It's funny how timing works. I've talked with a number of writers over the past several months on a variety of topics and all their articles seem to be coming out at the same time. Often you talk with someone for a story they're writing, time passes, and you eventually forget you even chatted until bam - it comes out. Yesterday an interview I did with a writer from ESPN about Renee Richards was published (Read it here).
To many of the transsexuals I know, Renee Richards is not a sympathetic figure. Although I'm not going to try to explain it or rationalize it all I'll say is that I find it unfortunate. I'm not sure if it's as much because of anything specific she has said or done (or perhaps things she hasn't said or hasn't done that others would have her do). Either way, to judge people or events in the context of the current environment without recognizing how the past has shaped them is to make a significant mistake. Back when Renee Richards first became a public figure in the late 1970's she had no peers. She was it. And wheras most transsexuals up to that point faded into obscurity out of necessity she did not and would not.
I, for one, never felt any kind of alignment with anyone before her. Others that I read about seemed to be caricatures and their notariety seemed to be as much about glamour and society as anything deeper. What made her special? She refused to forfeit aspects of her life to be herself. Rather than allow herself to be defined forever as simply a transsexual she fought to keep her right to compete athletically, her career, her family, and other things that many of us often find ourselves surrendering along this path. She demanded to be treated the same as any other woman, not some third gender, and in the process she planted seeds that continue to sprout today.
Renee had no contemporaries. She had no role models who blazed trails for her to follow. Someone once told me that pioneers are those who end up with arrows in their backs so that others can travel safely and that's certainly true of Renee. To think that she doesn't carry those scars, or that there is some level of resentment at being that pioneer at that time would be unrealistic, I think.
People do not need to think the same as I do for me to respect them. They do not need to be like me, look like me, want the same things I do, or otherwise align themselves with my own outlook on the world. I've said before and will continue to espouse simple respect for people's rights to believe what they want without being crucified for it. And although I have no idea whether Renee and I would like one another - simply being trans is not enough to foster a friendship - I like to believe that we'd respect one another.
I have never met Renee. And if we got into a discussion about athletics and my right to compete vs. her own opinions on the subject I'm hoping we could agree to disagree if that's how things played out. But at the same time I appreciate what she did, not only for me but for an entire generation that did not have the benefit of the internet, or social networks, or support groups, or visibility to one another of any kind. She is one of only two or three people to whom I can trace early recognitions that surviving a gender transition in a healthy way was possible. And, I suppose, that means that her efforts - not only doing them but sharing them publicly - were important early steps in my own journey for self-acceptance.
One thing that the author didn't include in the article. He asked me what I'd say to Renee if I ever get the chance to meet her. I expect that he was looking for something provocative or confrontational given some of the things she has said in recent years (or at least, that have been attributed to her). I didn't have to think for more than a second befort answering. I'd say, "Thank You".
I'll share something here that I've kept quiet for a while because I don't want it to get blown out of proportion. I am scheduled to compete at the US Beach Wrestling National Championships in Rochester, NY next weekend. There are only two women's divisions and are separated by weight (not age). Beach wrestling is one of the sports that USA Wrestling oversees so it's got some credibility behind it more than just people slathered up in oil throwing each other around in the sand. And it's not for the faint of heart (highlights here).
I have no idea what to expect other than I've started training and am looking forward to visiting with my family there. Rochester was home for me for 15 years which is part of my reason for doing this. Rather than worry about outcomes I am simply resigned to doing my best. That's all any of us can hope for and I hope I don't (a) embarass myself or (b) get hurt. Anything else is a win in my book....