Iszac Henig was, a year ago, swimming toward a goal: Ivy League championships for his team at Yale and perhaps an individual title for himself.
In a new op-ed in the New York Times, Henig told the next chapters of a story that began in the Times almost two years ago. Henig, a transgender man and standout swimmer on the women’s swimming team at Yale, talked about his decision to hold off on starting hormone replacement therapy for a last, hopefully championship, ride with a team he was close to.
As he worked, practiced and competed, he was also a “fish out of water.” Imagine being the only man on a women’s team.
Despite a nearly unbeaten season in the freestyle sprints, an Ivy League title in the 50-yard freestyle, and finishing the year with All-American honors, Henig noted the inner pain and cost that came with the joy.
“The Yale women swimmers are some of my best friends, but being on the team with them made explicit all of the ways I am not a woman,” he wrote. “My mental health began to worsen again, and after a few months I confessed to a friend, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’ I came to understand that I didn’t belong on the women’s team. I craved a space where I did belong.”
The article also delved deeper into his backstory. The California native was an Olympic Trials qualifier in high school and grappling with gender identity even as he was gaining notice for his ability in the pool. At Yale he made his impact early to become the team’s highest scorer in his sophomore year even while sitting with the feeling of not being in the right place.
A long process of soul-searching, including taking a year off from school when the Ivy League’s response to COVID-19 scrubbed the season in 2021, led to a decision to one last year with the women’s team, and then a senior season competing with the men’s team.
That is where Henig is as the Ivy League dual meet season grinds into January.
Eight months ago, he started hormone therapy and settled into the men’s team. He swam at the Ohio State Fall Invitational in November, where he was part of Yale’s fourth relay unit in the 200-yard freestyle, in addition to his specialities in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle sprints. His times equalled his efforts at the end of last season, though he placed in the last 10% in his two individual races.
However, times and places are secondary for Henig. Being in the right place is a win unto itself.
“Competing and being challenged is the best part. It’s a different kind of fulfillment,” he wrote. “And it’s pretty great to feel comfortable in the locker room every day.