As a Trans Athlete, Here’s What Keeps Me on Track

Trans athlete Andraya Yearwood competed on a girls’ track team when she was in high school in Connecticut. Yearwood was brought into the national spotlight in 2020 when three cis girls and their families filed a lawsuit to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports in Connecticut. The lawsuit claimed trans athletes had an unfair advantage over cis athletes. During her high school career, Yearwood won two state titles, and now attends college in North Carolina.

The Hulu documentary Changing the Game follows three transgender teen athletes—Mack Beggs, Sarah Rose Huckman, and Yearwood—as they navigate discriminatory obstacles in their respective sports. Toward the end of the documentary, we also meet Terry, a fellow trans athelete Yearwood befriends.

In a Q&A for Men’s Health, Yearwood and Changing the Game producer Alex Schmider discussed Andraya’s experience, the importance of telling trans stories, and more. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Men’s Health: How were you approached for the documentary?

AY: I think it was [director Michael Barnett] and [producer Clare Tucker] and whoever, just talking to my mom. And they were kind of like, ‘Hey, we’re doing the documentary. You know, do you want to be in it?’ And at first my mother and I were very apprehensive of the decision to be in the documentary just because I had never been in one before. And neither had my mom. It was something that was very new to us. And all this media stuff is pretty new. Because it happened, what? My freshman year of high school? So it was also very new at the time.

We did little interviews here and there. But the documentary was a whole different thing, a whole different ball game. I remember my mom asking a lot of questions. I think even Michael and Clare had come down to Connecticut a few times to talk with us to get more comfortable with us being in their presence. But after they came and talked to us, my mom and I decided to go through it.

AS: I so appreciated that Andrea and [her mother] were apprehensive. I think that a lot of times, the media assumes that trans people owe our stories. And yet they are sacred and special. And so what we saw with Andrea and Terry specifically, all these media were covering them but not actually talking to them, or getting to know them. That was very much not what Changing the Game was intended to be about. I think we succeeded in really giving Andrea, Terry, Sarah, and Mack stories to them, which was always what we wanted to do. Because it’s so unfair, that because Andrea is herself and wanting to run track, which is something she loves, that that became a sensationalized media story and was in so many ways used against her, and Terry and so many other athletes.

I’m really proud of this documentary. All the athletes met at the Tribeca Film Festival. Andrea didn’t say what they did when they got together in New York. I think they went out to a diner, like it was the first time they’d all met. Anyway, I don’t even know all the details of that night. But it’s also really amazing to me that they now have this community of people that they can turn to who have had similar experiences, and we will always be here to protect, support, and champion them.

Tell me about a time you felt really supported by your high school track team.

AY: There was one point in my junior year of high school, where I had decided to not run track my senior year and kind of focus on other things. But one practice, my friends and I were talking about it; I was telling them how I didn’t want to run track anymore. And a lot of my teammates helped me see the real reason why they want to do it anymore. They were kind of like, ‘This is a sport that you love and you shouldn’t let what other people say, or what other people on social media say, dictate if you run or not.’

They’re all there for me being like, ‘Okay, you should run. If you love this sport, you should run and continue to do it. And this is your last year, why would you want to give up your last year over things someone’s saying over Twitter, over Instagram?’ [Ed. note: Yearwood then decided to run track her senior year of high school.]

What’s your favorite part about running in general?

AY: I guess my favorite part about running track will probably be my teammates. Even on my first track practice, there weren’t any problems or anything. They’re all very kind, like I was any other person on the team. They didn’t treat me any differently. They all treat me with the same respect as anybody else. So I think my teammates really made track. And especially with what I went through with the media and stuff, they were always there to hold my back and always there to remind me why I wanted to run track and continue to do so.

In the documentary, we see your mom is a huge source of support, both in and outside of track. Tell me about a moment you felt really supported by your mom.

AY: There was this one track meet. I think I showed it in the film in which these two ladies were saying some not positive things to me at a track meet. I hadn’t told my mom about that incident when it happened. She found out about it through watching the documentary. And her reaction to seeing it was, you know, very motherly, very supportive. You know, like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me when it happened? Why didn’t you so I could be there to support you?’

