by: Lex Horwitz
I used to be the captain of the varsity women's squash team at Bowdoin college—but now I'm one of the bois.
I've been playing squash since I was 11 and I absolutely love the sport--it's both physically and mentally challenging, a hell of a workout, and just all around invigorating. For me, it was not a question or up for debate if I was going to continue playing when I went to college—of course I was. So, I looked at small liberal arts schools on the east coast that had competitive squash teams and decided that Bowdoin was going to be my new home.
When I got to Bowdoin as a little bright-eyed first year I absolutely loved playing on the women's team. At that time I assumed I was a straight, cisgender woman and didn't worry about my identity—so I fit right in. Then I fell in love with a girl—a girl on my team nonetheless—and confessed my feelings to her.
We secretly dated for the remainder of the season. We didn't want to tell our teammates that we were together for fear of being treated differently, being made fun of, and fear of making our teammates uncomfortable. So we kept our love a secret. After the last tournament of the season, we came out to our teammates. She was graduating and we wouldn't have to worry about making them uncomfortable anymore. Or at least that’s what I thought…
My sophomore season I felt uncomfortable. I was the "gay" one—the only out queer person on the team. I felt alone and like no one understood me. Boys were a constant conversation at practice and team meals. And the heteronormative nature of our team parties (I was once handcuffed to a guy who liked me without my permission) made me feel invalidated, invisible, and inhuman.
It was as if I wasn't important enough for my teammates to simply recognize that I have feelings—even if my feelings or desired differed from my teammates’.
I realized that I was losing my love of the sport and hurting myself by staying on a team that wasn’t respectful and invalidated my existence.
Then my junior season—I came out as genderqueer and started using they/them pronouns. I told my co-captains that my name was Lex and to use they/them pronouns and then had the same conversation with the rest of the Women's team.
Two weeks later my girlfriend broke my heart and left me. At this point in my life, I was not only suffering from a broken heart but now also had to deal with coming out as transgender to my team, friends, and professors, and navigate the constant deadnaming and misgendering.
As a genderqueer person and co-captain of the Women’s team, I spent my entire junior season on the Women's Team. I had been striving to be captain of a varsity college sports team my whole life and it was finally here—but I couldn't have been more anxious, depressed, and unhappy. At this point, my discomfort and feelings of sadness and negativity being on the Women’s team felt like the norm and just the way it was. It wasn't until the end of the season that I started to contemplate the idea of joining the Men's Team.
I had been striving to be captain of a varsity college sports team my whole life and it was finally here—but I couldn't have been more anxious, depressed, and unhappy.
Fast forward to the beginning of my senior year (this year). Still on the Women’s Team (and still captain), I am miserable. Every day I would tell my partner that I didn't want to go to practice. Every day I would hope that I would fall sick or fall down and injure a muscle so that I wouldn’t have to go see my team. But I never got sick and I never got injured. When I'd come back from practice I would share how awful I felt with my partner—I would tell him that I felt like my insides were decaying. He would tell me that I should consider quitting because the team was negatively affecting my mental health—everyday I would cry when sharing my experiences on the women's team with him. But I would tell him that I can't quit because I love playing the sport—I love competing and I didn't want to lose that.
But then it came to a point where I was so miserable that I actually started making excuses for not going to practice because I couldn't bear to be around the women’s team. I realized that I was losing my love of the sport and hurting myself by staying on a team that wasn’t respectful and invalidated my existence. I decided I had to act. I looked up the NCAA rules on athletes assigned female at birth playing on a men's sports team and found that I was eligible. I wrote a letter to the head of athletics outlining the regulations, my eligibility, and my desire to join the men's team.
Before going into my meeting with him I knew there were only two potential endings to this story: 1. I play on the men's team or 2. Get screwed over by transphobia and have to stop playing the sport that I love.
There was no option 3 because I refused to put myself in that horrible mental state that I was in on the Women's team.
I arrived 15 minutes early to the meeting and he was not there. With my letter in hand, I sat in the waiting area trying to not let my mind wander into negative territory. I assured myself that regardless of the outcome, I was going to be ok and be a stronger person because of my decision to put my mental health first.
