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Old Oct 5th, 2011, 08:50 AM   #1
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Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment...,2557155.story

Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis
As the documentary 'Renée' comes to ESPN, its subject, famous for her legal battle to play as a woman in the U.S. Open, is busy practicing ophthalmology.





Renée Richards would prefer you didn't call her an activist.

Thirty-five years ago, Richards became an unofficial spokeswoman for the transgender movement when her legal battle to play as a woman in the U.S. Open garnered headlines across the globe. After nearly three decades of relative obscurity, Richards is now the subject of "Renée," a documentary premiering Tuesday on ESPN.

When filmmaker Eric Drath initially approached Richards about the possibility of making a film about her life, she was reluctant. "She didn't want to be the spokesperson for the transgendered world," Drath explained. "She doesn't want to be known as the 'T' in LGBT."

Now 77, Richards maintains a busy ophthalmology practice with offices in Manhattan and Westchester County, N.Y.

"That's what I lay awake at night worrying about. I don't lay awake at night worrying about transgendered people, or my tennis legacy, or anything of the sort," she said during a rare interview at ESPN's sprawling headquarters in Bristol, Conn.

In person, Richards has an intimidating presence, and not just because she's a towering 6 feet 2. Dressed in a chic, pale yellow cardigan and blue-gray blouse, she remained almost perfectly still throughout the conversation. Yet there's a precision to each of her small gestures; it is not difficult to imagine Richards performing delicate eye surgery, or lobbing a deadly serve on the tennis court.

"Renée" arrives at a fortuitous moment: Chaz Bono's stint on "Dancing With the Stars" has brought transgender issues into the mainstream in a way perhaps not seen since Richards. "There is a whole generation of young people who are confronting the same kind of issues and problems that I went through in the '60s and '70s, who don't know anything about Renée Richards," she said.

Through archival footage and interviews with her family, friends and colleagues, the film tells the story of Richards' remarkably protean life. Born Richard Raskind, she was raised in an upper-middle class Jewish family in Forest Hills, Queens. "Dick," as she was then known, was popular, athletic and distinctly masculine: In the documentary, friends describe him as "a wonderful make-out artist" and "an alpha male." Captain of the tennis team at Yale, Richards went on to medical school, served in the Navy and set up an ophthalmology practice.

Despite the outward appearance of success, Richards was in turmoil. Another entity, dubbed "Renée," was gradually conquering Dick and, in the late '60s, he began taking female hormones. Richards was "halfway to becoming Renée" when he met and fell in love with a young model. The couple married in 1970, and had a son, Nick. It was Richards' last attempt to lead a "normal" life, but it was doomed: In 1975, the couple divorced. Richards underwent gender reassignment surgery and moved to Southern California.

Richards hoped to live a quiet, anonymous life as a woman, but her competitive streak quickly got in the way. After Richards won a local tennis tournament, rumors began to swirl about her. The United States Tennis Assn. deemed that all female players had to submit to a chromosomal gender test to compete in sanctioned tournaments. Richards refused, and took her case to the New York Supreme Court.

Unwittingly, she had become a champion for the transgender cause. The media glare was intense and unforgiving; even Bob Hope cracked jokes about her on "The Tonight Show."

Though Richards describes herself as a "private person" and a reluctant activist, Drath says, "There's a duality that exists with Renée. There a desire to just be like any other woman, and then there's this need to be known and be a worldwide exhibitionist."

After five years as a coach and player, Richards returned to medicine in the early '80s. But her post-tennis personal life has not been without complications. She and her son Nick, now pushing 40, share a loving, though complicated, relationship. Nick still refers to Richards as "dad," and he is unsparingly critical of her "selfish" decision to pursue a tennis career. Yet he is also acutely sensitive to Richards' plight. In what may be the film's most incisive moment, Nick observes that his father is "at a place in between torment and happiness now."

Richards remains, at best, ambivalent about her status as a transgender pioneer. On the one hand, she doesn't regret her decision to undergo surgery any more than one might regret an emergency blood transfusion. "I didn't have a choice. I couldn't not do it," she says in "Renée."

Yet Richards also recognizes how her decision to pursue tennis forever altered the course of her life.

"It was a crossroads. I could have gone back to my office in California, and the hullabaloo would have died down. But I didn't," she said, shrugging ever so slightly.

These days, Richards does not think transsexual athletes should be allowed to compete professionally. "I don't think it's a level playing field, even though the International Olympic Committee, in its utter wisdom, has declared that it is," she explained. (Richards argues that, because she was significantly older than many of her opponents, any advantage she might have had was effectively nullified.)

