"I am a man. And I'm the state champ of female high school wrestling," Mack Beggs declares at the beginning of Changing The Game, a dynamic new documentary coming to Hulu this June. Not allowed to compete against the other boys because he's trans, Beggs ends his senior year in Euless, Texas with a 36-0 record and a second state title.
Changing The Game follows the Beggs and three other high school athletes who, in order to play in their chosen sports, have been forced into the roles of activists. The film originally debuted at Tribeca Film Festival in 2019 has since proved tragically prescient. So far in 2021, 33 states in the U.S. have introduced anti-trans bills, many focussed on trans youth who play sports.
In other films, we've often seen people like the grandparents who raised high schooler Mack Beggs made into the villains of his story. Beggs' grandmother, a sheriff who self-identifies as a "hardcore Republican," shows off her gun collection when you first meet her. Yet, as she'll tell you, she doesn't mind "stepping on some toes" when it comes to protecting trans kids.
Viewers will hear Mack's grandfather misgender him, but they'll also hear just how much he loves and admires his grandson. "Mack's just the typical teenage boy. She makes bad decisions sometimes. She makes good decisions." He says before correcting himself. "She's always telling me, 'Watch the pronouns.' As soon as I say it, I think about it. You've always called him one thing and then she wants to do something else, so you have to go with what he wants."
He's trying his best to get it right. It's a deeply humanizing view of a man in a conservative state who is often written off by the LGBTQ+ community.
Anger from Beggs' wrestling opponents and their parents is directed more at the state than Beggs himself. They're mad at the systems that mandate he wrestles against girls, but aren't arguing against his gender identity. It's an unexpectedly validating aspect of the trans narrative presented in the film. Though these parents look at Mack with disdain and often bring up his use of testosterone, they're not able to be easily summed up as "anti-trans."
Through Beggs' story, as well as Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller who are allowed the run against the other girls in Connecticut, the documentary acknowledges the larger issues that trans youth face. One of the stats they point out: over 40 percent of transgender youth attempt suicide. Though getting better in recent years, a large portion of the content that reaches a mainstream audience still depicts the struggles of the tran experience only, and so to witness each athlete in Changing The Game as they're surrounded by the friends and family who love them feels radical. It's a necessary and vital example to counteract the negative stories of trans athletes presented by the entertainment industry, journalists, and increasingly lawmakers.
In Changing The Game, contextualized amongst the world of teenagers and sports, the trans experience feels at its most relatable. Shouldn't everybody be able to participate in their school's extracurriculars? And when you take that a step further, if trans people are banned from competing in sports, what will be next? Changing The Game asserts that trans kids, like all kids, deserve the right to pursue their dreams.