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Lia Thomas is often referenced in discourse around “fairness” in women’s sports. But now, she’s speaking for herself, opening up about what it’s like to be the first openly transgender athlete to win a division one national title.
Thomas was originally admitted to the University of Pennsylvania on the men’s swim team. However, during her sophomore year, her gender dysphoria left her depressed and suicidal. “I was barely going to classes; I could really barely get out of bed, and I said, ‘I can’t live like this anymore,'” Thomas told ABC’s Juju Chang. “I didn’t feel like I was a boy. I was like, ‘This isn’t me, this isn’t who I am.'”
She started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in May 2019, and the difference was undeniable. While she began to lose muscle mass and became physically weaker, her mental state shifted for the better. Thomas started her senior year competing with the women’s team and was ready for a fresh start. But while she followed NCAA guidelines requiring athletes to undergo at least a year of hormone therapy before changing gender categories, some felt that she shouldn’t be allowed to compete against cisgender women.
“Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves.”
Those opposed to the switch included 16 of her own teammates and some of their parents, who wrote letters arguing that Thomas’s mere existence posed a threat to women’s sports. They added that they wholeheartedly supported Thomas’s transition — but it’s difficult to see how one can be an ally for trans women while simultaneously arguing that they threaten cisgender people. As Thomas put it, “If you support trans women, and they’ve met all the NCAA requirements, I don’t know if you can say something like that. Trans women are not a threat to women’s sport.” This is something that should go without saying; however, trans athletes’ right to compete has been the subject of intense debate and legal challenges.
“I knew there would be scrutiny against me if I competed as a woman — I was prepared for that. But I also don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself and to do the sport that I love,” Thomas said. “Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves.” Watch the full interview below to for more of Thomas’s thoughts.
EXCLUSIVE: “Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) May 31, 2022