Sports simply aren't welcoming. Mack often glosses over the difficulties of his high school career, but while in Texas reporting for ESPN The Magazine, I could hear the kids in the stands talking about him. It wasn't kind. This was a year after his first title, and in some ways the atmosphere had worsened since then. When he won his second championship in , the boos rang louder than the cheers.
Mack's experience mirrors those of other transgender athletes. In Connecticut, two transgender girls -- Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller -- are at the center of a controversy resulting from a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference policy that allows transgender athletes to compete on the teams that reflect their gender identity without legal or medical intervention. Sixteen states and Washington, D. Most people can't name a single transgender athlete competing in those states.
Yearwood and Miller have been competing in girls' track and field for multiple years, but every time one of them wins, the outrage gets piled on.
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When I started playing high school basketball 15 years ago, I was just a kid in rural Indiana trying to figure out how I fit into the world. I knew I was attracted to women but wasn't ready to admit that to myself, let alone talk about it. I didn't quite know what to do about my gender. Nothing in my vocabulary quite fit how I felt, but I knew that I really hated wearing a school-mandated kilt every day. It wouldn't be until almost a decade later that I would be able to claim a label that worked for me: non-binary.
I don't know that if I were 14 years old today I would identify as non-binary, or if that would change any part of my athletic experience. But young people today have access to more vocabulary and options for how they want to self-identify than ever before. A CDC study published in January said that 1. We have built sport on the fundamental belief that life happens in a binary way -- male and female; men and women. That belief continues to be challenged by the existence of transgender, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming people. Gender is messy, no matter how badly sport wants us to believe that it's not.
In the final scene of the film -- no spoilers, I promise -- Mack is at college. This year, he's a sophomore at Life University and will be wrestling this season on the men's team. He took last year off to recuperate from top surgery but continued to train. Mack says he can't wait to wrestle this season and get back on the mat. He's an athlete, after all. It's where he belongs.
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