The Ambivalent Pioneer

Oct 27 2012 @ 5:27pm

Tennis player Renée Richards scored a major victory for transgender rights when the New York Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that she was female and, therefore, eligible to play in the US Tennis Association tour. Emily Bazelon explores Richards' conflicted feelings about her legal triumph and the tennis career that followed:

As Richards predicted, she did not dominate the women’s tour, though she did make it to the doubles final of the 1977 U.S. Open and to the international ranking of 19th in 1979. She went on to coach Navratilova to two Wimbledon singles victories before returning to [her previous career in] ophthalmology.

Despite all this, Richards has expressed ambivalence about her legacy. She continues to take pride in being "the first one who stood up for the rights of transsexuals." But she also mused, "Maybe in the last analysis, maybe not even I should have been allowed to play on the women’s tour. Maybe I should have knuckled under and said, ‘That’s one thing I can’t have as my newfound right in being a woman.’ I think transsexuals have every right to play, but maybe not at the professional level, because it’s not a level playing field." She opposes the International Olympic Committee’s ruling in 2004 that transgender people can compete after they’ve had surgery and two years of hormonal therapy.