Schuyler Bailar To Be First Openly Transgender D1 NCAA Swimmer

Photo Courtesy: Schuyler Bailar

By Emma Merrill, Swimming World College Intern

Schuyler Bailar is an extremely talented rising freshman on the Harvard men’s team.

He is also transgender.

A Sport Where Gender Is Black and White

The gender code in swimming is explicit. It’s a sport where the line between “male” and “female” is defined from the moment someone walks on the pool deck. Men and women don’t compete against each other. There are men’s and women’s swim suits, locker rooms, and time standards. While men and women often train together, gender differences are constantly reaffirmed in swimming.

“Hi, I’m Schuyler! I’m a tomboy!”

Bailar has been a part of this world of rigid gender differentiation since he was less than two years old. Joining his summer swim team at age four, Bailar then swam year-round for Sea Devil Swimming starting at age nine and switched to Nation’s Capital Swim Club his freshman year of high school.

Bailar was a pretty accomplished female-gender swimmer while at NCAP, having been a part of the former 15-18 U.S. National Age Group record in the girls 400-yard medley relay in 2013 alongside World Swimmer of the Year Katie Ledecky. Janet Hu (52.53), Bailar (1:02.54), Kylie Jordan (53.88) and Ledecky (48.04) combined to post a 3:36.99 as the first sub-3:37 in the age division. The record stood for a year until SwimMAC reclaimed the mark in March 2014.

Like many swimmers, Bailar cherishes the sport’s little joys. He especially loves the feeling of release after jumping into the water to escape a hard, stressful school day.

From a young age, Bailar introduced himself as a tomboy. He sported short hair, dressed like a boy, and tried to do everything that boys did—but better. Bailar once arm wrestled every boy in his 5th grade class and beat all but one. Things changed when he got to high school. Giving in to peer pressure to conform, Bailar adhered to the code of “typical” girl behavior. But in his head, Bailar knew it just wasn’t who he was.

Becoming Himself

Following his high school graduation in 2014, Bailar began his physical gender transition: female to male. There was never a specific moment when he knew that he was transgender.

Bailar says, “It sort of just all came together over time as I stopped fighting myself and my identity.”

Before coming out as trans, he struggled with an eating disorder, self-harm, depression—you name it. For Bailar, finding personal acceptance was life-changing. He sees coming out as crucial to fixing his other health issues.

Bailar recently opened up to his wider social circle via Facebook that he was undergoing the transition from female to male. He has also made the process public through a Youtube channel, an Instagram account, and a blog. Steps in his transition from female to male include top surgery to remove his breasts as well as starting testosterone. In fact, Bailar’s self-determined MO is visibility in his journey to a legitimate self identity.

Sadly, swimming has been a huge barrier in Bailar’s struggle to accept his own identity. This spring, he had to make the agonizing decision between being a potential record breaker on the Harvard women’s team (which he was initially recruited for) or being on the men’s team. Bailar ultimately realized that no first place at Ivy’s or record-breaking swim could be more important than being himself.

Even after making such a huge decision, being himself in the pool is still difficult for Bailar. It’s not that his teammates don’t accept him as a male, but he still struggles with his body image in the water and being comfortable wearing a men’s suit. After his top surgery, Bailar’s upper body looks like any guy’s—albeit with permanent scars. But, in his head, Bailar obsesses over the lingering femininity of his hips.

His top surgery and choice to take testosterone do not mean that he hates his body. It simply did not match the gender he identifies with. Bailar has accepted his body and has had no problem changing its feminine aspects in order to love it more authentically.

A Fresh Start With The Crimson

Bailar is thrilled to be able to start fresh at Harvard this fall. He says the Harvard coaches have been “absolutely, unwaveringly amazing” about his transition. Harvard Coach Kevin Tyrell is looking forward to Bailar’s contribution to Harvard’s team and even beyond the pool.

“I want Schuyler on my team for the same reasons I want all of my athletes.  I believe he wants to push himself academically and athletically.  When all of our swimmers and divers have this mindset everyone improves daily in every aspect of their lives. This process will contribute to them being outstanding members of society.”

Bailar has a positive attitude about how to approach his next four years in the pool.

“I have no particular goals set like I did on the women’s team,” Bailar says. “I want to do the best that I can and be a good teammate. I want to contribute somehow to the team – even if it’s not with scores. But, sure, I’m competitive as hell and I want to do some winning and beating too.”

First, though he is determined to get back in shape so he can beat the times he achieved as a woman. Following Harvard, Bailar hopes to attend medical school. He also wants to be an activist for other transgender people—while still swimming of course. His message to other transgender athletes is simple:

“Come out. Be visible. Don’t be miserable,” Bailar says. “The world is changing and you do have options.”

