By the time Schuyler Bailar got to high school, he was one of the nation’s top 20 15-year-old breast strokers. By 17, he set a national age-group record. His hard work paid off when he was accepted to join the Harvard swim team in 2013.
Bailar had been accepted to the women’s swim team, but after realizing that he was transgender, he had to grapple with possibly losing the chance to compete in the sport he loved.
“I’m an athlete, and if I transitioned I would lose the women’s team. But when it became more clear that I wanted to transition, that I was going to go through medical steps in my transition, that I wanted to go by he/him/his pronouns, my coach Steph was like ‘What about the men’s team?’”
Ultimately, Bailar decided to take the leap. And after a gap year, became the first transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team.
Now 25, Bailar uses his social platforms to raise awareness about trans issues. Currently, more than 30 state legislatures have bills designed to ban trans girls and women from playing women’s athletics. Bailar believes these bills are harmful to the wellbeing of trans children.
“I get goosebumps in a bad way, in a sad way and sort of teary when I think about it because a lot of trans kids don’t have the support from their parents, don’t have the support from their teachers, or their friends. So for the government to add on to that, ‘oh by the way, you also don’t belong in sports,' it’s a massive massive message to these kids that they don’t belong. Additionally, Bailar suggests going to his website to learn more about the 144 trans bills in the United States that target sports and access to healthcare.
SCHUYLER BAILER: When these bills attack these kids, it says, you don't belong here. And especially when it's a government source saying, you can't compete in sports or you can't get the health care that you need, we don't affirm you, it literally says, you do not belong here. And all kids are looking for when they're growing up is a place to belong.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hey, everyone. I'm your host, Brittany Jones-Cooper. And in this episode of "Unmuted," I'm chatting with Schuyler Bailer, the first trans NCAA Division I men's athlete, who swam at Harvard University.
Your swimming history is so impressive. How did you get into swimming?
SCHUYLER BAILER: I learned how to swim around the same time I learned how to walk, so actually about 10 months old, mommy and me swim lessons. And once I started really training, I took well to the training. And I got good at it around like 12 or 13 years old.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You were accepted to the Harvard women's swim team. But before you went, you were also struggling with some personal issues.
SCHUYLER BAILER: I began struggling with an eating disorder halfway through my high school career. So I went to a rehab center for my eating disorder, which was my number one struggle. And that was really the space that I was able to find to figure out that I'm transgender.
Despite having access to the resources, I'm an athlete. And if I transitioned, I would lose the women's team. But when it became more clear that I wanted to transition, that I was going to go through medical steps in my transition, that I wanted to go by he/him/his male pronouns, my coach Jeff was like, what about the men's team?
I think it took a little time to really take that risk for myself for my happiness. But as you know from me being the first trans men's athlete, I did end up taking that risk.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Which brings me to the conversation about trans children playing sports in school. There are currently more than 30 state legislatures debating bills that would ban transgender girls from competing in women's sports. What are people getting wrong about this conversation?
SCHUYLER BAILER: The argument that is used is to say, oh, it's unfair. It's unfair for transgender athletes to compete with cisgender athletes. None of these bills are talking about professional sports. None of them are talking about Olympics. None of them are talking about any elite-level sport.
At all elite-level sports, they're already rules and regulations about trans people and our hormones. So I had to submit labs to take testosterone as a trans man to prove that my testosterone levels were at a fair level as well. But these bills are talking about children.
The other thing that I think people often miss is that, in order to exclude trans people from a sport, you actually have to know which ones are trans. And in order to do that, you have to test everyone. And some of these bills are proposing genital tests for children. To me, that's paedophilic. That's so privacy-violating.
And what it enforces, actually, is the policing of girls' bodies in sports. I think people miss all of this. I think they just go to, well, transwomen are biological males-- which also is transphobic and incorrect in many ways. But they miss the amount of other policies and intersectional identities that are coming into this. They aren't even approaching it themselves.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: What kind of impact does it have on a child emotionally?
SCHUYLER BAILER: Yeah, honestly, I get goosebumps in a bad way, like a sad way, and sort of teary when I think about it because a lot of trans kids don't have the support from their parents, don't have the support from their teachers, or their friends. And so for the government to add on to that, oh, by the way, you also don't belong in sports, it's a massive, massive message to these kids that they don't belong.
I want to be very clear to all trans kids. You do belong here. And you do belong in sports. You do belong in health care. And the government is wrong. But a kid doesn't know that.
We need some really, really important action here, especially for trans people right now and trans children. We need people to act. All of these actions are at pinkmantaray.com/transbills. And you can go take direct action there. That's what I want from my allies during Pride Month, go get some movement online.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You recently posted about pronouns. Take me through why you think it's so important that people who are not trans share their pronouns.
SCHUYLER BAILER: I think a lot of people forget that if you're not trans, you also have pronouns. I think it's really important to present them when you present your name or when you introduce yourself because it helps sort of dismantle this idea that you can't always understand or know somebody else's gender just by looking at them. Once you share your pronouns, you're going to create a safer space for trans, gender-nonconforming, and non-binary folks to share our pronouns too. And that, I think, is a way, again, to be an ally to us.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Schuyler, I want to thank you for joining us today and for sharing your story with us. It means a lot.