Loy Norrix has made being a trans athlete feel safe

Thea Pipe, Opinion Editor

Being transgender under any circumstance can be difficult. Being a trans athlete is a whole other level, especially when you’re going into a competition with students you’ve not interacted with before and don’t have any clue what they think of you. However, Loy Norrix has done their best to make a safe environment for me, and would do so for any other trans athlete on any of their other teams.

I joined the Loy Norrix Girls’ Swim and Dive Team at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. It was my first time on a high school swim team and my first time on a swim team since my 6th grade year. I joined the Norrix team a few weeks after the season started because of the process trans students have to go through before joining a team.

As opposed to a cisgender student, who only needs to sign a waiver and get a physical, trans students have to go through an approval process with the Michigan High School Athletics Administration (MHSAA). The process can take weeks or months, which is longer than it should, which is why I was late joining the team.

The MHSAA will talk to your parents, doctor and the athletic director. They won’t, however, talk to you, the student in question. That made me pretty upset while going through the approval process. From what I had heard at the time, I didn’t have very high hopes of being approved and wanted to present the case myself. I even studied the forms of unprotected expression under the First Amendment to try to prove that my joining the team was a right, not a privilege.

My dad and I both spent several days finding whatever official records were available on how long I had been identifying as female with the government and with the school. We found the dates of my first appointment with a gender-specialized therapist, emails between myself and my school counselor to get my gender changed on my school records and even the date I got my driver’s permit. We completed all of these steps just to send that information to the MHSAA to prove to them that I was, legitimately, a trans girl who just wanted to swim on her high school team.

Laboe said I was the second trans student at Norrix to try to join a team”

Throughout this process the athletic director, Andrew Laboe, was very helpful. He met with my dad and me in August to talk to us about starting the process with the MHSAA and talked us through how it all would work.

Laboe said, “If it was 8 or 10 years ago, say, it would have been more of a shocking thing, but as it’s become accepted in society and more prominent, I understand more.”

Laboe said I was the second trans student at Norrix to try to join a team, the first having been a trans girl who joined the volleyball team. Laboe said if more trans and nonbinary students began signing up for sports teams, that it will likely continue to be both a challenging and time-consuming process.

Laboe said, “I would be fine with it, but it would be a challenge because you know we went through MHSAA. It’s a very hot topic, a very controversial topic in sport in the United States of America, and I believe it would be a challenge to meet the needs of the students in all situations.”

In the first week of school, I was finally approved and started going to practice on the next day. While the 40 minute wait in the J-Wing for practice to start was a bit awkward because I didn’t know anyone and none of them knew I was even on the team: everyone was kind and supportive once we actually got onto the pool deck.

Senior Hailey Yoder, who had never met me before, helped me find a lane to swim in and gave me good advice about what kind of mindset to have at practice, which helped me throughout the season. People I had never met before joining the team were encouraging me at practices and meets, congratulating me when I swam well.

I had been nervous about the team right up to the second I first walked on deck for practice, but every moment since then, my teammates have been immensely supportive. I made friends I never would have met without this team and I have had wonderful experiences. I am incredibly happy that I decided to try to join and that I was allowed to do so.

Being a trans athlete is difficult, but being here at Norrix turned what could have been a harrowing, negative experience into a great one instead. I hope to participate in more sports this spring and next school year, and I hope my experience encourages others to do the same.