Renée Would Walk Away Today

I never thought of Renée Richards as a “Jewish Jock,” but Slate posts an excerpt from the book:

Renée Richards (1934– ), from Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame.

Richards has expressed ambivalence about her legacy. She continues to take pride in being “the first one who stood up for the rights of transsexuals.” But she also mused, “Maybe in the last analysis, maybe not even I should have been allowed to play on the women’s tour. Maybe I should have knuckled under and said, ‘That’s one thing I can’t have as my newfound right in being a woman.’ I think transsexuals have every right to play, but maybe not at the professional level, because it’s not a level playing field.” She opposes the International Olympic Committee’s ruling in 2004 that transgender people can compete after they’ve had surgery and two years of hormonal therapy.

The science of distinguishing men from women in sports remains unsettled. And Richards has come to believe that her past as a man did provide her advantages over competitors. “Having lived for the past 30 years, I know if I’d had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me. And so I’ve reconsidered my opinion.” She adds, “There is one thing that a transsexual woman unfortunately cannot expect to be allowed to do, and that is to play professional sports in her chosen field. She can get married, live as woman, do all of those other things, and no one should ever be allowed to take them away from her. But this limitation — that’s just life. I know because I lived it.”

Back when Richards was trying to play on tour, my mother had heard a story about her in the women’s locker room. According to the story Renée disrobed very openly, instead of somewhat shyly. To my mother and her friend, that made her really a man. After all these years, though, I can imagine all sorts of reasons for Richards’ wanting to display pride about her body in the semi-public of the locker room.

Back then, 60 Minutes showed Richards rallying with Chris Evert, and asked if it was fair that a former man should be on the women’s tour. I never heard the argument that the treatments and injections actually reduce muscle mass, thus make a transgendered man physically more like a woman.

In a related vein, we watch athletes with radically different handicaps all competing in the Special Olympics. On one video a man with no arms could swim faster than others with paralyzed legs. The introduction of such differences, not to mention drugs and exotic training methods, into sport makes the concept of a level playing field harder and harder to believe.

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One response to “Renée Would Walk Away Today”

  1. trkingmomoe says :

    I remember how shocked my mother was that he actually was so public about his progress in changing to a women. She thought that should be private and not all over the sport pages. To her it made tennis less gamorous.

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