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Exclusive – Schuyler Bailar on striving to engage with our shared humanity

We spoke to the athlete, author, and advocate for trans rights, radical body acceptance, and mental health awareness about his work to provide us with the fundamental language and context of gender so we can pave the way to understanding, acceptance, and inclusion. 

In 2015, Schuyler Bailar made headlines for being the first openly transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team.

Up until this point, his journey had been difficult, plagued by body image and self-esteem issues that he would later discover were tied to his real struggle with who he was.

Coming to terms with the fact that being authentically himself would mean transitioning, Schuyler had to prepare for the consequences and the challenges it would entail from a young age.

‘I resisted for a long time out of fear it would affect where I was allowed to belong,’ he tells Thred. ‘But there was also this peace in knowing that I wouldn’t be fighting an internal battle anymore.’

With this acknowledgement came an acceptance that inspired Schuyler to claim his true identity. In choosing to do so, his story garnered international attention, and has – over the years – been recounted in thousands of media outlets from MTV to The Washington Post.

Yet despite the much-needed discourse on trans inclusion that Schuyler’s openness gave rise to, transphobia has only proliferated since, bringing with it an increase in anti-trans legislation across the globe.

Fiercely determined to tackle this, Schuyler’s work today centres on providing us with the fundamental language and context of gender so we can pave the way to understanding, accept that transphobia affects us all, and strive to engage with our shared humanity to guarantee that all people – trans folks included – receive the care, respect, love, and liberation from the systems seeking to silence them that they deserve.

We spoke to the athlete, author, and activist about what this involves.


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A post shared by Schuyler Bailar (@pinkmantaray)

From insecurity to advocacy

Regarding what influenced his pivot to advocacy, Schuyler explains that it was a ‘stumbling intention,’ which presented itself in 2015 when he came out as trans and joined the men’s team at Harvard.

‘People wanted to cover it because it was a big deal for swimming,’ he says. ‘That gave me the platform to talk about my experiences. It was intentional because I knew this would raise awareness and it was stumbling because I never could have predicted I’d end up here.’

In the run up to becoming the ‘version of [himself] that [he] felt most aligned with’ and the ability to talk about his experiences that coincided with this, Schuyler had to overcome a series of hardships, much of which he dealt with alone.

‘I didn’t have the community that I needed,’ he says. ‘There was no one else I could look to who could tell me what would help me during the process of confronting my internalised transphobia and reassessing what ‘belonging’ meant to me.’

As he outlines, Schuyler’s initial insecurity toward which spaces he would be welcomed into acted as the catalyst for taking his learnings to greater heights.

‘Everybody wants to belong to some degree,’ he says, remarking that his intention to raise awareness was borne from a desire to ensure that we all recognise our right to be accepted for who we are.

‘You have to both welcome yourself in and people have to welcome you in. In the absence of either, you have to interfere or ask to be invited. I often felt like I most belonged when I was welcomed and believed that I did regardless of what anyone said to suggest otherwise.’

This is easier said than done, however, particularly as anti-trans rhetoric continues to delay progress both on and offline.

It’s for this reason, Schuyler asserts, that we must think outside the binary and focus on our commonality in order to move past the increasingly politicised and unproductive tension regarding trans identity.

Because, as he writes in his vital, timely new book, He/She/They, ‘the exercise of looking beyond one’s identity – be it transness or Blackness or Asianness or disability or queerness – is an exercise in peering into humanity.’


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A post shared by Schuyler Bailar (@pinkmantaray)

Getting to the roots of the issue

‘The attack on trans people is not just about trans people and I consider this to be where everyone misses the point,’ says Schuyler. ‘When we start to police bodies in order to exclude, we actually have to police all bodies because in order to decide which ones are trans, you have to evaluate everyone.’

Schuyler, who – as a storyteller – is sincerely well-versed in breaking down complex ideas into accessible information, notes that this largely stems from the archaic power structures which have sought to suppress marginalised voices throughout history.

‘White supremacy and the patriarchy have historically rigidified womanhood,’ he says. ‘This restrictive notion of what womanhood means and who can access it makes this a problem that affects us all.’

Expanding on this, he explains that discriminating against someone based on their transness is to uphold the gender binary created by colonisers and enforced to maintain control.

