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Transgender Pickleballer Courts Acceptance in Game She Loves

Strategy & Technique Frank Cerabino 05-01-2023

A transgender woman with aspirations of playing professional pickleball made an unusual plea on Facebook, a plea to be allowed to play.

“I’m not a professional, a scientist or a doctor,” said Sara Weiss. “And honestly I don’t care where I have to play, I just want to play. And if someone wants to make that hard on me, you can, but I’ll show up and play.”

Weiss was rattled after the Independent Council on Women’s Sports (ICONS), a group that advocates barring transgender women from competing in women’s categories of sports, singled out her participation as a woman last month in pickleball’s US Open in Naples, Florida.

ICONS identified her as a “trans-identifying male” competing as a woman in pickleball events. It elicited a lot of strong reaction.

“These men have no shame,” one poster wrote. “We have to kick them out. They will never back down. EVER. They love trampling on us.”

Weiss said it cast her in a light that was far from the truth.

“I don’t want to be a martyr for a community,” Weiss said. “If I’m being completely honest, in the LGBT community, there’s a lot of negativity, toxic negativity. And people, who say, ‘You need to bend to my will because I exist’ I don’t feel that way.

“You don’t need to bend to my will,” she continued. “My opinions are my own, and you don’t have to match them for me to be happy …

“I don’t want to fight,” she said. “I have no fight to give.”

Weiss, 35, who lives in Ontario, Canada, competed with a male partner in the 4.5 mixed doubles category at the US Open. Until the ICONS group made an issue of her participation, her male partner didn’t even know she was transgender.

“He said, ‘You should sue them for personal defamation,’” she recounted. “I said, ‘What they’re saying about my past, the gender I grew up in, is true.’

He’s like, “What!”

She didn’t win any medals at the US Open.

“I don’t know what everyone was expecting,” Weiss said. “Thor coming to kick everyone’s a– and have a big advantage? That’s not the case.”

Weiss began socially transitioning to a woman 10 years ago. For the past nine years, she has been taking hormone replacement therapy. Eight years ago, she had gender affirmation surgery.

She just started playing pickleball two years ago, and has risen steadily in skill level. She now has a 4.54 DUPR rating, and holds the title as the Canadian Women’s National Amateur Pickleball Champion.

“Pickleball lit something up in me that i haven’t felt before,” she said.  “It empowered me and told me I could do something I could enjoy.”

When she’s not playing, drilling or meditating, she’s a team director and endorser for Prolite, a pickleball paddle and equipment company. It has given her visibility that is attracting new scrutiny.

Transgender Pickleballer Courts Acceptance in Game She Loves | Pickler Pickleball

“I don’t think anyone in my position has tried to go pro,” she said. “I wish I didn’t have to become an infamous person in the middle of a crossfire.”

This new attention has made her a target of those who contend that her continued participation as a female is unfair to the biologically-born women she competes against in tournaments, potentially depriving them of medals.

Here’s how one male player put it on Weiss’ Facebook page:

“Pickleball needs a 2023 rule and fast stating that men can’t, whether transitioned or not, play in the women’s division. It needs to be done before there is empathy for individuals. Once that door is opened, the game will become a farce. Boggles my mind how women put up with this.”

Weiss responded by noting that many women have come forward to say that they’re happy to have her competing as a woman.

“Maybe because I’m a woman with no advantages other than my passion, drive and training,” she wrote. 

In her 19-minute Facebook explanation, Weiss cited her drive, not her birth gender as the secret of her success.

“I’m maybe more passionate than some other people,” she said. “That passion has driven me to do some pretty amazing things in my life and overcome some obstacles, climb a lot of mountains.

“That passion has carried me farther than any talent, skill, or biological difference that I have,” she said.

“The big one, people say, ‘What about your strength?’” she said. “I can barely squeak out 10 pushups. I don’t even think I can do one pull up, and that’s with me training at the gym.”

She does say her height (5-foot-10 ½ inches) is an advantage, but one some biological women also enjoy.

It’s her hard work on the court that is the most responsible for her quick ascent in the game, she said. But she acknowledges that her quest to play on a pro level would only be attainable if she’s allowed to continue competing as a woman.

“If I was told by professionals that I would need to play in men’s events, I would do it,” she said. “I wouldn’t go pro.

“I would have zero chance in hell of going pro, because I can’t keep up with men. But I would do it anyway,” she said.

“I just want to play the best in my category.”

But right now, she said, a lot of the people who are telling her that category shouldn’t be as a woman are doing it out of hate, ignorance or a lack of respect for who she is. 

“I’m going to rise in the rankings,” she said. “I’m going to get to the point where I’m playing in pro events, and some people aren’t going to like that.”

She has already gotten a taste of that. She lost a male doubles partner when he found out she was transgender after they had already competed in tournaments.

“He backed out because he thought he was cheating,” she said.

She said she understands those who feel that way, but she also just wants to play the game she loves and would prefer to do as the person she is.

“This isn’t about gender,” she said. “Tell me where to go and I will play. If you’re happy to have me at your courts, I will show up and I will play.”

Transgender Pickleballer Courts Acceptance in Game She Loves | Pickler Pickleball

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