Mack Beggs is still getting used to the spotlight.
“I’m just a wrestler, not a celebrity,” he tells USA TODAY Sports.
Beggs, a 17-year old transgender boy who attends Euless Trinity High School outside of Dallas, was thrust into the national spotlight after winning the girl’s state title this past weekend, capping a 57-0 season in the 110-pound weight class.
Before the state meet, several wrestlers forfeited against him in response to a lawsuit that was filed against the University Interscholastic League, urging Texas’ high school sports governing body to suspend Beggs and claiming his medically-prescribed steroid use — which facilitates his transition of sexes — put female athletes in “imminent threat to bodily harm.”
But neither the boos nor cheers Beggs received following his victory resonated. He’s used to blocking out the noise.
“Four years ago, I was in a really bad place because I wasn’t myself,” Beggs says of experiencing gender dysphoria when he went by his birth name of Mackenzie and spent time in a mental health hospital. He even experienced suicidal ideation. “I told myself I don’t ever want to feel that way again and then started to transition (to male).
“So when I hear people who don’t understand, who have hatred, I don’t let it get to me because you can’t give up when people say you can’t do something or be who you want to be. If you let it control you, you’ll never go anywhere in life. Other people can’t feel what you feel. My message to transgender kids, to anyone who is struggling, is to ‘do you.’ ”
Yet following that advice has become tougher.
Beggs’ story comes at a crucial time for transgender rights. Last week, the Trump administration announced an end to federal protections that allowed transgender students to use facilities based on their gender identity, thus leaving states and school districts to determine their policies.
“It’s ridiculous and dangerous,” Beggs says, adding that he fears the change will lead to bullying. “Trump is leaving so many variables out. Who is going to protect these kids in school who have to watch their back every single day?”
The provisions issued under the Obama administration were not legally binding, but they provided a blueprint for schools to follow to avoid violations of Title IX, a federal law banning sex discrimination in public and private educational institutions. Title IX has gained the greatest visibility for its impact on athletics in high schools and colleges, which must abide by Title IX regulations because they receive federal funding. The Obama administration interpreted Title IX as covering discrimination based on gender identity but a federal judge put the guidelines on hold in August because several states sued to challenge them.
“It was not a casting stone by the Trump administration. Transgender rights were already complicated before this,” says transgender studies expert Joanna Harper, chief medical physicist of radiation oncology at Providence Portland (Ore.) Medical Center. “When Title IX was enacted, nobody thought protected sexes extended to gender identity. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be now. It’s analogous that if someone changes from one religion to the other, we as a country should protect them. It should be the same thing in terms of protecting (gender identity). The idea that transgender people are predators is a myth. We are the prey.”
Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old boy, and a Virginia school district that blocked him from using the boys’ bathroom have each urged the Supreme Court to decide their case, a ruling that could impact Beggs and other transgender students.
“When you have a student or an athlete trying to live their life and they’re denied to be their true selves, that is sex-based discrimination in its purest form,” says Hudson Taylor, executive director for Athlete Ally and a former All-American wrestler at Maryland. “When policies are not in place to protect transgender people, everybody loses. When you look at Mack’s story, in my eyes, everybody is losing. He can’t compete with boys like he wants to and I don’t think it’s competitively fair for those competing.
“And to satisfy the parents, they want him to not compete in the sport that has helped him get by? That’s ridiculous.”
The UIL and Texas Education Code prevent steroid use, but the code has a “safe harbor” provision that allows a student to use steroids if they are issued for a valid medical purpose. James Baudhuin, the attorney suing the UIL over Beggs’ participation in the girls’ division, has a daughter who was friends with and wrestled against Beggs.
Beggs says his medical records were submitted before the season and he was approved to compete. He adds that he would prefer to compete in boy’s wrestling but state policy calls for students to wrestle against the gender listed on their birth certificate.
“I’m not wrestling on a girl’s team to wrestle girls, I’m doing it because I’m not allowed to wrestle boys,” Beggs says. “I’m not out here to cheat. I worked my tail off and it finally paid off. People hear testosterone and think it’s the same as what a body builder uses. I’m using very minimal (dosage) because it’s what has been medically prescribed. If a male has testicular cancer and needs testosterone, are they going to try to ban him too?”
Harper, who transitioned from male to female, blames Texas officials for creating an untenable situation.
“If Beggs were competing in the NCAA, his use of testosterone would put him in the men’s division,” Harper says. “The state of Texas was trying to protect female athletes from (cisgender men) who transition. And it completely backfired. They have nobody to blame but themselves for this.”
Meanwhile Beggs tries to rise above the controversy and the celebrity status that has come with it.
“After I won (state) … I just thought of how I love wrestling and how I love my teammates because I wouldn’t be here without them,” Beggs says. “They were a huge part of me keeping my sanity. They’ve seen my transition, what I’ve been through. They’ve been nothing but love. I just wish others could do that, too.”