Schuyler Bailar (he/him/his), now in his final year at Harvard University, is a swimmer, writer, public speaker, and the first transgender athlete to compete in any sport on an NCAA D1 men’s team.
Discussions of allyship are complex and they continue to develop as discussions of queerness, transness, and marginalization also become more nuanced. What might you say is a good first step in acting in allyship with others, namely queer and trans folks of color?
The first and most important thing for an ally to do is to come from a place of love and mutual respect. We are all deserving of respect and love, regardless of or gender identity or sexual orientation. A lot of people get hung up on “getting it,” or understanding. And the reality is: you don’t have to get it. But you do need to respect others, always.
My main goal in this openness has always been to show other people like me – especially young trans and queer athletes –this type of happiness is possible. That their happiness is possible.
What are some resources that you’ve utilized in the past that you might recommend to other queer and trans folks of color? Have there been any that offered either a necessary sense of clarity or comfort?
Social media has been a go-to resource for me from the start. I think it is wise to pick your sources carefully, though. Follow the people that are helpful to you. Be mindful of how your social media affects your mental health. Local LGBTQ+ community and health centers are a great resource. PFLAG has chapters in many cities which are also a great resource for allies and especially parents. When all else fails, I Google the name of the city and “LGBTQ+ center” or “Transgender” and see what comes up.
Alongside your talent and passion as a swimmer, you’re also a writer and some of your work is featured on your website. Do you plan on writing more in the future?
Yes, I write often. I journal most days. And, of course I post a lot too. I am almost certain I will write a book or many some day; I am just unsure of when.
In the past, you’ve mentioned that you don’t necessarily consider the work you’re doing to be “advocacy” work. This question of advocacy is a difficult and convoluted one, especially when it pertains to one’s lived experiences. Has your relationship to the term “advocacy” changed at all and do you view your work any differently now?
I don’t think my relationship to the term ‘advocacy’ has changed. Living openly – albeit to a rather extreme definition of ‘open’ – and authentically is how I want to live my life. And that just happened to be considered a form of advocacy. My main goal in this openness has always been to show other people like me – especially young trans and queer athletes –this type of happiness is possible. That their happiness is possible.
Especially for folks who hold historically marginalized identities–first-generation college, low- income, queer, trans, and students of color to name a few–moving through elite institutional spaces can be rewarding but also incredibly confusing and alienating. What has your experience been moving through a space like Harvard?
Harvard as an institution has been incredible, especially with regards to being transgender. This includes the students, faculty, and coaches I’ve come into contact with. I have been met with nothing but acceptance. However, it is always important to recognize my own privilege, even as a trans person of color. I am nearly always cis-passing, I usually present in a very binary fashion, I am on the swim team and have a huge support network as a result, to name a few. I am sure my privilege plays a role in how I am received by anyone ever – including at Harvard. That is not to say the atmosphere cannot be confusing or alienating at times, but so can anywhere. And I’m sure many people have differing opinions on this matter. But in terms of acceptance, I personally have encountered little problems at Harvard, and I think the College does a really good job of trying to including everyone.
You are incredibly busy, juggling a lot of obligations as a student, athlete, writer, and speaker. How do you keep yourself from burning out?
I think the primary thing that keeps me from “burning out” is that I enjoy what I do. I would say that 80% (at the very least) of the activities I engage in I enjoy. I try very hard to fill my life with things about which I am passionate. Beyond that, especially when I’m at my busiest, I take everything one step at a time. I do my best to focus on whatever it is I am doing in any given moment. And just that. Lastly, I always try to make time for myself and self-care. This comes in many forms: swimming or some other exercise, guitar, photography, time with friends, social media, journaling.
What are your plans post-graduation?
I will be doing a speaking tour in the Fall of 2019 – see my website for more info: pinkmantaray.com/the-tour – and then I will be moving to Seattle to teach emotional intelligence skills to the employees at a financial services company. At some point I will probably pursue graduate school, too.
Interview conducted by Isaiah Frisbie