Bailar Is Not Alone

In February 2015, a group of Boston University School of Medicine researchers concluded that there is a biological basis for being transgender, undercutting the idea that trans individuals pick whichever gender they feel like. The researchers estimated that transgender people may number one out of every 100. In 2014, there were about 340,000 athletes registered with USA Swimming alone. Simple math hints that there may be thousands of young American swimmers facing similar struggles to Bailar’s.

The NCAA policy on transgender student athletes is clear. A trans male like Bailar who has started to take testosterone for a diagnosed Gender Identity Disorder, Gender Dysphoria and/or Transsexualism is permitted to compete on a men’s team.

USA Swimming has a more general policy of inclusion for transgender athletes. Its Code of Conduct says, “discrimination against any member or participant on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and gender expression is prohibited (304.3.3),” meaning that trans swimmers can participate in whichever gender’s events that they identify with.

Bailar won’t be the first transgender swimmer in the NCAA—Jay Pulitano from Sarah Lawrence has that distinction—and he won’t be the last. He says that a few other trans swimmers have already contacted him for advice.

What We Must Do

These policies are inclusive. But official policy is only the first step. It’s going to take time to break down gender barriers in swimming. I’ve been struggling with pronouns just writing this article! That being said, there are no excuses for the mistreatment of transgender athletes.

We are obligated as a swimming community to accept all of our members—no matter what they look like, where they come from, or which gender they identify with.

We are obligated to let each other be comfortable in our own bodies at practices and meets.

We are obligated to treat everyone with respect.

These are the aspects of our sport that must become black and white.

Bailar’s Instagram

37 Comments

37 comments

    • Steve Roth

      I guess I didn’t need to specify “male” athlete… ANY athlete?

    • Jason Marsteller

      A trans male like Schuyler would be subject to the same anti-doping testing, which is based on specific limits. So, as long as the trans male is taking testosterone within those legal limits, it is an even playing field.

      This is similar to a low testosterone male getting TRT, but staying within the legal limits of testosterone. Just because you have an exemption for TRT, or are a trans male undergoing testosterone injections, doesn’t mean you can jack those doses up to enhance performance.

    • Steve Roth

      are there different “limits” for male and female?

    • avatar
      Sally Guthrie

      There are specific guidelines set by the American Endocrine Society, as well as the European Society of Endocrinology -“Endocrine Treatment of Transsexual Persons:An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline”. The guidelines set a blood level for testosterone in transgendered female to male persons – that is within the normal guidelines for nontransgendered males…. So – he will be treated with enough testosterone to get him within the ‘normal’ levels that you would expect in any male – and not any more. I am sure that he will be more than adequately tested and retested by any national/international athletic body he competes for.

      Yes – Way to go Schuyler – I know this had to take a lot of courage!

    • Brenda Harris

      So…my daughter who was a D1 Big 12 swimmer could not take Advair (a corticosteroid) or albuterol rescue inhaler because they are banned substances. Even tho she had asthma and it was prescribed by her physician and deemed medically necessary and even life threatening to NOT take it – she did not take it so as to not risk testing positive and being disqualified or disqualifying her team. But testosterone is acceptable? For any gender? Unbelievable….

    • Sonia Kinsey

      I know the asthma one saves lives .it is so wrong

    • Sonia Kinsey

      I know the asthma one saves lives .it is so wrong

    • Lisa Pennington

      That’s crazy on the inhaler. My daughter has asthma and is a swimmer, still in high school. Had no idea this was an issue.

    • Steve Roth

      it’s not an issue until you make the “Trip List”… and in the NCAA..

    • Steve Roth

      gotta know the rules… don’t want to end up like Rick DeMont…

    • Brenda Harris

      And how would this go over if a guy wanted to transition to a girl and compete? No matter how much surgery or hormone therapy – they will have the body and muscle structure of a male. How would that be fair?

      • avatar
        Chris

        Hormone therapy actually does reduce male muscle into a female pattern and female strength level. The only thing that doesn’t change is bone structure and I’m not sure that would affect their swimming abilities

    • Brenda Harris

      And they do not publish a complete list of all band substances nor do they provide specific information on the amount or limits of each substance. There are some obvious ones – like caffeine – you would have to consume an unreasonable amount to have an issue – but most other substances – you have no idea. And you also would need to know the pharmacology of every substance to know how it is metabolized and how long it stays in the system to be detectable. So in reality – an athlete with a true medical need is better off just not chancing it. Have seen many athletes with asthma tough it out and suffer some scary and even life threatening asthma attacks. And chlorine is NOT your friend if you have asthma. It’s so wrong. As for the right to “be happy and be your true self” – I think most swimmers with asthma would be “happier” being able to breathe.

