As a worldwide debate about the inclusion of transgender people in sports grows, a film has entered the conversation putting the lives and experiences of trans youth at the fore. “Changing The Game”, a documentary by Michael Barnett, centers around three high-school trans athletes, their struggles and their ambitions.
One focus of the story revisits the turmoil that surrounded wrestler Mack Beggs. Today, he’s a student-athlete at Life University in Georgia and he’s on the men’s wrestling team.
As high school student in his native Texas, Beggs was a transgender boy forced by state regulations to wrestle against girls because “female” was the gender marked on his birth certificate.
His story was also documented in the upcoming ESPN 30-for-30 Short “Mack Wrestles”.
In Barnett’s film, Beggs’ story is told alongside that of two other athletes, both transgender girls of color, under both local and international scrutiny. Connecticut high-school sprinter Andraya Yearwood burst onto the scene by winning a state championship in 2017 as a freshman, and has been a target of a number of anti-trans websites ever since.
Yearwood and another transgender girl sprinter, Terry Miller, have been among fastest in high school track both in the state and in the New England region since, as they enter into their senior year.
Their success has led to a complaint by three cisgender teenage girls from Connecticut, that the policy allowing them to compete is discriminatory. That policy is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and could jeopardize the right of trans students to compete. At a panel discussion about the film, Yearwood told Outsports she doesn’t let “naysayers” distract her. “Personally, I just take it all in stride, and haven’t let any of it hit too close to home.”
Also profiled is Sarah Rose Huckman, a New Hampshire ski racer, activist, and budding YouTube fashion diva, who addressed her state’s legislature to get an anti-discrimination law passed last year.
Some critics have been quick to note there are no “experts” in the film, sharing their perspectives on the topic. In many ways, however, the lack of such testimony and discussion is what gives the film a different, heightened level of gravitas. “Changing The Game” tells a nuanced, human story of real people, told from the perspective of the athletes, parents, allies, and even their detractors. Audiences will hear from those who oppose these kids competing, too. You can watch the trailer by clicking here.
Unifying these three trans athletes is the blatant, vocal hatred with which each of them literally comes face-to-face. The audience is brought into the stands and onto the mat as Yearwood and Beggs hear jeers and boos. The emotional toll of success is powerfully driven home as these two teenagers are called “cheaters” and worse. Huckman’s story is intensified by the fact that she isn’t as accomplished as Yearwood or Beggs are on the field of play, yet as she fights for inclusion in her state, she handles her detractors with poise and dignity.
While there’s plenty of attention in the national trans-athlete conversation given to some of these parents questioning the “fairness” of trans inclusion in sports, this film is a “game changer” in that viewer meets those who compete with and against them, and accept them fully as student-athletes.
The film is packed with powerful touch points for people who may not know a trans person, or who are stuck feeling like they don’t understand trans people. The most poignant may be Mack’s grandparents, who have raised him for much of his life. While expressing undying love and support for their grandson, they also don’t hold back sharing their moments of struggle. We watch and hear Grandma’s torment over taking down the last photo of a pre-transition Mack from the walls of their house. As Grandpa talks about the need to support his grandson, he accidentally misgenders him. Mack and his grandparents give the audience a raw, intimate, no-holds-barred look into the life of an American family thrust into a national conversation about diversity.
Overall, “Changing The Game” isn’t a clinical assessment nor an attempt to hold a debate. The filmmakers here focused on these young people as exactly that — young people growing up and chasing their dreams. A work built in the hope of bridging a gap of understanding between transgender youth and their families, and the rest of society who have little understanding of the lives of transgender people.
Below, you can view the “Changing the Game” panel discussion recorded at the the offices of GLSEN during the Tribeca Film Festival in April. There are four parts, featuring ESPN’s Katie Barnes interviewing Sarah Rose Huckman, Andraya Yearwood, Terry Miller and Mack Beggs.