Lucky for me, the athletic director gave me option 1. We had meetings to figure out what I needed to be comfortable on the team (both physically and mentally), to plan how I would tell the coaches and individual teams, and to write letters to the teams that were visiting our school and the schools that we would be visiting (so that they were aware of the need for inclusive facilities). Then it came time for the actual meetings to tell the coaches, captains, and each team about my decision—this happened the week before the season officially started. I started by telling the coaches, then the captains of both teams, then the women’s team and then, lastly, my new team. After the meeting, my new teammates came up to me, patted me on the back and welcomed me with open arms. Plain and simple. They made no fuss, they were not upset, they didn’t ask inappropriate questions. They were there for me just like they are for all teammates—I was no exception.
Now I walk into the "men's" locker room and feel validated by the stick figure person who looks more like me than the stick figure wearing a dress on the "women's" locker room sign.
And now I can confidently say that I have never been happier—I love my sport and I love my team. I never thought that I’d be able to say that I love my team given my history of constant discomfort and disrespect by my teammates on the Women’s Squash team. I'm not a captain like I always dreamed about, but I'm happier than I ever imagined I could be.
I hadn't realized the detrimental, horrible negative emotional and psychological effects of being on a women's team and not being a woman. In retrospect, I realized that walking into the "women's" locker room took a piece of my soul every time. I realized that being called a "lady" or "girl" or "women" at least three times a practice was breaking me. I realized that the association of being on a team of women when I am not a woman caused me significant distress because people assumed my gender (incorrectly) based on my teammates.
I didn't realize any of these things until they disappeared.
Now I walk into the "men's" locker room and feel validated by the stick figure person who looks more like me than the stick figure wearing a dress on the "women's" locker room sign. I'm one of the bois—something that fills me with pure glee. I am surrounded by individuals more similar to me and am pleased to be seen with them because it makes me feel like there are fewer people making wrongful assumptions about my gender. At matches during the lineup, I am announced as a member of the MEN'S team—so people know right from the start that I am not a woman. These are all things that I hadn't realized were slowly destroying me—and now they are all things that are revitalizing and empowering me.
I am happier than I could have ever imagined because I followed my heart.
Thinking of switching teams? Here are some tips:
- Consider your relationship with your current teammates: How do they make you feel—happy? Affirmed? Anxious? Frustrated? Sad? Are they your “family” or are they just “people you have to interact with”?
- If your team is family to you and make you feel affirmed, validated, loved, and cared for, consider if you should stay on that team given the good social support you have. If your team is adding to your anxiety, I suggest you GET THE HELL OUT because you do not need that extra stress in your life!
- If your team is adding to your stress or you simply can’t stand being on a team that doesn’t align with your gender identity (regardless of how awesome your teammates are), I suggest you look into your school’s athletic policy and the Conference that you play for (i.e., Division I, NESCAC, etc.) to familiarize yourself with the guidelines and regulations regarding transgender and/or genderqueer athletes (i.e., switching teams, hormones, etc.)
- After reviewing the school’s and Conference’s guidelines, I suggest looking into what the law says for your state—if you have public accommodations via law but the school’s policy is discriminatory (and you are at a public school), it is possible that the law can override the school policy (so you may want to reach out to get pro-bono legal assistance)
- Come up with your options. Maybe you have two—stay on the team or leave the team. Or maybe you have three—stay on the team, leave the team, switch teams. Whatever your options are, make sure to spend time digging deep and understanding what is best for you and what you want out of your collegiate athletic experience. For instance, my options were (a) join the men’s team or (b) stop playing squash in college, because I decided that I could never go back to playing on a team where I felt disrespected and invalidated—no matter how much I loved the sport.
- Once you have your options, write a letter to your coach and/or athletic director stating your preferred option (i.e., switching teams) and clearly state the rules from the school and the Conference in how they support your decision (you can even put in links to the guidelines themselves or direct quotes).
- Set up a meeting with your coach and/or athletic director—whoever you feel most comfortable exploring your potential options with. Bring the letter.
- Make sure you go into this meeting knowing the rules/regulations and what you want.
Editors note: For more info on the rules and regulations regarding trans participation in school athletics (including high school athletics), please visit Trans Athlete.