Connect with us

Sports

Trans swimmer: ‘Why fight them when you can lead them’

Natalie Fahey on thriving in the NCAA

Published

on

Natalie Fahey, gay news, Washington Blade
‘I had a lot of self-pride in the fact that I stuck through all the adversity and didn’t quit the sport that I love,’ said Natalie Fahey. (Photo courtesy Fahey)

Two weeks before the start of the 2018 Mid-American Conference Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships, Natalie Fahey began taking hormones. It was her junior year at Southern Illinois University, and she was cutting it close to the championships so it wouldn’t affect her performance on the men’s swim team.

“Overall I was pretty happy with the way I swam, but I had a moment at the end of the conference meet. I knew I would never swim that fast again. It was bittersweet,” says Fahey. “I began to feel trepidation because I didn’t know what was coming next.”

What ended up coming next was Fahey’s transition and her becoming the first male to female swimmer to compete on an NCAA Division 1 team. It was a process that was supported by her teammates and her coach, Rick Walker.

Growing up in Waukesha, Wisc., Fahey was active in football, soccer, baseball and swimming. In her freshman year of high school, she was a starting right guard on the football team and ended up joining the cross-country team to compliment her swimming.

She made the varsity swim team her sophomore year and podiumed every year at the state swimming championships. She also went to the state championships in cross country.

“I really thought I was hot shit in high school,” Fahey says.
In the middle of her sports accomplishments, little things were popping up – indicators that would evolve over the next few years.

“I identified as a cis guy and my outlook was that I was going to question it, but not explore. I didn’t know what was happening,” says Fahey. “There was ongoing depression, but swimming kept me busy. It was my coping mechanism.”

Fahey flourished in the men’s swimming program under Coach Walker in her freshman year and dropped eight seconds in her 500 freestyle.

“It is a fantastic program and I started to see the fruits of my labor,” Fahey says. “I was working on every aspect of swimming and I was totally in love with all of it.”

One constant that accompanied her achievements in the pool were thoughts of transitioning. By her sophomore year, she began researching the NCAA rules on transgender athletes.

“There were so many variables to think about. I wanted to keep swimming, but I struggled to accept that I would get slower if I started taking hormones. It was also going to be very public,” says Fahey. “My swimming career was incongruent with transitioning. I kept wondering where I could squeeze in a year.”

The summer before her junior year, she painted her toenails for the first time and began asking friends to use she/her/hers pronouns. That fall, she spent a weekend with her parents in St. Louis before college move-in day and had a big announcement for them after a few beers at a local brewery.

“The words just came out – I’m trans, I’m a girl,” Fahey says. “They didn’t disown me, but it was uncomfortable. I did not go about it in a healthy way.”

Back in the pool for her junior year, Fahey tweaked her shoulder at a home meet before Thanksgiving. The injury only allowed for kicking during her swim training. For the first time, she had serious thoughts of quitting so she could begin transitioning.

“I pushed those thoughts back to the dark recesses of my mind,” says Fahey. “By Christmas break I decided to tell my coach; I want to transition, and I want to keep swimming.”

Coach Rick Walker assured Fahey that she wasn’t recruited for her times but for who she is as a person. Her spot on the men’s team was confirmed for her senior year.

That summer before her final year of NCAA eligibility, she started an internship in Indianapolis as an RV technician at a dealership and began experimenting with presenting as female.

“An RV dealership in Indiana isn’t the most comfortable place to present as a trans woman. There were shouts from cars – ‘You’re still a dude’,” Fahey says. “I am pretty thick-skinned and didn’t let it hit me hard.”

Fahey showed up for her senior year on the men’s team after six months of estrogen. She was out of shape, overweight and had lost a lot of strength from the hormones. She was competing on the men’s team in a women’s suit because of breast development.

“I swam slow at our first swim meet and went home and cried. I battled all season with not comparing myself to my previous self,” says Fahey. “It was a tough pill to swallow knowing I was never going to improve again.”

Fahey began focusing on other small victories – that feeling after a great workout, the team atmosphere, community events with her teammates and mentoring the incoming class of swimmers. She was able to rediscover her love for the sport of swimming.

Throughout the regular season, Fahey was competing with the men. At 6’2” tall, in a women’s suit, she was still showing male traits. She says she didn’t hear anything but positive remarks from teammates or opposing teams.

There was still one thing on her mind that she wanted to achieve before she completed her collegiate career.

“I had a lot of self-pride in the fact that I stuck through all the adversity and didn’t quit the sport that I love,” Fahey says. “Competing in just one meet on the women’s team would be a personal victory.”

