women's all-time best at Harvard, the school you've been eying for as long as you could remember - but you determine you can no longer repress the feeling that you are a man trapped inside a woman's body? Such was the case for swimmer Schuyler Bailer, who underwent partial surgery, now identifies as a man and will compete on the Harvard men's swim team. The NCAA allowed Bailer to choose what team to swim for and Harvard’s women's swim coach supports Bailer's decision even if it means losing a top recruit.

Bailer took a year off following high school graduation and made the decision to identify as a man after having repressed these feelings from a very young age. Bailer claimed, "I had worked my whole life to be on that team," and that the coming-out-of-the-closet experience was stressful enough. Bailer is realistic about future stresses, such as competing with a new gender, locker room etiquette and media scrutiny. However, transgender athletes have been around since 1977, when Renée Richard joined the women's tennis professional tour after the New York Supreme Court had intervened. Another recent, well-known case is that of Olympic decathlete Bruce Jenner, who transitioned to Caitlyn Jenner. Is the male to female transition the same as female to male transition, when it comes to athletics?

Various organizations at the junior, high school and collegiate level have begun implementing rules that allow transgender students to participate on the basis of their expressed gender identities. Even at the highest level of sport competition, the Olympics, athletes are able to participate only if they have had their gender-reassignment surgery and at least two years of hormone therapy. In the NCAA, men transitioning to women who have not undergone sex-reassignment surgery must take testosterone suppressants for one year before they can compete on the women's team. (This means Bailer would be allowed to continue on the women's team if he has not yet starting taking testosterone). Though Bailer's transition has been welcomed and supported by the NCAA and his team, he may still face discrimination and scrutiny.

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