When they begin the United States Open tennis tournament this week, Renee Richards will be one of 96 players in the Women's draw. She will be there by order of the New York State Supreme Court, which said to bar her as a transsexual is to violate her civil rights. She has played in other, lesser women's tournament: largely out of our sight, but this is Forest Hills and what are we to think?
Measured by circulation the New York Daily News is the nation's largest newspaper, selling more than 2 million copies a day. Dick Young has written sports for the Daily News since 1941, earning a reputation for good reporting and crisp writing. Two days ago, to help his readers sort out the Renee Richards story, Young wrote:
"In these times of juries snafus, it comes as no surprise that a judge cannot tell a man from a woman, nor a men's tennis tournament from a women's.
"Justice Alfred M. Ascione of the N.Y. State Supreme Court ruled that the authorities of the U.S. Tennis Open were "grossly unfair" in prohibiting a transsexual, Renee Richards, from competing in their tournament. Unfair to whom?
"What of the rights of other women in the tournament? Is it fair for them that they be asked to compete against a 6-foot-2, 142-pound altered male? Is this what we recognize as the goal for balanced participant in sports?
"Contemporary judges, in their obsession with legalities, seem to overlook the premises of all organized sports, which is fair and equitable competition."
It is a measure of Young's skill that in only seven crisp sentences, taking but a minute to read, he has demonstrated an insensitivity, and illogical that some writers could attain only in volumes that would busy a reader for months.
Most transsexuals are anguished people, the mond and soul of one sex trapped in the body of the other sex. "Ever since I was an infant, I always wanted to be a girl," said a doctor, father. Yale graduate, nationally ranked tennis player. "I used to go to bed at night and pray, 'I wish I were a girl, I wish I were a girl.'"
By sex-reassignment surgery, Richard Raskin became Renee Richards, making that childhood wish come true. Not many transsexuals have the money for the surgery. Not many have the courage necessary to build a new life in a society that treats them as freaks. Only one, Renee Richards, enters the U.S. Open and risks wounds by people mean enough to call her an "altered male," as if she'd just returned from the veterinarian's office. Psychologist testing, living as the other sex, taking hormones to changes sexual characteristics - it all preceedes sex reassignmment surgery, and the results is not an "altered male," but. at last, peace between the warring mind and body.
As defender of our athletic purity, the Daily News man frets that Renee Richards has an unfair advantage. In her first professional tournament a year ago this week, Richards lost to an unranked, unknown 17-year-old. That moved Richards to say, upon applying to play in the 1976 U.S. Open, "I think there was an element of fear that I was Ilie Nastase in a dress and that I'd walk in and beat the hell out of all the women on the tour. I think I've disproved that."
In undisguised action to keep Richards off the sacred Forest Hills courts, the U.S. Tennis Association instituted a sex-determination test for last year's Open. Rather than fight a legal battle with so little time to prepare, Richards passed that Open. She's played in nine pro tournaments since, and now has won legal entry into this year's Open.
Through use of female hormones, Richards is 40 pounds lighter than Raskind and has 30 per cent less muscle mass. She is 43 years old. ("What are these girls worried about?" the unaltered Ilie Nastase said then. "She's old enough to be their mother.")
But who cares? Legally, socially, culturally, by her own desire and choice, Renee Richards is a woman, and even if she retained the athletic abilities of Richards Raskind, she still ought to be allowed in any tournament open to women.
Were we to legislate against women who have unfair physical advantages, we might see a need to amputate Chrissie Evert's left leg. Just to slow her down a bit. We might throw Evonne Goolagong Crawley in the slammer if she refused to wear the required cast on her arm.
The very essence of sport is unfair advantage. Life is unfair.Why should Pat Boone have all the teeth? But we play on, determined to overcome, jubilant beyond words when we succeed. To reduce sport to a single level of competence is to rob it of life. We best know how wonderful Chrissie is at her work on those rare occasions she loses; defeat is always available, but she refuses it.
For Renee Richards, secrecy was available. Secrecy would have spared some people discomfort. Unsure of themselves, insecure, afraid of the unknown and unwilling to learn, those people might not deny Richards' right to surgery - it's her body - but they would deny her center stage. They don't like to think of the surgeon's knife touching them, and Richards is a tennis-playing symbol of their fear.
We ought not to legislate against a transsexual's right to play in a tennis tournament, If there is any real cost of pain, it is hers, she gives up her privacy, her family's privacy. Perhaps she shouldn't; perhaps a tennis tournament isn't worth it; perhaps only an egomaniac, hiding in a crusader's pose, would do it.
No matter. If Renee Richards chooses the pain, that's her business. Life is unfair and in her trials Renee Richards has affirmed the majesty of the human spirit. The U.S. Open is a piece of cake.