A nationally ranked swimmer and top student at Georgetown Day School, Schuyler Bailar was recruited to swim for the Harvard women’s swim team. Bailar dreamt of NCAA Division I championships and the Olympics—but gave up that dream for another: to be himself. Bailar, now a senior at Harvard and the first transgender athlete to compete on a Division 1 NCAA Division men’s team, told Upper School students on a recent visit to St. Albans that the decision to transition to male was the hardest he ever faced: “Swimming was my life; I felt I was putting my life in jeopardy.” But it was the right decision.
From a young age, Bailar identified as male—a tomboy, some called him, more comfortable wearing cargo pants and t-shirts than dresses. Bullied as a youngster “for not looking like a girl, or acting like a girl,” in high school he tried to be more “like a girl.” The effort failed: “The more I stepped in to the person I thought I had to be, the more miserable I felt,” said Bailar. A phenomenal athlete—helping set an age-group record in the 400-yard relay along with Olympian Katie Ledecky—Bailar attracted the interest of several Division I schools and was accepted by Harvard. But he was struggling with eating disorders and mental health issues, and took a year off before college, spending time in a mental health facility, where he came to realize, and to relate to others, that he was transgender. As he began contemplating making a medical transition to male, he informed the Harvard women’s swim coach, who told Bailar he still had a spot on the team; she also reached out to the men’s coach, who made the same offer.
Articulate and authentic, Bailar has used his story as an advocate and spokesperson for LGBTQ rights and inclusion. At St. Albans (his first time speaking to students at an all-boys school), Bailar talked to Forms I and II in the chapel, addressed Upper School assembly (where he received a rare standing ovation), and participated in smaller group conversations with the prefects and vestry, Diversity Committee members, and interested students and faculty. His message: “You can be exactly who you are.” Asked how to support a friend making a similar transition, Bailar responded quickly: “Show your love. You don’t have to understand, but be open and try to understand. And know when to stop. People don’t want to explain themselves constantly. It can be exhausting.” Then he paused: “But most important, show your love.”
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how the day went,” noted Lower School Academic Dean and Psychologist Joe Viola, who helped plan the visit. “Schuyler was wonderful, and the boys were terrific—attentive, participatory, open, and eager to learn and discuss. It felt like an important day in the life of the school.”
Located in Washington D.C., St. Albans School is a private, all boys day and boarding school. For more than a century, St. Albans has offered a distinctive educational experience for young men in grades 4 through 12. While our students reach exceptional academic goals and exhibit first-rate athletic and artistic achievements, as an Episcopal school we place equal emphasis upon moral and spiritual education.