For as much as we hear about young transgender athletes, from lawmakers and activists arguing about who they can and cannot play against, it’s remarkable how little we hear from them. Trans voices become so often silent that children really affected by anti-trans athlete legislation can almost never tell their own stories.
Measured with Changing the game, a documentary released on June 1 about Hulu, is giving them the platform for just that. The film tells the stories of three high school athletes: wrestler Mack (above), running Andraya and cross-country skier Sarah. All three are trans, but their experiences in sports and life vary greatly, in part because they live in different states. Sarah and Andraya, who live in New Hampshire and Connecticut, respectively, are allowed to compete against other girls, although Andraya in particular faces vicious bullying, and Sarah admits that she sometimes “smokes” during races, worried about showing her true skill will cause problems. Mack, on the other hand, lives in Texas, where state laws force him to fight in the girls’ division. A talented, hard-working athlete, Mack wins state championships at the expense of his own mental health and endures incessant heckling from the crowds. The film outlines the cruel irony: parents and spectators attack him for competing in a category he does not want to be in to break female athletes that he does not want. “It feels like I’m winning,” Mack says hult. But it also feels like I’m losing at the same time. “
As much as Changing the game is an indictment of this ineffective, inconsistent patchwork of policies, its deeper purpose is to give a face to the children targeted at the anti-trans legislation and the cable news tirades. “We are not the monsters they make trans people,” Sarah says. The film shows quiet moments of normalcy as Sarah teaches ski school, Andraya gets a pedicure, and Mack trains and spends time with his girlfriend.
“It shows these kids the way they are,” said Alex Schmider, the film’s producer and assistant director of transgender representation for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). By telling each athlete’s unique story, we get them clearly and distinctly, separated from the “transatletic” monolith. And the best part is that each of these stories is uniquely compelling and touching. We see Sarah develop a passion for decision making. Andraya faces down on TERFs (trans-excluding radical feminists) and bullies with maturity and grace beyond her years. And Mack’s journey to earn a college scholarship culminates in a triumph that is even sweeter than his championship medals.
“So many trans young people have their childhoods removed,” Schmider told POPSUGAR. Their lives are politicized, their innocence stained. That’s why the filmmakers took so much to include the small moments of bliss as when we see Sarah ride up a chairlift with a young skier by her side while their skis swing in tandem. Out of all the powerful moments in the film, this scene is Schmider’s favorite. “I cry every time that part comes,” he said, because it is “one of the few scenes and representations I have seen” that shows a trans child who is simply a child doing something she loves.
Schmider said any discussion of laws and policies around transgender people should begin with acknowledging their humanity. The first step was crucial for the filmmakers. “We were not in a hurry to put a camera in front [the kids’] faces, “he said, explaining that the film crew got to know each athlete and their families to ensure that their lives were enriched by the documentary, that sharing their story would strengthen and not exploit them. (The film features Mack, Andraya, and Sarah’s strongly supportive families too.) And when the film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019, Mack, Andraya and Sarah were all there to see it – and to meet each other for the first time. “They were so excited,” Schmider recalled that.
So often, trans children do not have a voice in the debates that affect their lives. By carefully and vigorously sharing their travels, Changing the game is “returning these young children’s stories to them,” Schmider said, “and making sure they come across the heroes in their own stories.” And even though we are far from the track, the gym and the slopes where they compete, it’s hard not to get up and cheer when the credits start to roll.