An Ivy League women’s All-American swimmer went from pool shark to scrub after identifying as male and joining the men’s team, the opposite of the switch made by Lia Thomas.
Iszac Henig, a senior on the Yale men’s swim team, placed 79th out of 83 at a men’s meet in November after earning All-American plaudits as a junior on the school’s women’s team. But in an op-ed column Henig wrote for the New York Times this week, the 22-year-old athlete, whose breasts were removed, says living as a man makes it all worthwhile.
“I Chose to Compete as My True, Trans Self. I Win Less, but I Live More,” read the headline of Henig’s New York Times article.
In the article, Henig shrugs off the fall from dominance.
“I wasn’t the slowest guy in any of my events, but I’m not as successful in the sport as I was on the women’s team,” wrote Henig, who bested a one-armed swimmer and three others who specialize in other strokes in November.
That's exactly what is happening. Here is trans men Iszac Henig who competed in the women's category. pic.twitter.com/22FuvUuSum
— Fernanda (@Fernand18962391) April 8, 2022
Henig, who hails from Menlo Park, California, was a high school phenom and even tried out for the 2016 Olympics long before having a double mastectomy and identifying as a man. As a sophomore at Yale, Henig was the top swimmer on the women’s team.
Thomas, on the other hand, was a mediocre competitor on the University of Pennsylvania men’s team before identifying as a female and smashing records while representing the school’s women’s team. Several of Thomas’s teammates and rivals complained that Thomas’s biological advantages made competitions unfair.
Thomas and Henig actually competed against each other early last year, after Henig began identifying as a male but before Henig switched over to the men’s team. Henig bested Thomas in both the 100- and 400-yard freestyle events.
In the column for The New York Times, Henig acknowledged a longstanding attraction to women, but said being in the women’s locker room was always uncomfortable.
“I thought that my unease came from worry that my sexuality made others uncomfortable,” Henig wrote. “I hadn’t yet considered that the real reason I felt so off was my sense of being in the wrong locker room.”
Henig took the 2020-2021 year off from school in order to keep a year of NCAA eligibility and begin the transition.
“I dived deeper into queerness, exploring the balance of masculinity and femininity, especially with presentation in clothing,” Henig wrote. “Through that I discovered binders, base-layer compression garments used to create a more traditionally masculine chest appearance.”
Henig’s breasts were removed in early 2021. Upon returning to Yale, Henig, who had already been taking male hormones, was given the choice of competing as a woman or as a man. Henig initially chose to remain on the women’s team, but then joined the men’s team for the 2022-23 season.
Going from star to also-ran is worth it for Henig, who is happy to compete against men.
“I’m trying to connect with my teammates in new ways, to cheer loudly, to focus more on the excitement of the sport,” Henig wrote. “Competing and being challenged is the best part. It’s a different kind of fulfillment. And it’s pretty great to feel comfortable in the locker room every day.”