One on One with Yale Swimmer Iszac Henig
He's 21. He's an All-American. And he just happens to be a transgender man. Yale's Iszac Henig spoke with me in his first interview since the NCAA Championships last March
Thanks for rising up with me this Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.
In the news today:
A judge in New Mexico will preside over the case of a Trump-supporting, election denying Republican candidate who lost in a landslide, accused of masterminding a plot to shoot-up the homes of his Democratic rivals.
Click the links above to read about those stories!
“I am an adult, capable of making rational, thought-out decisions”
I hope y’all will click here to check out my one on one interview with trans athlete Iszac Henig, a Yale senior who now competes with the men’s team. It appears in the Los Angeles Blade, where I am the sports editor.
But now, here’s A RiseUP exclusive just for subscribers! Read large portions of our conversation that have not been published anywhere else!
Henig talks about Lia Thomas… the reaction to his fame at Yale… shares his thoughts on binders, and much more! You can subscribe with just a click of the button:
ON SWIMMING: I love swimming. I think even though I'm graduating and I'll sort of be done competitively this year, like, I'll just keep doing it. But I’m pretty much ready to be done competing. I'm excited to explore other kinds of fitness.
RESPONSE TO BEING OUT: Really positive. Actually, I've gotten a lot of really, really lovely notes from people I know from sort of all stages of my life. And someone reached out who I hadn't spoken to since elementary school. So it was really sweet. And then I also have gotten some really lovely notes from just complete strangers, actually, across the political spectrum. I had someone reach out to me and sort of say like, you know, I felt one type of way before I read this. And then I realized that I had been giving it enough thought and you really sort of changed my mind. I was like, That's awesome. And that's exactly what I was hoping to have happen. So that's cool.
NOT ALL POSITIVE: The other sort of category of backlash has just been like, you know, ‘What a waste of talent.’ You know, these people who would like to characterize me as a woman, which I am not, like ‘He's thrown his career away.’ And I think that's really presumptuous, to sort of assume that you know me better than I know myself. You know, especially as a stranger, you know, like to sort of say like, ‘Oh, you know, like that surgery was permanent. How heartbreaking.’ Yes, I know. I am an adult capable of making rational thought-out decisions. And, you know, I am honestly, like, I'm really sorry for whatever experiences that these people have had that make them, you know, so hateful and so sort of unable to comprehend experiences outside their own.
LOOKING BACK AT NATIONALS: If you are there to compete, if you're there for, you know, what I would consider to be the right reasons, you're hoping to get better. You know, and I was far from the best swimmer on that pool deck. Lia was far from the best summer on that pool deck. Right? You know, like, there are a lot of really incredible athletes that, you know, the heart of the plan of racing is to push one another and to get better. You know, like I would say that I got a lot better at that, me racing those girls. Right? It goes both ways. And so I think, yeah, that is the true spirit of athletics more than anything else, is sort of, you know, yes, competition, but mutuality.
SUPPORT FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS: I'm really, really grateful for my family and the support they've given me, from my friends, my teammates, and then also just, you know, with the [New York Times] article and I shared this, like a lot of the love online.
DEALING WITH HATERS: Maybe it's the eternal optimist in me that doesn't want to sort of let go of people like that. But I think that there's something visceral, right? Like if if we are approaching this with sort of, you know, open arms, saying, ‘Okay, let's, you know, let's invite each other in, Let's see, see where you're standing. Right?’ Like, you know, there's something visceral and uncomfortable that I think says, people react to where they're like, ‘Oh, my God. Like, I can't imagine wanting to do that to my body,’ you know? Great. That's a great start, because now you're understanding exactly how we feel pre-transition. And I think that maybe is an argument that can sort of pull people in like, say like, ‘Yes, like, you know, validate the emotions.’ Right? Like it is a, you know, for someone who is is a [transgender] woman, it is a horrifying thing to deal with. Testosterone, puberty. Right? Okay. And it actually doesn't matter if that person is a woman or a trans woman. Right. It's an uncomfortable thought either way. And so we say, okay, that's your connection, right? And for someone who identifies as nonbinary, like the idea of sort of strong expressions of gender can maybe, you know, there's a whole spectrum of nonbinary identity. I'm not saying that there's only one right way to do it, but like, you know, like I think that there's a connection and human emotion that can be found. And then you sort of say like, you know, with empathy, with sort of trying to understand other perspectives like, this is how we move forward.
BINDERS: For me, it was a godsend. You know, it was really powerful, I think. You know, I wrote about it a little bit, I think, in my essay. Like it was really almost magical. And yeah, I mean, they're uncomfortable to wear. You know, no one's knowing and no one's advocating for the comfort of binders.
TOP SURGERY: It was really worth it. But for me, like. Even even for the years of my life where I was, you know, 16, 17, 18. So, you know, becoming an adult. And, you know, at that time identifying as a woman, like the idea of pregnancy, of breastfeeding, of all of those things were were horrific like that. Those were nightmare scenarios for me. And I remember sort of telling my parents, I was like, I'm so sorry, like, you're going to have to source your grandkids elsewhere. Like, ‘Oh, I'm not going to be alive. You want to have a child? I'm not.’ I have a younger sister. And so I was like, ‘You should focus on her.’
NOT ALL WOMEN: There are probably cis women who are horrified by the thought of pregnancy and breastfeeding and who still want kids. And there's options for that, too, you know, like adoption and fostering. These are all excellent options. I think not having kids is a great option if you don't want kids.
JUST ONE OF THE GUYS ON CAMPUS: One of the really cool things about Yale, that's one of the things that I remember thinking, was really cool coming in was like, ‘There are so many really impressive people on this campus,’ that, you know, in a kind of a nice way, I’m just anyone else. Fundamentally, like, you know, it sounds silly, especially given sort of, you know, the events of the Spring and the fact that I was published. And there were times that, like, I really am the sort of anyone else. And, you know, I think. Yeah, it's been, it's been nice. I have my friends here and they're like, ‘Man, that's cool. What are we doing for lunch?’ You know, like, it's nice. In a good way.
ACTIVISM: It's something I've thought about. I think I would love to, at least in part, do some more advocacy work. You know, depending on what that looks like, I'm not 100% sure. But I do also want to sort of foster a career. And another thing is I'm looking at getting into renewable energy, like climate change is something I'm really passionate about. And so I think, you know. Yes, but I don't anticipate it being a full time thing.
LIA THOMAS: I try and just be there for her as a friend. You know, I think and as a fellow competitor, you know, I think that she has an awesome network as well. She's, you know, seems to be well taken care of. And I just sort of try and do my small part of that. You know, I didn't know her before literally about a year ago.
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Thanks for rising up. I’ll be back with more tomorrow! Until then, may your news be good news!
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