An amazing thing about minds is that they can change. A person might think one way, and upon receiving more information, think the opposite way. What’s even more amazing is how often people make up their minds about an issue and then actively avoid any new and potentially contradicting information on it. Especially when the issue at hand is transgender student athletes.
There’s a rigid symmetry to the way far too many people refuse to change their minds about kids who have changed their gender. A new documentary from Hulu, however, makes a thoroughly accessible and compelling case for why they should do so right away.
One of the major wedge issues the Republican Party has wielded in 2021 thus far is the banning of trans athletes from competing in high school and college. According to lawyer and trans rights activist Chase Strangio, more anti-trans bills became law in 2021 than in the previous 10 years combined. So far this year, many states—including Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia—have enacted bans on trans students competing in athletics. On June 1, not coincidentally the first day of Pride Month, Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a similar bill in his state.
The stigmatizing uproar around young trans athletes has superseded the preceding one about which bathrooms trans people are allowed to use. (Though not entirely.) It has lingered in the press, however, since at least 2017, when Texas wrestler Mack Beggs made it to the state championships for women’s wrestling, rather than men’s wrestling, due to a policy in Texas forbidding students to compete in sports as a gender they weren’t assigned at birth. The creators of Hulu’s Changing the Game, including Emmy-winning director Michael Barnett, have been documenting Beggs’s life, along with the lives of several other young trans athletes, ever since.
Beyond Beggs, Changing the Game introduces viewers to skier and activist Sarah Rose Huckman, who had to fight to be allowed to compete in sports at her New Hampshire high school, and Andraya Yearwood, a track star in Connecticut, where there are no gender restrictions in sports. The film follows each of these dynamic athletes; in action and in their downtime; with their friends and with their parents; and in moments both guarded and unguarded, as they try to get comfortable with identities they’re in the midst of establishing. By profiling athletes in such different situations, Barnett and company give viewers invaluable insight into how an environment can affect a young trans person, and how a young trans person can affect an environment.
Anyone who has paid even a little attention to the legislative battle raging against these teenagers may be surprised to hear so many adults in authoritative positions speak so reasonably, yet emphatically, in favor of them getting their way.
“We would not support an athletic policy that says in school, kids are one gender from 8 to 2:30 [and] then when the athletic curriculum kicks in, well, now that’s a different situation,” says Karissa Niehoff, district executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. “Because that would not honor who they are as a person.”
As a counterpoint, throughout the film, a chorus of voices from Fox News weighs in on the scourge of athletes defying biological gender for nefarious means. Megyn Kelly, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Joe Rogan are among the voices calling for “fairness,” as though these students decided to become trans in order to steal an advantage in sports. (All this from the people who supposedly believe in personal liberty above all else.) They sound about as convincing as the adult woman at a track meet in one scene, screaming about how the two trans athletes competing that day will never have to run while having their period, unlike the competition, which makes it unfair.
“I’ve definitely been bullied more by adults than by children,” Beggs says. “And that’s just sad.”
Throughout the documentary, several people, including Beggs’s coach and grandparents, mention having not even known the word transgender until Beggs explained it to them. This ignorance is understandable, considering how quickly and wholly culture can shift sometimes, before the flow of information catches up to it. However, remaining ignorant is a personal choice. Beggs’s grandmother, a staunch Southern Baptist, did a lot of soul-searching and Bible-inspecting before embracing the person who had been her granddaughter as her grandson. A father from Missouri went viral during a House Committee meeting about an anti-trans bill earlier this year, for a powerful speech recounting his journey toward acceptance and enthusiastic for his trans daughter.
A lot of people aren’t automatically liberal about the idea of trans athletes competing in student sports, or perhaps even about the increased visibility of trans people altogether in recent years. But changing one’s mind about an issue is so much easier than changing the law in the other direction, especially when it means being on the right side of history.
In 2015, GLAAD reported that only 16% of Americans knew a trans person. That statistic has almost certainly changed in the past six years, but not fast enough to stop the growing wave of legislation. Changing the Game won’t physically introduce anyone to their first flesh-and-blood transgender student athlete, but it may be the next best thing.