The NCAA’s first openly transgender D1 athlete speaks about mental health, identity

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Schuyler Bailar, an alumnus of the Harvard men’s swim team, had to navigate the gendered world of collegiate sports in a way no one had done before him. Bailar is the NCAA’s first Division 1 athlete to be openly transgender.

The world of collegiate sports is regulated and separated on the basis of gender. It is not uncommon to see a sport separated to women’s and men’s categories, and very rarely do we see men and women competing together.

Bailar came to Kansas State to talk about his experiences as a stop on his tour. Later this week, he will also be speaking at Wichita State.

The crowd in Wildcat Chamber listened eagerly as Bailar told his story. Bailar was assigned female at birth, but grew up feeling somewhere between friend groups because he was not seen as “feminine enough” or “masculine enough.” Later in high school, Bailer said he dove into feminine culture to try and fit in with the rest of the school, but it never felt right.

“He had years of an eating disorder and coping behaviors that worried us,” Gregor Bailar, his father, said.

Bailar then decided, with the help of his therapist, that he needed to take a gap year between college and high school to work on his mental health. Bailar had already been accepted to the Harvard women’s swim team at the time, but he wanted to get better first. He was then admitted to a mental health facility.

While constantly looking into himself and trying to find the cause of his sadness, he learned that he wasn’t the gender that he was assigned at birth.

He said he went through a long and scary process of coming out to everyone that he needed to tell, including the coach for the Harvard women’s swim team. He didn’t know if it would cause him to lose his spot on the team or get him kicked out of Harvard, but he wanted to be true to himself.

The women’s swim coach asked the men’s swim coach what to do, who said that a man should be swimming for the men’s team. So, the two approached Bailar and asked if he would want to switch teams, and he, with much reluctance, said no.

The coaches finally convinced him to reconsider and try talking with each team, and it only succeeded in making Bailar more confused.

“The reality is that you are standing on a cliff with a safety harness ready to jump,” the women’s coach told Bailar. Even though he was still reluctant, he did jump and become the first NCAA Division 1 athlete to be openly transgender.

After his speech, Bailar opened the floor for to questions that people had. Many of the questions were about how he handled navigating toxic masculinity and coped with hurtful language around him.

“I don’t think the behavior comes out of malice, but from misunderstanding and harmful childbearing,” Bailar said.

He reassured the audience that helping someone understand is the best thing that you can do.

Sam Sharpe, graduate student in biology and member of the Gender Collective executive board, said messages like the ones Bailar is promoting are important for the K-State community.

“As a member of an organization that works with these issues, it’s important to bring in speakers to help students understand identity,” Sharpe said. “Schuyler is someone involved with something that K-State loves — sports — and can speak on that.”

Sharpe was right about the aspect of sports attracting listeners to the speech. In the audience were members of K-States women’s rowing team who all ended the night taking pictures and talking with Bailar one-on-one.

“Opportunities to listen to someone who’s walked this walk is a reminder of the coach that I want to be,” assistant rowing coach Hanna Wiltfong said.

In an interview after his speech, Bailar said the intent of his tour is to hit places in the United States who may not be as exposed to transgender issues. He said he wants to be able to share the message of being true to yourself and doing what you love.

“I no longer feel like I’m hiding,” Bailar said.

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