‘In that sense, transphobia affects everybody,’ he says. ‘Trans people are acutely aware of this construction, but we must all acknowledge it because doing so will allow us to join the fight in a more authentic manner. I didn’t exit the box of womanhood to enter somebody else’s box of manhood. We all deserve the right to choose what works for us.’

To reach this point of collective acknowledgment, Schuyler says that education is key, particularly on the topic of intersectionality, which he deems integral to confronting transphobia as it manifests itself today.

‘There’s a lot of history to gender, sexuality, race, and gender diversity that’s been quashed in the name of power,’ he says.’ ‘And as we see marginalised voices regain agency just by knowing themselves and each other, that power is threatened, so powerful people feel obliged to spread negative propaganda and the need to challenge this has skyrocketed. We’re not just at the baseline now, we’re below it.’

In addition to Schuyler’s newest book, Schuyler’s gender literacy programme, LaneChanger is another method he uses to address this need.

‘LaneChanger is all of the trainings that I’ve done, honed over 400-plus speeches, to give you basically 40-plus Q&A models, and answer all the common questions about trans people,’ he told Forbes in 2022. ‘The goal is to really present a person with the humanity of a trans person so that you can have more difficult conversations about trans people that are truly grounded in the humanity of us, as opposed to all these lies, propaganda.’

In other words, his hope is that this will gradually unravel the extreme divisiveness that’s preying on fear to separate communities – and successfully so.


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A post shared by Schuyler Bailar (@pinkmantaray)

‘Transphobia’s PR works well at convincing us to fight each other instead of fighting systems of oppression,’ he tells Thred. ‘That’s why it’s essential we educate on the futility of this so we can unify against the root issue, which is misogyny.’

Keen to expose these systems for the damage they’re still causing – which many people don’t even realise – Schuyler draws upon his own experience of having walked the Earth perceived as a woman, in contrast to now walking the Earth as a man.

‘There’s a very clear difference,’ he says. ‘Most people can only wonder what that shift feels like, but trans people can identify the oppression, the erasure, and the privilege.’

These factors, clarifies Schuyler, are what’s driving the uptick in anti-LGBTQ+ bills targeting trans people in sports, healthcare, schools, and public accommodations like bathrooms.

‘None of this is about trans people, it’s about control,’ he says. ‘It’s evidently a power struggle and one that won’t cease to hold authority until we remind ourselves that we’re all in this together.’

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Engaging with our shared humanity

‘When we engage with our shared humanity, tangible change becomes possible,’ declares Schuyler, whose method of encouraging this is through education, which is where his strengths and passions lie.

‘It’s what LaneChanger is for, it’s what my books are for, it’s what I use social media for – to equip people with the resources they need to stand in solidarity with us beyond their echo chambers.’

‘Education is the most effective means of transforming mindsets as it guides us towards restoring the parts of ourselves that we’ve banished. Doing so shows us how human we are at our core, which in turn makes us question our internal biases and outwardly begin acting with more compassion.’

This is the message that underscores Schuyler’s definition of allyship, which he puts down to simply ‘being a good friend’ – one that uses the correct pronouns, defends against hate, and will fight alongside their LGBTQ+ peers for a just future that benefits absolutely everyone.

‘Friends should do all of these things,’ says Schuyler. ‘Often people want instructions on how to treat us, but it’s really about how we develop the potential of our own humanity. Rather than capping ourselves in the boxes we’ve been instructed to exist in, we have to be assertive and say, “I’m not who you told me I am” because doing so as a united front will guarantee inclusion for each and every human being.’


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A post shared by Schuyler Bailar (@pinkmantaray)

Unfortunately, amid the misinformation overload, it can be easy to get lost, to know what’s right, and to comprehend more than what science, research, and classifications have taught us.

To this, Schuyler implores us to ‘listen to the stories of trans people and imagine what it’s like to be us.’

It’s why storytelling is such an impactful tool, engaging people’s hearts and overriding any preconceptions they may have.

‘Storytelling says “here are the trials and tribulations you’ve also experienced, here are the emotions we’ve both felt, here is my humanity which you also hold”,’ Schuyler finishes. ‘The sole aim of my work is to drive people to engage with love over fear.’

‘Not just love for trans people, but love for oneself. We should all be able to explore who we are, the kind of person we want to be, and how we can align our actions with those goals. I invite you to investigate your own humanity so you can not only be better for yourself, but for others as well.’