Transgender athlete Mia Fedra made waves in professional tennis: “I faced opponents who did not want me competing against women”

For a while, this constant challenge beat me down, but the claims that I had greater strength, or some special advantage left me shaking my head. I have had a very delicate stature from a young age. In fact, in high school, I had to stop playing tennis because the men fiercely overpowered me.

  • 6 months ago
  • October 20, 2023
7 min read
Mia Fedra posing at a Tennis Court | Photo Courtesy Mia Fedra Mia Fedra posing at a Tennis Court | Photo Courtesy Mia Fedra
Interview Subject
Mia Fedra, a trailblazing figure in tennis, excelled as a female player, ranking 25th nationally. In the past seven years, she transitioned and competes as a woman, becoming Argentina’s first transgender professional tennis player, making history in the sport. Mia’s journey reflects her determination and inspires many.
background information
For over a decade, in Argentina, hundreds of individuals have been able to change their gender on their ID cards simply by expressing their will. With this precedent, the sports arena has gradually adapted, with tennis leading the way in gender inclusion.

Internationally, the Olympic Committee has delegated to each Federation the authority to develop their own eligibility criteria based on sport-specific research. In tennis, in addition to existing laws, there have been local, national, and global pioneers in this regard.
Nevertheless, discussions surrounding the issue of transgender identity and sports have been stirring athletes and federations in various sports worldwide for many years. While there is still a long road ahead, there is no doubt that this represents significant progress within the world of sports.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — When the Argentine government unanimously passed the Gender Identity Law in May of 2012 allowing transgender people to be recognized according to their gender identity a great happiness flooded through me. With my female identification in hand, I returned to my childhood love of tennis and began competing in the circuit.

Very quickly, I became a professional player in the Argentine Tennis Association and ascended to second place in the national rankings for women players. Becoming the first transgender woman in my country to play professional tennis solidified my place in history, and today I am ranked third in Argentina’s senior division.

Read more stories from Orato’s Sex & Gender category.

Taking my place as a trans woman in professional tennis was not without controversy

Being legally recognized by my government as a woman meant everything to me. While the Argentine Tennis Association created no obstacles, I still faced fierce rivals along the way. As I traveled to compete in my sport, loud voices shouted in dissent. I faced opponents who did not want me competing against women.

Starting out, I entered tournaments to get a sense of the field. Some rivals complained and argued; they felt I did not belong. They asserted that transgender women had an advantage over cisgender athletes, an argument that often erupts at the highest level of competition like the Olympics. Yet here I was, an amateur professional, facing the same tidal wave of dissent that international professional athletes face.

For a while, this constant challenge beat me down, but the claims that I had greater strength, or some special advantage left me shaking my head. I have had a very delicate stature from a young age. In fact, in high school, I had to stop playing tennis because the men fiercely overpowered me. “Are these women afraid of strong competition,” I wondered.

I do not know any other transgender women playing tennis, so I can only speak from my experience. I believe there should be no barriers. When I chose this path, I put my hand in the fire. I didn’t do it because I wanted to burn, but I faced that heat. Though my country and my association recognized me as a woman, I faced a psychological battle in the form of judgement, and I persevered.

How it all began: gathering tennis balls behind the fence

At the age of seven, I would sneak behind the fence at the nearby tennis courts and steal the stray balls left behind. The echo of the tennis balls hitting the rackets and the aroma of brick dust awakened something in me. Around that time, my father got me a paddle and painted the Little Mermaid on it. I adored this treasured gift, and I turned it into a racket. The sidewalk in our neighborhood became my court and in time, I set my sights on youth tournaments.

Every day after school, I trained at Club Village in Adrogué but things grew difficult for me. My small frame and delicate movements far differed from the male tennis players. Kids began to discriminate against me, and I changed schools several times as a result. By the age of 16, I had suffered so much, I simply stopped caring. The taunting continued, but I focused on my own life, and the tennis court served as my refuge.

Throughout my youth, I wanted to be a woman. So, after my high school graduation at 17 years old, I gave up tennis, adopted the name Mia, and began my gender transition. While my family supported me unconditionally, my father became melancholy for a time, and my mother worried. She knew many trans women faced job discrimination, trauma, and financial insecurity. As a result, they often turned to prostitution. My mother wanted a better life for me.

Leaving home and seeing first-hand the real challenges trans women face

With my transition underway, I left home at 18 years old and abandoned my love for tennis for 10 long years. It seemed unimaginable at that time for a trans women to play other females. Yet, my hormonal treatments further prevented me from playing against men.

While I took up bowling to fill the hole, I also found myself hitting a rock bottom. Wrapped up in nightlife, I found myself experimenting with drugs and falling deeper and deeper into darkness. As things spiraled out of control, I recognized myself getting sick. With no future plan, my behavior was limiting me, so I made a change and once again, tennis offered a solution.

I still carried a male identification, but I took a chance and signed up to train as a tennis teacher. I presented female and I felt embarrassed to be called by my birth name. I asked my instructor to use my last name and his willingness kicked off my love for tennis once again. When Argentina finally passed the Gender Identity Law and I had my legal documents, tennis began to transform from a hobby to a professional outlet.

The change in law in my country forever changed my life. Things became fairer and I felt as though I could finally express myself and fully integrate into society. Ten years has passed and the discrimination I faced from opponents when I reentered tennis as a professional has faded away. Yet, it left something inside of me. I feel a great responsibility to speak out for people like me.

The life expectancy for trans people in Latin America is 35 years old: we have work to do

When I look back at my childhood, I do not see a boy wishing to be a girl. I remember myself as a girl; I have always been her. We face a historical moment in society. For the first time, people can more openly embrace the gender they identify with, yet we have work to do. I am a woman with a story who can speak out now. Having faced violence and discrimination, I can say that it should never be allowed, under any circumstance.

Still, I have to be very deliberate in how I choose my words. [According to the International Rescue Committee] the life expectancy of trans people in Latin America is 35 years old due to hate crimes and suicide. When a trans person cannot obtain employment, remains excluded from society, has no roof over their head, and struggles to eat, how can they possibly imagine themselves active in sports? We must first focus on workforce inclusion if we are to change these statistics.

I made my own way in sports; nobody gave me anything. I fought for my life with all my strength and my wounds are a part of me. Today I appreciate the small things: putting on my socks and sneakers before going to my match, picking the racket up in my hand, stepping on that hard ground, and smelling the brick dust lingering in the air – just like when I was a little girl.

Today, I vibrate with the rhythm of the balls hitting the racket in time with the beat of my heart. The wind in my face gives me oxygen as I move the racket from hand to hand. I speak now, to give visibility to my collective community, and I feel proud of that. There is a future for us.

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