Yale University

Yale Transgender Athlete Swaps Trophies for ‘True Self'

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This time last year, Yale senior Iszac Henig was getting set to compete in the 2022 NCAA DI Swimming championship.

“You feel it more than anything else,” Henig said, describing what he feels when racing. “I think the sound definitely fades a lot...you can feel like there's like the buzz in your whole body.”

Henig came to Yale from California, excited to swim at the next level.

"I love being part of a team,” said Henig. “I loved the fact that Yale is combined program. I felt like I was able to connect with a lot of people.”

He said by his sophomore year, he felt settled. But by his junior year, something had to give.

“For me, a lot of time I was like, ‘hey, what's different?'” said Henig. “And I never could figure out what it was.”

In 2020, when the pandemic uprooted everything for just about everyone, Henig took a year off from school to preserve a year of athletic eligibility.

“I think I was also like this is a good time for me to shape up [my] mental health and figure out, you know, what's going on,” said Henig.

Henig knew what was going on since he was 14 years old, only now, he was ready.

When he came back to Yale for his junior season, he did so, as he said, his “full self”: as a transgendered person, a transgender athlete.

One year later, though, the buzz is different. He’ll be watching instead, choosing to go for a different personal best.

“I told my team in an email,” said Henig. “Which was really sort of a funny, very, classic COVID thing. But I got so much love back.”

There was still one decision left to make: would he compete on the men’s or women’s team?

“I was really set in my decision about swimming for the women because of the commitment that I'd made going into freshman year,” said Henig. “About halfway through my junior year, I was like, 'yeah, this is probably not going to work for my senior year.'”

Henig's transition didn't have to include taking hormones. NCAA regulations require athletes on testosterone-based hormone therapy to compete on a mixed or men's team. So he had a choice, but there was really only one answer.

He swam with the women for one final season, winning an Ivy League title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament in the process. But by senior year, he was ready to trade the podiums and records for his "true self."

"I have done the things that I set out to do and so now I can I can take this year for myself. It almost felt like a like  victory lap of sorts," said Henig.

A victory lap that Henig feels fortunate to make.

Fellow Ivy League swimmer and friend Lia Thomas has faced scrutiny as a trans woman swimming in the women's division.

"I think about it all the time. Trans women have it a lot worse than trans men. We are athletes, we're trans people. And those are not separate qualities," said Henig.

Swimming has always made sense to Henig, and now, he's ready to figure out what comes next.

"It feels like I've been swimming upstream my whole life and searching, feeling like the answer was going to be somewhere up the road. And then, you know, realizing trans ness is OK, it's a good thing. 'I can be that and it's alright' was like, essentially turning around and letting the current carry me and be like, 'oh, this is where I was trying to get to all along,'" said Henig.

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