Trans tennis player Renee Richards on winning the right to play
Renee Richards reflects on how she feels now about her ground breaking battle to play professional women’s tennis.
In 1977 Renee Richards won the right to play in the US Open as a woman after a long legal battle and invasive tests. She went on to reach the finals of the women’s doubles, losing to Martina Navratilova – who she went on to coach – and Betty Stöve. She’s still amazed she had the courage to do so in the face of widespread public opposition – she faced boycotts, death threats and had to employ a bodyguard.
Now 80, Ms Richards told Reuters: “How could I have actually gone out there in front of thousands of people as this notorious transsexual and compete against young women? I didn’t know whether I was going to be shot at, or whether I was just going to be yelled at.”
She gained support from legendary tennis player Billie Jean King, who said after meeting Ms Richards: “I just listened. I didn’t know anything about transgender. I went back to the players and said, ‘We have to let her play.’ Everyone was up in arms. It was tumultuous. [I told them] ‘All of you who are upset right now are going to end up thinking she’s your best friend.’ And many of them did.”
On the suggestion that she has been offering advice to former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, who is rumoured to be transitioning, she said: “It’s not true. That’s insane. It would be preposterous for me to say anything to him.”
In recent years, Ms Richards has suggested that she regrets her fight to play in women’s tennis. In 2012, she told Slate: ““Having lived for the past 30 years, I know if I’d had surgery at the age of 22, and then at 24 went on the tour, no genetic woman in the world would have been able to come close to me. And so I’ve reconsidered my opinion.
“There is one thing that a transsexual woman unfortunately cannot expect to be allowed to do, and that is to play professional sports in her chosen field. She can get married, live as woman, do all of those other things, and no one should ever be allowed to take them away from her. But this limitation—that’s just life. I know because I lived it.”
Now, she still wonders if it was the right thing to do: “f I had it to do over, I would have my sex change because that’s what I was destined to do. But would I have tried to play professional women’s tennis? Maybe not.
“But as it turns out I’ve had so many wonderful experiences, I guess that was my destiny.”