Meet the Transgender NCAA Swimmer from Harvard | Identify

Meet the Transgender NCAA Swimmer from Harvard | Identify

October 17, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


(IN 2016, THE INTERNATIONAL
OLYMPIC COMMITTEE (RULED THAT TRANSGENDER
ATHLETES COULD COMPETE (WITHOUT UNDERGOING SURGERY. (THIS POLICY MADE HISTORY IN
THE SPORTS WORLD, (WELCOMING A NEW GENERATION OF
ATHLETES INTO (THE OLYMPIC FAMILY. (SCHUYLER BAILAR IS AN ATHLETE
ON THE MEN’S SWIMMING (AND DIVING TEAM AT HARVARD
UNIVERSITY. (THIS IS HIS STORY.) I’ve just always loved being
underwater. When I jump in,
the water’s always cold, and it kind of shocks my system into, like, being quiet
for a second. Sometimes I just kind of stay
underwater for like a second too long, and it’s always that kind of
moment of, “This is the only thing I’m
supposed to be doing right now. “This is the only place I need
to be.” That brings me a lot of peace, I think, that I don’t have
in my daily life. OK, who wants tea? – Tea, I want tea.
– I’ll have some, please. – OK.
– Please. What kind of tea? It’s green tea. That’s when you took my braids
out right? That was in West Virginia. Schuyler’s swimming started in
the bathtub. He was just always so
comfortable in the water, and before he learned to walk
he was swimming on his own. Go Schuyler! I don’t know if I’ve ever
thought of myself as a talented swimmer. When I was younger,
I wasn’t very good. There were a lot of people who were bigger and stronger
than me, but I’ve always worked hard. This is my bird Chico.
I’m Schuyler, this is Jinwon… Schuyler was a tomboy. He was much more comfortable
in cargo pants and a T-shirt than anything else. People handed me skirts, and I would throw on basketball
shorts. Or, like, people handed me the word
“girl”, and I would hand them
back “tomboy”. It wasn’t like I thought about
it a whole lot, until it became a thing that
people said, “Oh, like Schuyler’s
different,” or, “Schuyler doesn’t do other
things other girls do,” and then it became conscious to
me because I was like, “If I do these things, people
are going to see me as a boy. “OK, I’m going to keep doing
them.” When I was younger and my coach
told me I could be good, and my mom and I were watching the
Olympics that same year, I watched all of the women
swimmers at that point, and their chests were
really flat, and this was the point where my
breasts had started growing, and I remember being like,
“Mom, “how come they don’t have
any boobs?” and Mom was like, “Well, when
you exercise that hard, “a lot of female Olympians
don’t have boobs, “because they don’t have enough
fat in their body,” and I was like, “Oh, my God.
This is incredible!” At that point, that was
a huge fear of mine because I knew that my body was
about to be kind of taken from me in a way that I didn’t
want it to, and so there was definitely
a huge point in my thought process where I was
like, “OK, I’m going to be good
at swimming.” Schuyler’s swimming career kind
of took off in high school… ..and he started breaking
records both in the local area
as well as at the national level on
a relay team. I think when I was younger I was intent on doing things
because I liked them, but I got lost in high school, and started just doing things because I wanted to do well in
them. Schuyler broke his back the
summer before his junior year, and junior year is recruiting
year for swimming, and so it was actually quite
emotional. Up until that point, I had used
swimming as my everything. It was my release.
It was my pleasure. It was my social life. It was my motivation.
It was my…my day. It was definitely a way
to block everything else out. Breaking my back broke me. I fell so far into depression, eventually
an eating disorder, um, and a lot of it was because
I didn’t have another way to release anything, and I didn’t know how to deal
with my own feelings. I had never had to sit down and
really think about who I was or what I wanted
out of the world. I didn’t have any words
to explain why I felt so
uncomfortable with my body, and the biggest thing was that
I did have everything. I was doing really well
in school. I had just gotten recruited to
swim at Harvard, and I had gotten accepted into
Harvard. I had made the National Age
Group record. I was swimming fast, and I was
like, “What is wrong with me?” There was no gender discussion,
by the way, at that time. It was just all about, um, getting to know who he was and getting to fix some of
these issues, and we found a facility that
seemed to be a match with that. He graduated, and then the day
after, we went to Florida where we
took Schuyler into the facility where he would spend 131 days, and he did a lot of really
difficult work there and… ..started the process of
becoming whole. At treatment you’re not allowed
to do any behaviours. They keep a very close watch
on you, so I literally had zero ways
to cope, and had to talk about
my feelings, and had to talk about how
I felt and my identity, and that was the first place
that I was finally able to say that I was transgender. Hey, guys. Um, so I’m Schuyler. I’m about to start my physical
transition. Um, FTM, female to male. Er, and I thought that it would
be good to document it. It took me another year until I
told most of my friends, and asked them to call me
male pronouns, and refer to me as a boy, and kind of solidify the idea of like, “Oh, this has actually
always been me, “and I’m not actually,”
you know, “changing myself. “I’m just presenting the truest
part of myself.” I’m going to be swimming next
year in college. Um, so that makes it
complicated because I want to transition as soon as
possible, but you can’t swim competitively and take
hormones. So what I’m gonna do… ..er, is get top surgery.
