Bailar was first recruited for Harvard's women's swim team before being persuaded to join the men's team

By Kathy Ehrich Dowd
Updated June 24, 2015 03:20 PM
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Schuyler Bailar probably won’t win as many swim meets as a member of Harvard’s men’s swim team. But after an odyssey that included eating disorders, depression and years of feeling like a “lost kid,” he is gaining something even sweeter than victory: peace.

“I can’t live inauthentically anymore,” Bailar told the Washington Post of his years-long journey to discover his authentic self. “So do I give up my goal of being a great women’s swimmer to be a decent male swimmer at best? Yes. There is pride and glory in this path, too.”

Bailar was initially recruited to join Harvard’s women’s swim team, but at the urging of the women’s head coach and others, he will be joining the men’s team this fall, a decision that is in accordance with the NCAA’s guidelines.

“One of the things we all noticed – coaches, captains, team members – is that when Schuyler was passing male, he was very happy,” Stephanie Morawski, the Harvard women’s swimming team head coach, told the Post. “Why should gender play a role? Schuyler is a great person. Schuyler wanted to swim and was already accepted to Harvard … Why wouldn’t you want to help?”

Bailar, 19, says he felt confused and isolated growing up in Virginia and attending Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., where he had mostly male friends and was generally considered “one of the guys.” Like Caitlyn Jenner – who won a gold medal as a decathlete – he poured his energies into sports and school.

“[I] didn’t understand why I spent my entire childhood being a boy but not really, one who focused intently on studies and swimming to distract from anything that came up in my mind,” Bailar told the Post. “I was caught between two worlds.”

His frustrations intensified when he broke his back while bicycling in August 2012, which forced him out of the pool for months. Longstanding body-image issues morphed into an eating disorder, and his mood did not improve when he got back into competitions, even joining a girls’ relay team that set a U.S. record at the time.

An acceptance from Harvard – and an invitation to join the university’s female swimming team – did little to lift his mood. On the contrary, his thoughts turned to suicide and he made the decision to take a gap year after high school, a decision Coach Morawski fully supported.

Bailar went on to spend 131 days in an eating disorder clinic in Miami, which gave him an opportunity to explore his gender identity issues as well. Last September, he emerged tearful as his father picked him up from a gender workshop in Miami.

“I walked out, crying, and hugged him,” Bailar told the Post. “He said, ‘What’s wrong?’ I said, ‘Dad, I think I’m transgender.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ ”

His decision was seemingly met with support on all fronts. When he told his Korean grandmother he was transgender, she replied, “Well, I knew that. Now I have two grandsons from your mother.”

He had breast removal surgery in March but is not considering genital reassignment surgery for now.

“It is important to understand that ‘fully transitioning’ does not include genital reassignment surgery for everyone,” he told the Post. “Fully transitioning is a process defined by each individual.”

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Bailar now lives in Cambridge as he prepares to join the men’s swim team in the fall, a decision that means he will no longer be among the top prospects in the pool – as he would have been on the women’s team. Even so, that’s a reality he feels good about embracing.

“I had to let go of those goals,” he told the Post. “This isn’t a choice.”