Changing The Game
Thanks to the efforts of several pioneering transgender athletes, including NCAA basketball player Kai Allums, professional golfer Mianne Bagger, mountain bike competitor Michelle Dumaresq, and mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox, sport fans around the world have begun to question “taken-for-granted assumptions of binary and hierarchical sex difference.” As Eric Anderson and Ann Travers note in the Introduction of their 2017 book Transgender Athletes in Competitive Sport, Western cultures predominately believe “in the rightfulness of men’s and women’s segregation via athletic teams.” Michael Barnett’s fleet-footed documentary Changing the Game tackles this subject head-on, showing how the debates over competitive fairness in the segregated worlds of men’s and women’s varsity teams have become increasingly fractious in recent years (especially with greater numbers of gender-nonconforming students challenging longstanding policies in organized sports). Sprinting from Texas to New Hampshire to Connecticut, this heartfelt look into the private and public lives of three teenage athletes highlights the many personal sacrifices that are made — by them and their supportive family members — in pursuit of a goal more highly sought after than any first-place medal: that of inclusion. Mack Beggs, a transgender wrestler living with his grandparents on the suburban outskirts of Dallas-Fort Worth, gained national notoriety in 2017 (two years after he began receiving testosterone injections as part of his transition), when he was forced to compete in the girls division leading up to the state wrestling championship. As revealed in Barnett’s intimate, thought-provoking film, which was shot over the course of a single year, the young Texan’s dedication to the sport never wavered, though the endless string of homophobic slurs and social media trolling as well as complaints on the part of his female competitors’ parents took their toll. Less well-known, but no less inspiring, are Sarah Rose Huckman and Andraya Yearwood, a cross-country skier and a track star, respectively, whose eligibility to compete in young women’s sporting events has been scrutinized by school administrators and continues to spark discussions about the presumed physical advantages that these and other transgender teens have over their cisgender competitors. All three of this film’s main subjects demonstrate the courage needed to stand up to opposition and remain true to one’s identity, something that all audiences — regardless of where they stand on this issue — can surely admire.
By David Scott Diffrient