    • Alison Miller

      Not sure how m2f works in U.S. But IOC rules are have the surgery and prove that have had hormone treatment within female range for 2 years.
      Then get an NGB panel to clear you to swim.
      That’s how it works in British Swimming, or at least was when I became the first to be allowed to compete.

  1. avatar

    Way to go Schuyler, I had the pleasure of working with Schuyler with the college recruiting process. Great young person

  2. avatar
    Tony

    You skirted around the issue of men competing in women’s events.
    Doesn’t sound fair to me.
    What do you think?

    • avatar

      The trans female rules weren’t applicable in Schuyler’s case, but here’s the NCAA Policy on Transgender Student-Athletes.

      For a synopsis though:
      If you are a trans male (like Schuyler), you MUST compete against men when you start testosterone treatment.

      If you are a trans female (like Caitlyn Jenner), you can only compete against women after a year of testosterone suppression therapy.

      NCAA Policy on Transgender Student-Athlete Participation
      The following policies clarify participation of transgender student-athletes undergoing hormonal treatment for gender transition:
      1. A trans male (FTM) student-athlete who has received a medical exception for treatment with testosterone for diagnosed Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for purposes of NCAA competition may compete on a men’s team, but is no longer eligible to compete on a women’s team without changing that team status to a mixed team.
      2. A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression treatment.

  3. avatar
    Martie Staser

    I commend this young man, but is should be noted that he isn’t the first collegiate transgendered swimmer. We had a swimmer in our conference this year than finished their senior year/ season as a male but started his collegiate career as a female.

    • avatar
      Guest

      Did the swimmer in your conference compete as a male swimmer on a male team? And was it and NCAA Division 1 team? Thanks

  4. Martie Staser

    He isn’t the first, but still commendable. There was a transgendered swimmer in my conference this year.

  5. avatar
    Tony

    Thank you for explaining Jason but I did ask if SW think its fair?

    • avatar
      Chris

      He answered your question if you understand that testosterone suppression treatment reduces muscle and the other physical advantages biological males have over females. Therefore, a year of such treatment would successfully weaken a trans woman enough to put her on the same physical level as biological females, and it would be fair.

      • avatar
        Mom

        I don’t believe your claim that testosterone suppression would put them on an even playing field. What if we’re talking about a 6’9″ male backstroke swimmer that changes to female? Do you really believe they wouldn’t have an advantage from having been born male? Had they been born female, they might have reached 6’3″ but would not have been nearly as likely to reach 6’9″.

  6. Connor Vrooman

    I’m proud of you and I support you. I just want everyone to be themselves and spread positivity while being happy. Congrats for you.

  7. avatar
    Coach Arthur Lopez

    I had the pleasure of working with Schuyler when he served as a volunteer for Nadar Por Vida. He showed much compassion for our children and families! I am also very proud of you and will support you in whatever you may face in the future. All the best!
    Professor Lopez, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University.

  8. avatar
    Ray Yeager

    Welcome to HMSD. I’m sure Schuyler is going to have a positive and tremendous impact in and out of the water.

  9. avatar
    lisaisswimming

    Great beginning article for the conversation. To be part of a sport that values human beings is extraordinary and inspiring.

  10. Mia Baswell

    Too sad :/ So many things wrong with this. Sports will have to be an area where athletes compete with others as the the gender they were born with.

    • avatar
      Chris

      So a trans man who has been taking testosterone for 5 years, and has male-level and male-pattern muscle growth should be competing against women? Conversely, a trans woman who has been taking hormones that reduce her strength should have to compete against men? Now THAT would be sad.

  11. avatar

    I had the honor to be the Assistant Coach at Harvard during the recruitment of Schuyler to the Harvard Swimming & Diving family. Schuyler is not only a great athlete, but an amazing person! That’s all that matters. Period! I personally know both Head Coaches at Harvard and they will both add value to Schuyler as a scholar athlete and a successful human being…GO CRIMSON! Go SCHUYLER!

  12. avatar
    Guest

    Can someone create a wikipedia for this guy??

  13. avatar
    Mom

    I haven’t seen any mention on whether or not Schuyler received a swimming scholarship to be a member of the women’s team. If so, is that scholarship applying to the men’s team membership even though he is not of the same competitive level as his teammates?

  14. avatar
    Summer Girl

    Ivy League schools don’t give athletic scholarships.

Author: Emma Merrill

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Emma Merrill is a sophomore backstroker/IMer at the College of William and Mary from Fairfax, VA. Before swimming for the Tribe, she grew up training at Nation’s Capital Swim Club in Alexandria, VA. She is an avid fan of peanut butter, nutella, and long kick sets.

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