So I… ‘When I was allowed to have top
surgery, ‘it was probably one of the
best days of my life.’ You kind of see that, you know,
they’re there. I hate that. Let’s take a look in the
mirror, OK? – So, big difference.
– Yeah. You can see… I thought that it was going to
be me transitioning, and being true to being trans, or me being true to me being
a swimmer, and that was really hard
because I thought, you know, “Both of these are me.” It was an agonising decision
for Schuyler to consider giving up everything he had worked for
his whole life, in terms of his swimming.
It was really hard to realise, “Oh, I’m not maybe going to be
this champion swimmer that “I thought I was going to be, “that everyone told me I was
going to be.” I first heard of Schuyler
through Stephanie Morawski. She’s our women’s head coach of
swimming and diving. Stephanie and I had been
talking about Schuyler, and some of the issues that Schuyler had outside
of swimming. Once we got to a point where Schuyler was thinking of
transitioning from female to male, Steph kept me in the loop as
far as that was concerned. I did work to educate
myself as far as NCAA rules. We found out that it was perfectly acceptable for
Schuyler to compete for Harvard Men’s
Swimming and Diving. I had conversations with
the young men on the team, and everybody was open
to the idea. The men’s coach was like, “Well, if Schuyler identifies
as male, “and I have a men’s team, “and he wants to swim,
why doesn’t he swim for me?” But I almost said no because I was so scared of the possibility of losing
everything, because, yeah, I’d be
able to swim, but I would transition, and my
body would be different, and I would lose all of my
accolades as a female athlete, and all the potential I had as
a female athlete. That was really scary to me because I had worked really
hard to be successful at swimming. At that point, I decided, “OK,
I’ve got to take this risk. “I’ve got to try to be myself “because maybe that will
make me happy.” On your mark, go! You’re doing a better job not
slowing down in your turns, but let’s get a bit wider in the foot placement
for both you guys. All right, 25 dive fast. Schuyler is one of the most
determined athletes I’ve ever met in my life. Hey, Matt, will you start me? Not only as a swimmer but,
more importantly, he’s an exceptional human
being and a really good team-mate. The grit and determination that
he’s shown is remarkable, and it’s helped me not only
become a better coach, but a better parent and hopefully a better
educator at Harvard. Your best swimmers have that
feeling that this is something they can’t
live without, and I think Schuyler can’t live
without being in the water. Five years ago, swimming meant 100%, unequivocally,
everything to me. I think over time, I’ve learned to have a bit more
balance than that. My family has never shown me a
lack of love, and that has been what’s kind of kept me alive. When I ended up biting
the bullet and telling my very
conservative Korean grandma, she said, “Schuyler, “you can be a son. You can be a
brother. You can be a husband. “You can be a boy, a man, “but Korean daughters take care
of their mothers, “and now your mom doesn’t have
any daughters “so you have to take care
of your mother “and your parents,”
and I was like, “OK. “I can definitely do that.” I have those words – take care
of your parents – tattooed on my side,
under my scar, next to my heart in my
grandmother’s handwriting. She wrote it for me
for the tattoo, and she was very
excited about it. “Thank you for taking this
eternal vow for your parents.” I don’t remember the Baltimore
harbour like this. Let’s get a picture over here. – Picture?
– Of us three. Got it. – OK, let’s keep walking.
– Let’s keep walking. Keep walking before we freeze. When I came out as trans, and when I decided to swim for
the men’s team, I told people around me,
my coaches, my parents, my friends, that I was going
to be open about it. When I was younger, I had no role models or people
to look up to and say, “Oh, I can do this.” I love motivational speaking because I’m really invested in
sharing my story, and sharing the possibility for
this kind of happiness and this kind of peace
with yourself, especially with something
so complicated as being transgender, but also so simple as just
wanting to be happy. Hello. Yeah, um, Schuyler Bailar.
He’s a speaker. In so many ways, Schuyler’s
story represents the stories of the remarkable young people whom we all teach
on our campuses, but his story has
a unique distinction. As the first openly
transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA division one team, he has been willing to share
his story globally. His willingness to share
his insights are why we are so pleased he is
with us today, and I ask you to join me in
welcoming Schuyler Bailar. Thank you so much, everybody.
I’m so happy to be here. I’ve spoken at high schools and middle schools,
elementary schools, and colleges, but I’ve never actually spoken
with just administrators before so this is really cool. Allowing me to be myself at
every step of the way from my coaches, my teachers,
my parents, has saved my life, and it’s why I’m here today. I want to just take you back to
when I was a kid. I was always a water baby. I’ve swum since the time I
could walk. Swimming has been the hugest
part of my life since before I can remember, and being true to myself as a trans person is also
hugely important to me. When I used to interact with
somebody, it was always, “Who are they going to think
I am?” And now I just walk into the
room, and I’m just myself. If I can be naked in a Speedo and expose my trans-ness
to everybody, you can do your thing too.