And even though she was kind of mad at me in that incident, I think it just really goes to show how supportive she is with me, and how she wanted to be there for me in that moment. She wanted to be there to be able to protect me and to be able to, you know, just be my mother in that moment.

Speaking of those two women from the documentary, had that happened any other time?

AY: That was the only time it really happened. Like, no one has ever said anything to my face before until that specific moment. There have been times when people have said things like, behind my back. My mom has overheard it or someone else has overheard it and come and told me. I don’t normally hear those things. But I mean, people tell me it happens.

I don’t really do much about it. I come to the meets to focus on my race. I really try not to let what other people say infiltrate my peace of mind and infiltrate my focus on me running. I kind of just put that to the back burner, just not pay that much attention.

“I know some of it may not be the best talk, or it may not be the most supportive, but I’m just kind of glad the conversation is happening.”

Toward the end of the film, Andrea, you and Terry are talking and she calls you an activist. You said you didn’t feel that you were one. Has that changed? Do you feel like an activist now?

AY: Personally, I don’t really see myself as an activist. I know that others may. But I don’t know, I’m just someone who wants to run track as a trans athlete and happened to be thrust into the media. To say I’m an activist is kind of putting someone on to a high pedestal. And I don’t really I just don’t think I’m there yet. I mean, I would love to be one day, I just don’t think I’m there yet.

AS: I think oftentimes, people have that label thrown on to them of activist or advocate without owning it for themselves. I know so many trans people, who are simply fighting for full equality in society, and then people label them an activist or an advocate. And I think we need to be very intentional about the ways that we are labeling people without them labeling or defining themselves. It’s something that’s come up more recently, and again, as Andrea said, she wanted to run. That was what she wanted to be doing and does that require an activist label, because she believes that there should be equality and inclusion in sport? I don’t think so. It’s what we want to own and define for ourselves that I think is so important.

What makes you hopeful about trans issues today?

AY: Recently, I have noticed, there’s been a lot of talk within the media, and in legislation as well, about trans athletes in sport. I know some of it may not be the best talk, or it may not be the most supportive, but I’m just kind of glad the conversation is happening. I do see a lot of support with friends, family, even some certain brands supporting trans athletes in sport, so that kind of gives me hope. The documentary will hopefully change the minds of those who maybe don’t support us in sports.

AS: I’ll just add, something that has me really helpful is a coalition of support. And that is coming to life. Because I think people are starting to recognize that this isn’t actually about trans athletes. This is about very rigidly strongly regulating and enforcing what it means to be a girl or a woman because we don’t often see any talk about trans men or trans boys. Most of the legislation is overwhelmingly targeting trans girls. And more specifically, if you are a trans girl or woman who is someone of color. I think there’s starting to be that understanding that what these political misinformation campaigns are really about, is making sure that girls and women are not as powerful as they are, are not able to succeed or be themselves or show up in the way that is authentic to them. So I am heartened to see that the coalition and community building around this conversation is illuminating, that this issue is really baked down in sexism and racism, and who gets to succeed?

Do you have any trans icons or athletes in your life that inspire you?

AY: I guess the people who were in the film, Terry, Mack, Sarah. I kind of see them as icons, for what they went through respectively in their own states and sports. They kind of made me see things in a different light. In the film, we all have different situations within our states. It made me grateful, in a sense, because I know that in Texas, Mack was forced to wrestle against the girls. And I know that in my state, you know, I was allowed to run against the females. It made me feel grateful that my state was as open to trans athletes as it was. Those three individuals I think really opened my eyes to what other trans athletes have to go through.

Is there anything else you want readers to know about you or the documentary?

AY: I hope that people watch the documentary. And just to continue to spread awareness about trans athletes in sports and trans individuals in general, and hopefully steer the conversation to be more positive.

AS: All I want to say is, I hope people will watch Changing the Game and actually get to know Andrea, Terry, Sarah, and Mack, from their own experiences, stories and perspectives. We’ve screened the film in big cities, small towns, blue states, red states, purple states, young, old, and the majority of people who get to know these young people in an hour in 30 minutes, their hearts and minds are opened. They realize they’ve been seeing this in a way that isn’t humanizing to who these people actually are. And, you know, there is love and support out there that exists. And even though those stories haven’t always been reflected, Changing the Game can hopefully be a beacon for people just to see that that does exist for them.

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