trans man Transgender Man and Former Athlete Opens Up About What It Means to Be ‘A Real Man’

In an excerpt from his new book He/She/They, former NCAA Division I swimmer Schuyler Bailar discusses standing out, fitting in, and what it means to be a "real man."

“I’ve been a swimmer for as long as I can remember,” Schuyler Bailar says. “I learned how to swim when I was 10 months old… and swimming’s just been such an important part of my life since before I could really remember.”

From there Bailar went on to become a decorated competitive swimmer, and eventually became the first openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer. He is also the first documented NCAA Division 1 trans man to compete as male in any sport. But he admits the road to his success was rocky.

“I went through a lot of difficult things in my 18 years before I realized that I was transgender,” he says. “I was bullied a lot for not looking girly enough. I was always kind of different from everybody else, even if it wasn’t about gender.”

Bailar explains that, in addition to surviving bullying and social struggles, he also experienced some physical setbacks throughout his young life, including foot surgeries to correct a defect and breaking his back at 16 in a biking accident. “But all through it,” he says, “I continued swimming and swimming [even when] I thought was going to lose everything.”

Toxic masculinity embodies multiple guises, mostly selling itself as the ticket to fitting in. And, in my experience, I’ve observed something surprising: engaging in toxic masculinity is not about impressing or courting women but rather is about impressing and fitting in with other men.

I have often commented that my life has felt like a gender studies class. Never quite fitting in anywhere gave me the privilege of watching from the outside in. When I was a kid, the boys who’d previously been my friends suddenly ditched me, as well as other girls, when they realized that their friendships with us were harmful to their social status among the other boys. I listened as they said degrading things and laughed at horrible jokes around other boys but had been previously very kind and protective of me and others.

Sadly, I saw these behaviors continue throughout my college years. I observed as guys would wait and watch for each other’s reactions to their jokes, their oversteps, their comments about women—the insecurity and yearning for approval from other men was painfully obvious to me. My suspicions were affirmed twofold: First, I started to find that I felt pressured to engage in what I knew were toxic behaviors, and I witnessed firsthand how doing so could have earned my entry into the mix. Second, as I grew closer with other men in college, I learned that my experience was not unique. Many of my friends who are also men have reported sharing similar feelings.(11/15)