19-year-old Schuyler Bailar will become the NCAA’s first openly transgender swimmer. Initially recruited as a top female swimmer, he transitioned to male last year and will compete for Harvard’s mens team.
Bailar, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound athlete, struggled for years through depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and a broken back. As a girl, Bailar competed at a high level — setting a national relay record on a girls’ team with future Olympic champion Katie Ledecky — but she was confused and pained.
“I was a very lost kid who didn’t understand why I spent my entire childhood being a boy but not really, one who focused intently on studies and swimming to distract from anything that came up in my mind,” said Bailar, who grew up in Virginia and attended the private Georgetown Day School in the District. “I was caught between two worlds.”
Multiple recent incidents have raised transgender issues in the sports world. Many will wish Bailar well. The tougher test for the NCAA, professional leagues and international sports (not to mention youth sports) will be when a top male athlete transitions to female, in a high-profile sport.
Society need not draw an arbitrary line on a continuum. But, athletic competition, holding separate male and female competitions, must somewhere. Accepting Caitlyn Jenner at 65 will be easier than accepting her at 25 before an Olympics.