Schuyler Bailar: “All Euphoria I Experience Feels Gendered”
You may recognize Schuyler Bailar from his days as a swimmer at Harvard University, where he made history as the first openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer. Bailar, who graduated in 2019, now spends his days advocating for LGBTQ+ rights – educating others on social media, leading workshops, conducting research, life-coaching, and more.
He recently announced that his book, “He/She/They: How We Talk About Gender and Why It Matters,” will be published in October. It’s a resource to understand more about gender, filling a wide gap in general knowledge about a subject that everyone seems to be weighing in on, sufficiently informed or not.
In a year that has seen unprecedented anti-trans legislation and violence, POPSUGAR is highlighting the perspectives of trans and nonbinary folks throughout Pride Month. These leaders are sharing ways they protect their joy, reminiscing on moments of gender euphoria, and suggesting how allies can support the LGBTQ+ community right now. Explore all of our coverage here, and read Bailar’s story, in his own words, below.
I experienced a lot of gender euphoria as a kid. I think that was because, for much of my childhood, my parents let me dress and act the way I wanted to. I played boys’ sports, most of my friends were boys, I wore boys’ clothing. I was largely allowed to do the things I wanted to do, especially as it pertains to expressing my gender.
Though I didn’t have the language to say this at the time, I presented myself as a boy. Instead of saying, “I’m a boy,” I said, “I’m a tomboy,” because those were the words I had. I didn’t know I was trans because I had no language. But I did religiously define myself as a tomboy, and the reason I explain it this way is because had I had the word “trans,” I would’ve said that. I would’ve said, “No, I’m not a girl.” But I didn’t have that access, I didn’t have that courage, I didn’t have that community.
These days, honestly, all euphoria I experience feels gendered.
In some ways, I think I did know my gender identity, I just didn’t know how to explain it, and I definitely didn’t know I was allowed to. I always felt a lot of shame in the fact – and these were the words that I would’ve used at the time – that I “wanted to be a boy.” I never would’ve said it, because I was so ashamed of that. I think I learned early on that that was something that was wrong, or that it was something that people felt was wrong about me. It took me a long time to figure out how to undo that.
One of my favorite gender-euphoria moments growing up, though, was lacrosse. My brother and I went to this lacrosse camp together; I think I was probably 9. We didn’t know that it was just boys’ lacrosse, but we just showed up, and because I looked like all the other boys, they didn’t put me in girls’ lacrosse, they put me with the boys. And I loved it. It was the coolest thing ever. I think it was euphoric to me because I just got to be with the other guys; no one questioned my gender for the most part. That’s one of the first memories I have of what I would now call gender euphoria. At the time, obviously, I did not have that language.
Everybody has a gender, and everyone has an experience with gender.
The other moment I can think of is at the skatepark. I used to go skateboarding with my brother at the skatepark, and those were also times that my assigned gender wasn’t broadcast in any way, and sometimes I would even tell my brother, “They’re going to call me a boy, let’s not correct them, just call me your brother.” And my brother would be like, “Sure.” It didn’t matter to either of us. I got these moments of just being able to be; I just got to skateboard and be in my body.
With both of those things, it’s important that they’re both connected to movement and sports. I think the most peace-filled joy is always when I’m moving my body. Whether that be something rigorous, like an exercise class or a swim practice, or something less rigorous, like hiking or just going for a nice bike ride, I think connecting with my body is a really important way that I experience euphoria, gender or otherwise. And these days, honestly, all euphoria I experience feels gendered. And the reason for that is the amount of attacks going on on our bodies and our personhood and our joy. Feeling euphoria, feeling happy, feeling peace in a world that doesn’t want us to feel at all, that doesn’t even want us to exist – I think that is a resistance.
I am also constantly working. I’m almost always doing some sort of advocacy work. Part of it is the nature of the work, part of it is how passionate I am about what I do, and a lot of it is because it’s just never-ending right now. We’re in a really tough place. All this work is part of trying to advance collective liberation – specifically, of course, in regards to queer and trans people. But it’s also beyond that, because everybody has a gender, and everyone has an experience with gender. The liberation of all of us from the gender binary is actually all of our liberation, not just that of trans and queer people.
They cannot ban my knowing of myself.
With any fight, with allyship to any community that you’re not a part of, we need to understand how it actually impacts everybody, which is to say that we need to understand the system of oppression. When we understand that gender overall is a product of Euro-colonization that started 400 years ago – when we can understand that, we can understand its connection to white supremacy, its connection to fatphobia, its connection to Eurocentric beauty standards, its connection to ableism, to capitalism, to the patriarchy. Then we can understand that it’s not just a fight for trans people. We can understand that yes, we’ve got 500-plus anti-trans bills, but those are not alone; they’ve been alongside the Dobbs decision, they’ve been alongside the banning of critical race theory, restrictive-voting bills.
I’ve been asked for the past two years almost nonstop by the press about these anti-trans bills – why are they happening now? They didn’t come out of nowhere. We didn’t just pop up in 2023 and suddenly there are all of these bills. They’ve been building. This year is a record-breaking number of bills, and so was the year prior, and so was the year prior. This is about consolidating power in the hands of those who have historically been in power but are currently losing grip, and those are the cisgender, straight, white men who are usually also upper middle class, if not rich. And I think that’s where allyship needs to begin – it needs to understand that.
The second thing is basically what I wrote my whole book about, and folks should really read the book. But it is truly understanding that, yes, trans and queer people are under attack, and there are simple ways we can fight. Listening to trans and queer people is huge. Calling us by our right name and pronouns; correcting other people when they misgender us; showing up at the polls and voting for people who won’t take away our rights; donating to grassroots organizations that are going to actually help fight for our rights; and donating to nationwide organizations, like the ACLU, that are actually litigating our rights in court. All those things are great, and the true work is going to happen when people in society actually stand up and have those conversations with people who won’t listen.
Ultimately, alongside the pain, the invalidation, and the despair that I sometimes feel as a result of the political climate, I also feel so empowered by knowing that I know that I’m trans. They cannot ban my knowing of myself. No matter how many bans they pass, no matter how many bills they introduce, they actually can’t take away me knowing that I am trans. They can take away my hormones, they can take away my access, they can take away the bathrooms, they can take away the sports, but they can’t take away the fact that I know that I’m trans. Your identity can’t be taken from you. Once you know it, that is your power. And we get to hold that as a sacred part of ourselves that will always drive progress forward.
– As told to Lena Felton