After many discussions with her coach, it was decided that Fahey would compete at the 2019 Missouri Valley Conference Swimming and Diving Championships on the women’s team. Even though it would have been legal for her to score points (she had completed 12 months of estrogen), Fahey was entered as an exhibition swimmer.

“We decided that doing it that way would be the best course. It would have been a fight and I would have been called a cheater. Why fight them when you can lead them,” says Fahey. “I feel like I did a good job of introducing the NCAA to trans female swimming.”

Fahey is still living in Carbondale and has one semester left at Southern Illinois University. She has switched her major from mechanical engineering to automotive technology. Her dream is to work at a major automaker in serviceability.

After 15 months of hormones, she is engrossed in the female lifestyle and out to everyone in her life. She wants to have as little surgery as possible and is having consultations while she is still a student. Her student insurance at Southern Illinois is comprehensive and will cover medical procedures.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have thought back to where I was five years ago. Where I am at right now is amazing. My friends, girlfriend and family are all fantastic. I have very few complaints,” Fahey says. “I have tried to be outspoken because I feel like I owe it to the community to be a proponent for trans rights.”

Recently Fahey became scuba certified. During her dives down to submerged shipwrecks, she has begun scrawling ‘Trans Rights’ on every structure.

“I’m just doing my small part,” she says laughing.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Sports

Protester with Pride flag disrupts World Cup game

Protest took place during match between Portugal and Uruguay

Published

on

(Al Jazeera screenshot)

During a World Cup match between Portugal and Uruguay Monday, a lone protester ran across the field waving a Pride flag moments after the second half kickoff.

Video and still images show the man wearing a blue T-shirt emblazoned with the Superman symbol and the phrase “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect for Iranian Woman” on the back.

Screenshot of news coverage at the World Cup 2022 games from Al Jazeera

Qatari security personnel chased him down and then marched him off the playing field. Israeli Public Radio correspondent Amichai Stein tweeted video clips of the incident:

FIFA had no immediate comment on the incident, the Associated Press noted reporting that in the first week of the tournament in Qatar, seven European teams lost the battle to wear multi-colored “One Love” armbands during World Cup matches. Fans also complained they weren’t allowed to bring items with rainbow colors, a symbol of LGBTQ rights, into the stadiums of the conservative Islamic emirate.

Qatar’s laws against homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ people were flashpoints in the run-up to the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Qatar has said everyone was welcome, including LGBTQ fans, but that visitors should respect the nation’s culture.

Continue Reading

Sports

Blinken criticizes FIFA threat to fine World Cup team captains with ‘one love’ armbands

Qatar criminalizes homosexuality by death

Published

on

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday criticized FIFA over its threat to sanction European soccer teams if their captains wore “one love” armbands during the 2022 World Cup.

“It’s always concerning from my perspective when we see any restrictions on freedom of expression. It’s especially so when the expression is for diversity and for inclusion,” Blinken told reporters during a press conference with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Doha, the Qatari capital. “And in my judgment, at least, no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales had planned to wear the armbands in support of the LGBTQ and intersex community during the World Cup. The teams on Monday in a joint statement said they would not wear the armbands because FIFA had threatened to sanction them if their captains did.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death. A report that Human Rights Watch published last month noted several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment” of LGBTQ and intersex people while in police custody from 2019 and September 2022. 

A State Department official last week acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Blinken attended their match against Wales on Monday.

Continue Reading

Sports

European soccer teams won’t wear ‘one love’ armbands after FIFA threatens sanctions

World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday

Published

on

Iran plays England during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on Nov. 21, 2022. (Screenshot via FS1)

Seven European soccer teams on Monday announced their captains will not wear LGBTQ and intersex armbands during the 2022 World Cup after FIFA threatened to sanction them.

The captains of Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Wales planned to wear “one love” armbands during the World Cup. The teams in a joint statement said FIFA threatened to sanction them if their captains wore them.

“We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” read the statement. “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision, which we believe is unprecedented.”

“As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings,” added the statement.

The World Cup began in Qatar on Sunday.

Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

Human Rights Watch last month published a report that noted “arbitrary” arrests of LGBTQ and intersex people between 2019 and September 2022 and several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period. World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman earlier this month described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” during an interview with a German television station.

Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, the country’s capital. A State Department official on Nov. 18 acknowledged to the Washington Blade that the U.S. raised LGBTQ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the World Cup.

The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend their match against Wales on Monday.

England played Iran on Monday. The Netherlands on Monday will play Senegal.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular