East Carolina University hosted a luncheon and discussion with famous first publicy open transgender athlete to compete as a NCAA Dvision 1 swimmer, Schuyler Bailar, yesterday afternoon to kick off the “My Pirate Body Week,” a week designed to promote positive body imaging.
Bailar spoke to students and faculty on the experiences that accompanied his journey. He said he was born and raised with female expectations but really started questioning his gender in middle school when he was the subject of bullying and being kicked out of the girls bathroom.
“I existed kind of in this inbetween space, where it was not boy or not girl but just me. I tried really hard not to worry about it,” Bailar said.
In high school, he said he had made serious attempts to conform to societal standards of being female, like growing out his hair and wearing makeup.
“I was thinking, maybe if I fix this boy me, maybe if i fit in, especially fit into this image, this stereotype of what everyone else wants me to be, this woman everyone wants me to be, then maybe I’ll stop getting bullied,” Bailar said.
Bailar said he excelled in high school by making great grades and breaking national records for swimming, however he said he still felt miserable. He said despite his success, he never paused and reflected on his mental health.
When he injured his back, he said his mental health worsened and caused him to develop an eating disorder when swimming wasn’t there to distract him.
“I was really really struggling with myself. And I figured that out pretty quickly that I was having this issue and told myself ‘I need help’,” Bailar said.
Bailar said he worked with a therapist for several years but didn’t feel like he was getting anywhere until one therapist told him to take a year off of school to focus on his mental health.
During that year he had gone to a rehabilitation center for his eating disorder and was not allowed to see his family, swim, or even use his cellphone, according to Bailar.
“It was in that space, in that pause, that I was able to say for the first time in my life, ‘I am transgender.’ And initially that came with a lot of relief,” Bailar said.
However, he said that relief did not last long before the angst of the future of his athletic career came into focus.
Fortunately, Harvard University’s athletics welcomed him with open arms and minds and not only accepted him on the team but made him feel like himself, according to Bailar.
“Nobody had any idea what they were doing. But they were so excited to potentially welcome me onto that team and figure out how to make it work, literally having no idea about how it was going to work they were like ‘Let’s try’,” Bailar said.
Bailar added that this acceptance and willingness is what boosted him with the confidence necessary to become the first open transgender swimmer.
Associate Director at Intercultural Affairs Ashley Cleland said multiple departments came together to coordinate and execute yesterday’s event and the My Pirate Body Week as a whole, including Student Affairs, Student Health Services and Campus Recreation and Wellness.
“It's so important for folks to have an opportunity to hear people with a variety of lived experiences because that is what cultivates positive social change. It cultivates empathy and understanding, which creates a safer and more loving world for everyone,” Cleland said.
Cleland added that Schuyler Bailar was a great keynote speaker for “My Pirate Body Week” because he touched on multiple issues concerning body image including transgenderism and eating disorders.
“Skylar is an excellent speaker and that was really exciting, but we’re always looking for people with different experiences to come and speak because it puts a face to some of the issues we educate on,” Cleland said.
ECU will host another event this Wednesday on “Love Your Body Day” which will also be promoting body positive messaging, according to Cleland.
“It’s a lot easier to be nicer to your body when you allow a wider range of normal to be present in the world,” Cleland said.