There are currently more than 100 anti-trans bills hitting stage legislatures across the country, many of them aimed at trans kids who want to participate on sports teams according to their gender identity. While this issue is getting more attention now, it isn’t new. As the new Hulu documentary “Changing the Game” shows in intimate detail, trans kids, their parents and medical professionals have been fighting constant misinformation for years.
“The responses [to the documentary] have been just astonishing,” says producer Alex Schmider, GLAAD’s associate director of transgender representation. “People are suddenly activated to want to fight for these young people to be able to participate fully in public life, which includes being able to go to school and play sports and do all the things that kids should get to do.”
“Changing the Game,” which premiered June 1 on Hulu, follows three trans student athletes. Sarah Rose is a bubbly trans girl skier fighting anti-trans legislation in New Hampshire. Andraya competes on the girls’ track team at her high school, with the full support of her teammates and coach, alongside fellow trans girl Terry. Mack Beggs became the Texas State wrestling champion after he was forced to compete with girls, a situation that frustrated most everyone involved.
After all the media coverage of trans kids playing sports — with Andraya and Beggs’ stories becoming particular flashpoints — “Changing the Game” follows them throughout their days and lets them tell their own stories.
“We were very intentional about earning their trust and their families’ trust and making sure that this was something that they wanted to do,” says Schmider. “And for all of them, they really did want to use the platform to expand their ability to talk about this issue and their experiences, and dispel a lot of the misinformation that is spread through media, because oftentimes the media is talking about trans athletes without talking to them.”
Here, Schmider talks with Variety about “Changing the Game,” trans narratives in the media and how today’s anti-trans bills threaten trans youth like never before.
For how long did the documentary film? How much of their lives does it follow?
Our filmmakers met with the athletes and didn’t even bring a camera oftentimes until about a year into knowing them. So, I think we’ve filmed for about a year, a year and a half total. But specifically in terms of Andraya and Terry’s story, that we just happened to capture some of the worst times for them as they were running and a lawsuit was lobbed against them. And that was on the heels of Mac being all over national news media. We captured them during a time that they were in the spotlight in a way that they didn’t necessarily want. And so, for us, it was about making sure that they trusted us enough to help them, again, reclaim their stories and show the actual truth of their lives, which is that they’re an active and contributing part of the communities, their families and their teams in a way that we don’t often get to see or hear.
What were some of the biggest misconceptions about trans youth and sports that “Changing the Game” wanted to address and dispel?
Our goal was always to return these young people’s stories to them. Working at GLAAD, I observed that, both for Mack and Andraya, their stories were largely taken from them and used against them to exploit certain narratives about who trans athletes are. So really, what we wanted to do was give them their stories back and allow people to be able to see them as the kids that they are. They just want to be themselves and want to participate in the sports that they love.
What have you heard from trans people who have seen “Changing the Game”?
We made this film for everyone. We made it for trans people to feel that they could see themselves in the athletes and the families, and we also made it for people who are unfamiliar with who trans people. The director, Michael Barnett, came to this documentary project when a young person in a family friend’s life shared that they had a daughter who is transgender. He quickly realized that he wasn’t the kind of advocate that he would want to be for this young child who would be in his life for the rest of time. The documentary is dedicated to this family and this child for opening his eyes to this community, and how the community could use and needs allies and support.
So, we made it for those of us who are part of the trans community, and those of us who are less familiar with the trans community, and anyone who believes that love can win and does win regardless of what that looks like. We’ve been very grateful that the reaction across the board from within the LGBTQ and specifically trans community has been overwhelmingly and emotionally positive.
In your experience, how important is putting a face to an issue as this documentary does?
I can’t understate how important it is for people to actually get to know trans people in their real lives and not just the projections of our community, which has historically been the case out of projects in Hollywood. From my experience with showing “Changing the Game” specifically, we were on the festival circuit for about two years. We went to every different kind of community, and every different demographic sat in the seats and got to know Andrea, Terry, Sarah and Mack. I was overwhelmed with surprise that the reaction universally was, “Oh my gosh, these are just kids, they just want to play sports.” I think that is the power of storytelling: that we get insight into people’s lives who we may not have gotten to know otherwise. I know that’s the case for a lot of people for the 80% of Americans who say they’ve never met someone who’s transgender.
When you see a documentary like this or you hear from a trans athlete, it becomes very clear that when we’re talking about banning trans people from sports, we’re not just talking about sports.
Right. And, and to your point, whether or not these bills pass — which, unfortunately, some of them have — the message that said to trans youth across the country is that they don’t belong. That they can’t play on the teams with their peers, that they can’t go to school and be treated with respect to who they are. Those messages are extremely damaging. One of the reasons why I think it’s so important that “Changing the Game” is coming out and accessible to so many more people now is that I do think that especially trans youth need to see that they are the heroes in their own stories.
“Changing the Game” is now streaming on Hulu.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)