By: Renee Richards
Source: Richards, Renee. Second Serve. New York: Stein and Day, 1983.
About the Author: Richard Raskind, a naval officer, eye surgeon, and professional tennis player, sought gender reassignment surgery in 1975 at the age of forty. As a woman he chose the name Renee Richards, reestablished his medical practice in a different state, and went on to play professional women's tennis and coach players such as Martina Navratilova.
Richard Raskind, born in 1934, was the captain of his tennis team at Yale and went on to become a nationally ranked tennis player on the men's tennis circuit in the 1950s and early 1960s. An opthalmologist by training, Raskind served as an officer in the Navy, followed a traditional medical career path, and spent much of his first forty-one years in conflict about his gender identity.
Raskind, a male heterosexual by birth, felt compelled to become a female heterosexual. From the age of six Raskind felt different from other little boys, and as he hit puberty his gender identity confusion only deepened. In the 1950s in the United States, social sexual norms involved a strict dichotomy between male and female; in many states homosexual acts were criminal, and transsexuality was virtually unheard of. In 1952, American Christine Jorgensen became the first known American to undergo gender reassignment surgery, in Denmark. Her case made national headlines and was the first introduction to the concept of transsexuality for most Americans. Raskind came of age during this time, secretly cross-dressed, and finally pursued treatments to change his gender. In the meantime, he lived a very conventional, successful life as a tennis player and accomplished eye surgeon.
In the late 1960s, Raskind used hormones to grow breasts and change his figure and appearance to be more feminine. He traveled to Europe for a complete sex change operation but stopped himself on the day of the surgery, unsure of his decision. He returned to the U.S., altered his appearance to resume life as a man, married a woman, and had a child. He also drank heavily and dealt with a wide range of psychological problems, which he detailed in his autobiography. In 1975, at the age of forty one, Richard Raskind underwent genital reassignment surgery and became Renee Richards, an alter-ego he had invented during his childhood and adolescence.
It was as if someone had slipped me a mood-elevating drug. The world seemed less antagonistic, more supportive; I had a sense of lightness as I moved through it. Dick had always been a presence of great density; many people found him aloof, superior. The burgeoning Renee found herself less inclined to isolation, more interested in the people around her. I suddenly began to feel more personally about people who had heretofore been defined primarily by my formal relations with them. So-and-so was my nurse. So-and-so was my anesthesiologist. My efforts in their behalf (and often I bent over backward) were in the line of duty. I went to the captain's mast to speak up for my corpsmen, not out of humanitarian feeling but because it was my duty; it was dictated by an abstract code of fair play. They did for me, and in return I did for them. It was all very civilized but, at the same time, distant. As treatment progressed, I found myself more and more interested in personal details. In some instances my friendships began to alter. One doctor and his wife who had been longtime associates of mine noticed a peculiar shift in my orientation. For most of our relationship I had treated the wife as a tolerable but fairly uninteresting part of the duo. Her conversation centered primarily around the kids and the intricacies of homemaking. I preferred to discuss medicine and tennis strategies with her husband rather than commiserate with her over her son's inability to master a two-wheeled bike. Slowly though I began to find myself more able to be concerned with the homey details of housewifery. If the husband left the room to go to the bathroom, on his return he might find me gone. Looked for, I could be found in the kitchen watching his wife do the dishes and savoring her chatty resume of the day's events. I know that they discussed this between themselves. She was impressed with how much more human I had become. He thought maybe I was planning a seduction. Years later they finally understood.
Richards discusses her struggles to get medical doctors to approve her gender reassignment surgery; gender identity disorder is considered by many medical professionals to be a psychiatric disorder rather than a medical condition requiring hormonal and surgical treatment. After arguing with psychiatrists and surgeons, Raskind/Richards completed the transformation and attempted to get on with her new life.
An avid tennis player as Richard Raskind, Renee Richards wished to continue to play. On August 27, 1976, Renee Richards was barred from competing as a woman in the U.S. Tennis Open on the grounds that she would fail a chromosome test and therefore could not qualify as a woman. The story made the front page of newspapers worldwide; the U.S. Tennis Association expressed concerns that if Richards were permitted to play, it would open professional sports to male athletes who would change genders simply to gain a competitive advantage.
Richards sued for the right to play, and in 1977 the New York state Supreme Court found in Richards' favor. On the court, Richards lost her first round, but in later years won a title, coached Martina Navratilova for two years, and retired from tennis in 1981.
A 1986 television movie titled Second Serve and starring Vanessa Redgrave as Raskind/Richards brought Richards back into the spotlight briefly. In a 1999 interview, Richards expressed some ambiguity concerning the gender reassignment: "As far as being fulfilled as a woman, I'm not as fulfilled as I dreamed of being. I get a lot of letters from people who are con-sidering having this operation … I say that you'd better get on Prozac or any other medication available, or get locked up or do whatever it takes to keep you from being allowed to do something like it."
A 2004 decision by the International Olympic Committee to permit transsexuals to compete in the Olympics cleared the way for transsexuals to compete in categories based on their gender reassignment rather than their chromosomes. Renee Richards, now a respected pediatric opthalmologist in New York City, publicly questioned the decision, citing concern that transsexuals should be considered on a case-by-case basis rather than opening Olympic sports to potential fraud.
Lev, Arlene Ister. Transgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working with Gender-Variant People and their Families. New York: Haworth Press, 2004.
Levit, Nancy. The Gender Line: Men, Women, and the Law. New York: New York University Press, 1998.
Pfafflin, Friedemann, and Astrid Junge. "Sex Reassignment: Thirty Years of International Follow-up: A Comprehensive Review, 1961–1991." International Journal of Transgenderism (1998).
Shmerler, Cindy. "Regrets, She's Had a Few." Tennis 35, 2 (March 1999).