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Translating the trans experience – Harvard swimmer dives into conversation with US

Schuyler Bailar learned to swim when he learned to walk, a natural talent that manifested into his lifelong passion. Eighteen years later, Schuyler made history as the first openly transgender athlete to compete in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I sports as part of the men’s swim team at Harvard University.

Now, Schuyler shares his story with high schools and colleges across the country, broadening his audience through an active social media presence on Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, and through appearances on television programs such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, 60 Minutes, and The Olympic Channel.

On Monday, April 30, Schuyler met freshmen, sophomores, and juniors in the Nicholas Athletic Center to “have a conversation” about his experience as a transgender swimmer and about the decision he faced between breaking women’s NCAA records or staying true to his male identity, he said.

 “It came with a lot of relief initially,” Schuyler said about realizing that he is transgender. “This is why khaki pants felt way more comfortable than whatever girls were wearing. This is why I never felt comfortable in the girls’ locker room. This is why coming out as gay didn’t really make me feel good. It’s because I’m a boy—this is who I am.”

For the second half of his talk, upward of 20 students asked Schuyler questions that addressed topics ranging from his experience with transphobia to his dating life.

Sam Rabieh ’21 inquired about the hormonal aspect of Schuyler’s transition and how that complied with NCAA regulations. Schuyler responded that if you take hormones, the NCAA requires you to compete as a male and prove that your testosterone levels are within a normal range by submitting labs twice per season.

“If you’re assigned female at birth like me, and there are no medical interventions [such as] hormones, you can compete on either team,” Schuyler said. “I didn’t take testosterone until I was sure that I was going to compete as a male.” 

Jessie Reed ’20 wondered about the surgeries Schuyler has undergone or considered during his transition other than a double mastectomy—the removal of his breasts—which he underwent at 19 years old. 

“Awesome question,” Schuyler responded, but added, “I’m going to take this away from you. What people typically do is they ask me, ‘Have you gotten the surgery?’ and what they’re really asking me is ‘What’s in my pants?’”

The crowd erupted in laughter. 

Schuyler then clarified that the question would be just as inappropriate to ask him as it would be to ask anyone else.

Gracie Paul ’19 asked how important it is for Schuyler to identify himself as transgender.

“Well, I don’t walk around [saying], ‘Hi, I’m Schuyler, I’m trans,’” he joked. “I typically just let myself be myself.”

“In my own definition of myself, [being transgender is] incredibly important to my identity,” he added. “It’s something that I’m very proud of, and there’s no reason for me to hide it.”

At the end of his presentation, Schuyler encouraged students and faculty to reach out to him via his email, website, Instagram, or Twitter with any comments or questions. 

Ollie Garvey ’21 [see “Call me by my pronouns,” page 17], who has followed him on Instagram for over a year, called Schuyler a huge inspiration and said he was thrilled to meet him.

“It was really important to me that he spoke about his story,” Ollie said. “I think being able to hear from another female-to-male trans person was beneficial for students and faculty to understand more about what it’s like [to be transgender].” 

“It was also really comforting for me to hear such positive feedback about his speech,” Ollie added. “I feel like people got a lot out of it, and it’s going to make the BB&N community a lot more aware and welcoming of the trans community.”

 

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