Thursday, May 28, 2015 Interviews Trans Icon Renee Richards

Forty years before Bruce Jenner announced his intent to transition, another star athlete made the same decision against the backdrop of a much less understanding world. He was Richard Raskind, and now she is Renée Richards. GQ’s Michael Hainey sits down for a rare interview with the quiet trailblazer whose struggle laid the groundwork for the transgender community’s historic moment

On why she was turned away from doctors:
“I was not what people thought of when they thought of someone wanting to have this surgery. There was nothing ‘wrong’ with me. It was too scary for them. They couldn’t fathom how someone who had been so supremely successful in everything—in medicine, in sports, in life, as a heterosexual man, as a husband, as a father—they couldn’t understand that. In this day and age, they would understand. The best example I know is somebody like Bruce Jenner. But in my time, I was turned away.”

On how identity affects transition:
"You have to realize that somebody who is an entertainer, or even like with Bruce Jenner—a person like that can have a sex change and be just as accepted as an entertainer or a TV star or something like that afterwards. But if you’re talking about someone who’s a surgeon or a physician of any kind and bringing your child to see that person, it’s a whole different matter. When I came back to practice after being so notorious, I couldn’t ever be a frivolous, entertainment-type, public kind of character. I mean, I had to be the same confidence-engendering… I’m operating on people’s eyes; I’m operating on their kid’s eyes. I mean, you better be some kind of a transsexual to do that! Otherwise you’re not gonna have much of a practice. It’s a whole different thing than being an entertainer.”

On her sexual orientation: 
"I never really felt oriented sexually to men. It was fun having sex with a man, especially the first few years as Renée. It was fun, and I enjoyed it, but there wasnever a love object, never a love object. I just realized that my sexual orientation wasn’t gonna be changed by my sex change. It’s interesting that people talk about Bruce Jenner: What’s his love life gonna be after he’s transitioned to a woman? He’s been married a couple of times—he’s basically a heterosexual man—and I find it hard to believe that he’s suddenly all of a sudden become oriented towards men. It’s conceivable, but it makes for a complicated life."

On being a pioneer:
“I was a reluctant pioneer, so I can’t take that much credit for it. I was not an activist. It was a private act for my own self-betterment, for what I wanted to do. Some people don’t understand why I’m not an activist for the transgendered community, why I don’t talk and preach. I think I do more good for that community by being the best doctor I can be, by being the best tennis coach now and formerly tennis player I can be.”

On awareness becoming mainstream:
“The present climate of increased awareness of transgender as a subject--social and legal--will educate the public and benefit those ‘afflicted,’ for sure. Greater protection from rape, battery and murder, greater acceptance in the home and workplace--and legal statutes to ensure this--are happening. I don't see much taking place, however, in the area of causation, etiology, ‘why’ this happens. There's very little research from the scientific community. But from a personal standpoint, fresh from my 60th reunion at Yale, socially conservative by nature, there are some aspects to the current frenzy and popularity of all things transgender that give me pause. I am not overly happy with the word ‘transgender.’ It is very inclusive. I was a ‘transsexual’ -- I changed from man to woman. Not something in between. Transgender suggests, and does in many instances refer to, an in-between -- part way from one sex to the other. And the idea of androgyny is not appealing to me. I like the binary system that God designed for us--two sexes, two genders, male and female. It's what makes the world go round and is the spice of life.”

On how fatherhood changed after her surgery:
"I couldn’t be as good a father to Nick after I had the surgery. I lost my moral authority. I could no longer be the guide as a father should be to a son because of what I had become. So I didn’t have, in my mind, at least, the moral authority. Maybe I did for him, but I didn’t for myself."