Swimmer Lia Thomas has revealed she wants to show “trans kids and younger trans athletes that they’re not alone”.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Thomas opened up about her experiences of transitioning and the reaction from her friends and family.
The 22-year-old became an Ivy League champion in the 500-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle last month.
Her participation in women’s events has evoked a deluge of toxic criticism, but Thomas has always met the eligibility standards set by the NCAA for women’s swimming events.
“The very simple answer is that I’m not a man,” she said. “I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team. Trans people deserve that same respect every other athlete gets.”
Thomas added: “I just want to show trans kids and younger trans athletes that they’re not alone. They don’t have to choose between who they are and the sport they love.”
In the extensive interview, Thomas revealed she started to question her identity just before starting at the University of Pennsylvania.
These feelings intensified once she started college, and Thomas came out to her family. Despite this, her feelings of dysphoria heightened during her second year in Pennsylvania.
“I was very depressed,” Thomas said. “I got to the point where I couldn’t go to school. I was missing classes.”
“My sleep schedule was super messed up. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew at that moment I needed to do something to address this.”
Thomas began taking hormone-replacement therapy in May 2019 and told her friends and teammates she was transgender. She began using her new name on January 1st, 2020.
“It’s a milestone in a very long process of transitioning where you feel like this is who I am, and I’m going to live this,” she said.
“In a way, it was sort of a rebirth, for the first time in my life, feeling fully connected to my name and who I am and living who I am. I am Lia.”
Thomas was able to compete at the Ivy Championships despite a recent change in USA Swimming and the NCAA’s regulations on transgender athletes. She is also set to swim at the NCAA Championships this month.
For Thomas, transitioning has been “an amazing and beautiful experience. . . . I’ve been reinvigorated. I’ve been swimming for 17 years, but for [only] a short part of that time have I felt fully engaged.”
“After coming out and being my authentic self, I could really start to see a future. Before I came out, I couldn’t visualise a future.”