29 May 2015

He's The Best Tennis Player In The State--And A Fine Swimmer, Too!

Some of us in the LGBT--especially the T--community have complicated relationships with sports.

In my day, one stereotype of gay boys--and, by extension trans girls (for the latter were considered, if they were at all, to be more extreme versions of the former)--was that they weren't any good at sports.  In fact, one way people expressed consternation at finding out a boy was gay was to say, "but he's so good at sports!"

The fact is, many a gay boy and trans girl has played "under cover", if you will, on boys' sports teams.  I'm sure many a young lesbian or trans boy has done the same on girls' teams. However, because of the stereotypes of the time, a masculine girl who played sports was usually seen as a "tomboy" and given a bit more leeway than a feminine boy.

Nearly all of us who played sports in high school or even college experienced some kind of harassment or even outright bullying.  Still, many of us were spared the worst treatment accorded boys who were--or were perceived as--gay or girlish because sports and athletes are so revered in many schools.  At least, I can say that was the case for me.

But how could things have been different if trans kids could have played on teams designated for the gender by which we identified?

In the time and places where I grew up, such a thing would have been unthinkable to most parents, teachers and school administrators. Much of that had to do, of course, with the stereotypes I've just mentioned--and the fear that trans people (especially trans girls) were sexual predators.  But I have often thought that being allowed to play on teams for our true genders could have helped us in so many ways, from "coming out" to beginning our lives in the genders by which we know ourselves.

Recent events are showing that what I have just said is not a naive or idealistic fantasy.  Among them is the Maine Principals' Association adoption of a new policy that allows trans kids to play on teams according to the gender by which they identify.  That has been a great thing for the tennis team of  Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham, Maine, which has lost only one of its twelve matches so far this year.  One reason for that is Leo Eichfeld, the state's top player.

Yes, you read that right: He's the best high-school tennis player in the whole state of Maine.  And, yes, he's trans.  In fact, he "came out" to his teammates at the beginning of the school year.

He also swims for his school's team.  Actually, he was doing that even before he started playing tennis.   When he goes into the water, he wears a special chest binder and swimsuit that covers him from shoulder to knee.

Some would say that was an even bolder move than being on the tennis team--or just about anything else he could have done.  "It wasn't like he joined the debate team," says his coach, Tracy Doviak.

And, in case you were wondering, Eichfeld swims the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke. By the end of his first season, he'd shaved five seconds off his time for each.

He says that his transition has been relatively easy compared to other trans people he knows about.  Part of that was the acceptance he experienced from his teammates, classmates and others in his community.  Also, he said, competing helped him to "get the energy out".

Now, I know that not all trans kids are, or want to be, athletes.  But for those who have such inclinations, Leo Eichfeld's story shows us how they--and their families, schools and communities--can benefit.

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