Changing the Game: A Review Part II
WORDS BY Tom Cat @tomcatpur
Art for EL CHAMP by Galen Tipton @genderlessgenderfulgirl
As a transgender adolescent, I remember always feeling as if my body were made for somebody else. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder, whose body is this? Society will take for granted that their body is theirs, that it wholly belongs to them, mislead into believing that we belong to ourselves. We see our hands connected to our arms-connected to our torso and naturally believe that we are the ones who get to decide what to call it, how to dress it, how to move it, and what to move it for. However, if you are trans and have ever tried to advocate for your own autonomy you quickly learn that this is untrue. Every person’s body – what we call it, how we dress it, where it is allowed to go – is governed by the laws that outline their state and even more, the country.
This limitation lands especially true for the protagonists of Michael Barnett’s latest documentary, Changing the Game; an honest portrait of three adolescent athletes, Mack, Andraya and Sarah Rose who attempt to navigate their college athletic careers under the glare of social judgment and legal discrimination. The protagonists attend different schools in different states and participate in different sports; yet they share a bond, or rather a burden, of having to overcome obstacles that threaten to hold them within the binary and consequently excluding them from the sports they love. The film highlights discriminatory laws and the states (of both mind and governance) that pass and endorse them by stretching the public eye towards the margins of contemporary politics, and to focus on the personal and legislative obstacles that Mack, Andraya and Sarah Rose are confronted with whilst competing in their respective sports.
“… I look in the mirror and wonder, whose body is this? Society will take for granted that their body is theirs, that it wholly belongs to them, mislead into believing that we belong to ourselves.”
Being transgender, watching the documentary overwhelms me with an empathetic rage that can only be matched by the proud surges of admiration I felt for Mack, Sarah Rose and Andraya, who, despite being vilified on a national level, still manage to permeate most situations with an optimism shared amongst the active generation of trans and non-binary activists. Transgender and non-binary youth have brought their issues to the forefront of the LGBTQI+ community, which has unfortunately been known to put all of the other acronyms before the “T” and “Q”. Contemporary social politics has taken note of a veiled struggle that has been fought for decades and Changing the Game carries with it a sense of urgency that has been increasingly growing throughout the last decade.
The film sparks an unprecedented conversation on inclusion that stretches beyond the athletic track and deep into the real world. Michael Barnett does not shy away from the raw outrage of parents who speak out against legislation that liberates transgender students to participate in sports. The parents don’t understand that these athletes are fighting for much more than just equality in the locker rooms or the right to have gender neutral restrooms, but rather access to housing and employment in their future and liberation from discriminatory legislation limiting future opportunities and their quality of life.
Legislation such as Title VII, which grants transgender citizens access to equal employment, is being attacked by our own administration. Over this past summer Trump’s administration filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that transgender workers are not protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The brief filed by the Justice Department, states that “Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination because of ‘sex’ does not extend to transgender status”. Which is to say: sex is a three letter word with no space for the transgender community in its definition; the Justice Department is arguing that the word “sex” protects those who operate within the binary – further penalizing those who do not. The narrative expands past their adolescence as the film shows the heavy lifting that is being done to ensure equal rights for all transgender citizens to come.
“The brief filed by the Justice Department, states that “Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination because of ‘sex’ does not extend to transgender status”.”
The issue of fairness was often interrogated as parents directed their anger and prejudices toward Connecticut track runner, Andraya Yearwood and championed Texas wrestler, Mack Beggs, both of whom were incredibly successful in their own states. It was frustrating to see middle aged white women, examples of the more privileged members of society, use feminism as the blade with which to cut through a transgender black woman’s rights.
“Woman did not fight for decades for Title IX” – an outraged mother grabs the camera’s focus in order to share her thoughts on Connecticut’s athletic policy (which protects transgender student participation) – “Its made a mockery of girl’s sports, it’s made a mockery of girls and women’s rights, it’s a total sham!”
That outraged parent feels the same way about Connecticut’s policies, as I do about non-inclusive feminism. The irony of her speech falls hardest on the ears of brown transgender femmes whose rights as girls and woman are being challenged from every direction.
The film guides us to re-evaluate what we understand as fair. Is fairness having gender inclusivity everywhere else but on the field? Is fairness taking away something that a child, (who is 40% more at risk of committing suicide than other teenagers) relies on to feel good about themselves? Mack Begg’s own narrative served as an infuriating affirmation that laws which don’t acknowledge someone’s desired gender aren’t fair for anyone involved.
The film aptly turns towards state officials and academic institutions for answers on their policies, holding them accountable to their legislations and challenging them to create new solutions rather than enforce antiquated policies that silence those who live outside of the binary. There are many institutions who point at transgender people and say, “lift up your skirt, pull down your pants, and prove it.” In the film, Mack’s grandmother described the process to change your gender identity legally, as “a huge invasion of privacy.” The state of New Hampshire at one point required a student to undergo gender reassignment surgery before they were allowed to play sports for their desired and self-identified gender. Viewers are shown first hand how this governance stands to control one’s body and what it must be or look like in order to qualify as a man or woman.
“It was frustrating to see middle aged white women, examples of the more privileged members of society, use feminism as the blade with which to cut through a transgendered black woman’s rights.”
These parents, as a microlevel representation of society at large, are being educated, challenged and changed by the youth of today; who have the language and emotional intelligence to teach and advocate for their own autonomy and a sense of normalcy. Documentaries such as Changing The Game, offer an empathetic mirror towards society so that we may look at ourselves and decide if this is really the type of world we want to help create. It sets an example to trans community members and provides an emotional literacy necessary for all members of society to better understand the transgender experience.
Trans women of color are the least privileged members in society, in every aspect of social and political existence – we are asked to shrink or disappear altogether. I have felt discouraged about owning my gender identity many times. I have avoided pursuing happiness out of fear for my safety and sanity. I have heard the parents and have felt the gaze of judgment, of pointed fingers and uncomfortable eyes. It is a sensation, and a social condition that can sometimes feel unshakeable. This documentary had me shook. It left me feeling empowered and affirmed. I looked at my hands-connected to my arms-attached to my torso and felt as if they were mine. To do whatever I pleased with. To go wherever I choose to. That feeling is the core of this documentary. That is why it is a game changer.