Changing the Game follows stories of four high school athletes who in order to compete in their chosen sports, are forced into the roles of activists. Each lives in a different part of the U.S. where rules and restrictions on trans athletes vary by state.
The documentary first introduces Mack Beggs in Euless, Tex. "I am a man. And I'm the state champ of female high school wrestling." Mack is not allowed to compete against the other boys because he's trans, and ends his senior year with a 36-0 record and a second state title.
In Connecticut, one of a minority of states that allow trans athletes to compete without restrictions, Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller are allowed to run against other girls. Each of these scenarios — having their gender appropriately recognized and not — carry their own difficulties. For Mack, the wrestler, the anger from his opponents and their parents is directed more at the state than Mack 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."
In any other movie, the villains of Mack's story would be his grandparents who he lives with and raised him. His grandmother, a sheriff who self-identifies as a "hardcore Republican," shows off her gun collection when you first meet her. Still, 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.
The documentary doesn't shy away from acknowledging the larger issues that trans people face. One of the stats they point out: over 40 percent of transgender youth attempt suicide. The majority of content that reaches mainstream audiences depict the struggles of the trans experience only; to witness each athlete in Changing the Game as they're surrounded by friends and family who love them feels radical. It's a necessary and vital example to counteract the negative stories often presented as the cornerstone of what it means to be trans.
Sarah Rose Huckman, an athlete from New Hampshire, also serves to complicate the stereotypes the media feels most comfortable presenting. She loves makeup and shoes. She describes herself as boy-crazy and makes videos for YouTube, but she's also a competitive skier who, as a high schooler, meets with the school board and legal defenders to try to get the rules around trans athletes changed. To accomplish this would be a small victory in the larger fight for trans rights. In New Hampshire, just for being trans, she could still be legally fired from her job as a kid's ski instructor.
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 — as they are from serving in the military — what will be next? What Changing the Game asserts is that not only do trans people exist in communities across the country, they also deserve the right to pursue their dreams.
Changing the Game is directed by Michael Barnett and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature at Outfest in 2019. Watch the trailer below.