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Schuyler Bailar, first trans athlete to compete on NCAA Division 1 men’s team, wants all trans athletes to feel represented

When Schuyler Bailar is in the water, he doesn’t feel himself.

Bailar, a former Harvard University award-winning swimmer, said he felt nothing when swimming. Instead, he has an out-of-body experience that sharpens his attention and helps him focus only on his end goal. This ability helped him become one of the best high school swimmers in the country, but it also served as a welcome recovery, ultimately helping him to come together as a proud and proud transgender man.

“When I swim I don’t feel like I have to be a body or a sex or really anything. I’m just the act of swimming,” Bailar told CBS News. “There is this massive relief, this grounding combined with the weightlessness of being in the water that is truly magnificent.”

In 2015, Bailar became the first transgender athlete to compete on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team and finished his four years at Harvard in the top 13% in breaststroke and top 15% in butterfly. Now Bailar is using his platform to fight legislation that seeks to ban trans athletes from sports teams.

“These bills are absolutely devastating,” Bailar said. “It’s stressful for me because I feel like I should be doing something. I had the privilege of competing, I have already done my sport and I have lived my dream. But how many children do not have this privilege who are going to be massively affected by these bills? ”

Lawmakers in at least 27 states have proposed legislation that would ban trans athletes from competing in sports teams that match their gender identities, claiming transgender women have an unfair advantage over cisgender women. However, Bailar said sports associations already have strict regulations for transgender athletes to compete in elite sports and that there is less biological difference between children before the age of 13.

“When people get lost in this conversation about fairness, they first miss a lot of the science of it – and puberty. Second, they run in all of these combinations like every kid is going to be an Olympic athlete – the Most kids don’t compete to win, ”Bailar told CBSN. “Most kids just compete and play sports because it’s fun. That kind of scare distracts from what people actually use for sports.”

Schuyler Bailar, first trans athlete to compete on NCAA Division 1 men’s team, wants all trans athletes to feel represented
Schuyler Bailar in 2017.

Monica Schipper / Getty

Bailar sees the bills as putting the lives of young trans athletes at risk and reflects on the emotional, physical and mental health challenges he experienced when he accepted his own gender identity as a child.

“I think friendships were really hard for me because I was so scared to meet new people because then I would have to explain my gender to them,” Bailar said. “People made me look like a man when they met me because I had short hair and I dressed, in quotes, like a boy. I didn’t have any other languages. So I felt like I was lying if I didn’t explain that I was a girl, but that didn’t feel right. ”

Instead, Bailar chose to present himself as a tomboy, bringing him closer to his parents and further away from people his age. He then focused on swimming, reaching an elite level at the age of 10. He competed in the Potomac Valley Junior Olympics, winning first place in the 100-meter breaststroke two years in a row at several high school championships and becoming an All-American All-American and USA Swimming Scholastic All-American swimmer.

Despite his success, he struggled in his personal life. At the age of 18, he was recruited by the Harvard women’s swim team, but was hospitalized with an eating disorder, which required him to take a year off between high school and l ‘university. He used this time to reflect and realized that he felt uncomfortable presenting himself as a girl because he wasn’t – he was transgender.

“It was like finally finding the tag or the piece of the puzzle or missing you,” Bailar said. “Like, oh, my God, this is what I was looking for.”

But his awareness also came with fear.

“I was so terrified of losing my support,” Bailar said. “I was so scared of oppression and systemic transphobia that I was sure to experience that I was like, I don’t know if I can handle this,” he explained. “I wish I could see another successful transgender athlete. That’s what I missed back then. I thought, ‘I have to lose everything. I have to choose either transition and myself as a man or swimming and my success in athletics and I can’t have both. And it was devastating. “

Bailar didn’t have to choose between swimming and being himself. After initially wanting to stay on the Harvard women’s team, he made a commitment to swim for the men’s team with the support of his parents and the school’s coaching staff. But this decision did not come without sacrifice. By changing teams, Bailar knew he was leaving behind years of records, achievements and the potential to go to the Olympics.

“There was a lot of heartache in there,” he said. “I had really spent my whole life working to be good and doing these things and I was so close to being able to achieve all of these things. And I was like, I’m going to throw it away for what? To be happy. And yes. , that’s what I did. I threw everything away to be happy. “

In 2019, Bailar graduated from Harvard in Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology. He doesn’t plan to swim professionally, but wants to help trans athletes feel represented. He now devotes his time to activism, talk about humanizing trans people, mentoring and advocating for mental health. Its final goal? Make its activism obsolete.

“I pray that I don’t have to do this for the rest of my life,” Bailar said. “It either means I’m not doing the job well or it’s always necessary. I hope, pray and fight that the work I am doing is no longer necessary because it will mean that we, [the transgender community] are just people as opposed to a political debate. ”

As for pride month? Bailar said he was happy to celebrate – as long as his supporters and allies remember one important thing.

“I want my cisgender and straight allies to use Pride Month as a starting point to learn and get moving for the rest of the year, to be active allies who will act for us,” Bailar mentioned. . “For me, as a queer trans person, I want the pride to be a celebration of all the things that brought us here and the mourning of those who are not there. It is honoring all the people, the women of queer color that brought us here so that we can continue to rebel. It’s a radical acceptance. “

“This is the main reason [I do what I do]”Bailar explained.” It’s to make sure other kids like me see that I exist. A successful transgender athlete, doing his thing, thriving in his life. Because when this kid in the middle of nowhere is Google searching for a “transgender athlete,” the subtext of what they’re really asking is, “Can I exist in this world? Do I belong? I want the search feedback from someone, not just me, to come across as a resounding yes, absolutely. You are in your shoes and all trans kids do. ”


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