Energetic, charismatic, and articulate, Schuyler Bailar shared his personal experience as a transgender student-athlete on April 10, thoughtfully relating his story from childhood through adolescence before taking questions from his Terry Room audience. Invited to campus by Pascale Musto, director of multicultural and community development, Schuyler was the third guest speaker in the Spectrum Dialogues program, which provides a smaller setting in which students may consider and discuss issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Now a junior on the men’s swim team at Harvard University, Schuyler stated that at birth, his sex was female. A self-described “water-baby” who “learned to swim when I learned to walk,” he was certain that being a competitive swimmer was a central part of his identity. Yet, the rest of his sense of self seemed at odds with how others expected girls to dress and behave. “I spent my childhood living as I liked,” Schuyler recalled, “but I was told that I had to be a girl.” Regularly criticized and teased for his androgynous appearance, he decided in high school to try conforming to his peers’ gender expectations for girls, wearing heels and makeup. “I looked the part,” he said, “and I got the social validation that I had been looking for.”
Despite that acceptance and perfect grades – and a commitment to Harvard and its women’s swim team – Schuyler remembers, “I was absolutely miserable.” His depression was exacerbated when he broke his back senior year, and life seemed to be in a downward spiral. A residential treatment program that he checked into was “the first place I was able to realize that I was transgender.” Sharing this insight with the Harvard women’s coach, who then talked with the men’s coach, Schuyler was subsequently offered the opportunity to swim on the Harvard men’s team. “I felt like I had everything I had ever wanted in swimming, and I could be myself,” Schuyler reflected, “but it would be starting over. I found myself at a crossroads.”
But after recovering from top surgery and meeting with supportive, enthusiastic teammates at Harvard’s orientation, Schuyler ultimately chose to compete on the men’s team, appreciating the chance to swim as “just me” for the first time in his life. “That’s why I’m here tonight,” he explained. “You can be exactly who you are and do what you love.”
In candidly answering questions from Middlesex students and faculty about everything from NCAA policies about gender to decisions about taking hormones, Schuyler was clearly grateful for the backing of his friends, coaches, and – perhaps most importantly – family. “They might not have always understood, but my parents always loved me and showed their support,” he said. “They wanted me to be happy.”