Richards also bristles at the notion that, as a transgender person, she is somehow obligated to carry the torch. As she put it, "You can be Jewish without being a rabbi."

When asked about Bono and Caster Semenya, the elite South African runner who was forced to take a gender test after her unexpected victory at the 2009 World Championships, Richards speaks in dispassionate, clinical terms. "I think that Caster Semenya is a different story [from me]. She appears to have ambiguous genitalia. Chaz Bono is a transgender, but he's a kind of unique case, too, because he hasn't had sex reassignment surgery, so that's not exactly the same thing."

Given such mixed feelings about her legacy, how will Richards respond to renewed media scrutiny? Drath said that Richards, who saw the film for the first time when it premiered at this spring's Tribeca Film Festival, was pleased with the finished results — for the most part. "I asked her, 'Did you like it?' She said, 'Very much. But one thing: I can't believe my friends called me an alpha male.'"
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Old Oct 5th, 2011, 01:45 PM   #2
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

I thought the depiction of Renee by Vanessa Redgrave was excellent. Sorry, I can't remember the name of the film, just that it was a terrific performance, but then again, Vanessa Redgrave is great in even the worst films.
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Old Oct 5th, 2011, 03:05 PM   #3
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

saw this documentary last night... very poignant it was.. i also liked the actual playing footage it showed because i don't remember watching richards play that much...

sad her grown son is still confused about their relationship and his life.. but it's never too late...

i do have a question that was never answered.. and that is WHY DID richards REFUSE the chromosome test? would richards have flunked it? and if so, what does that mean then?
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Old Oct 5th, 2011, 06:32 PM   #4
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

Quote:
i do have a question that was never answered.. and that is WHY DID richards REFUSE the chromosome test? would richards have flunked it? and if so, what does that mean then?
I can't speak for Renee, and she does address the issue in both her books, but to answer your questions to the best of my knopwledge:

She did take the test at least once. One time it may have been inconclusive. If my memory is right she failed it at least one time.

So basically, yes, she would have flunked it.

The test was instituted by the WTA as a reaction (or overeaction-take your pick) to Richards attempting to play the tour. At the time there was a good amount of fear directed at Richards. Even more than that there was a fear that someone younger and stronger would come along who could be a try threat to win big events.

Most of the women on tour found she had a serve "like a man" with tremendous power. What kept her from being more of a force was her age. Richards was slow about court and lacked stamina.

For a while the test kept Renee off the tour, but she sued successfully to play in the United States. When she played Virginia Wade at the 1977 US Open she became the first person to compete in a slam as both a male and a female.

Lawsuits in Europe did not meet with success, so Richards never played Wimbledon or the French. The Italian Open accepted her entry one year and then reneged on it and demanded she take the chromosome test.

Oddly enough she also was allowed to play in many South American events. She reported being treated well there by both the press and fans. She won an event down there by beating Jeanne Evert in the finals. The highlight of her singles career came in 1979 when she made the final of an Avon event (Seattle I think)-losing to chris Evert in 3 sets.
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Old Oct 6th, 2011, 09:05 AM   #5
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

Ive always liked Renee. She has a very good tennis brain and did good work with Martina. I didnt follow tennis during this period, but Ive read a lot about what went down and always find it funny that there was a large amount of hysteria on the tour, many players were concerned that if Renee was allowed to play, that it would lead to a big influx of men going through sex change process just to become womens tennis players...hehehehe
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Old Oct 6th, 2011, 03:51 PM   #6
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

There were only three well known players who were sympathetic towards Renee Richards Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Virginia Wade.

When people asked Martina why she choose Renee as her coach she gave the only right answer: "because she is a good coach" she said. After her defeat against Kathy Horvath in Paris she fired Renee but later she came back in 1987 if I remember well.

When Martina was inducted in the Hall of Fame Renee was present she even held the speech of induction for Martina at her request and when Martina did get the Eugene Scott Award during the US Open of 2010 I saw at pictures she was there also. I think these are nice gestures of Martina or the organization who invite her.
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Old Oct 6th, 2011, 05:03 PM   #7
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

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Originally Posted by Philbo View Post
Ive always liked Renee. She has a very good tennis brain and did good work with Martina. I didnt follow tennis during this period, but Ive read a lot about what went down and always find it funny that there was a large amount of hysteria on the tour, many players were concerned that if Renee was allowed to play, that it would lead to a big influx of men going through sex change process just to become womens tennis players...hehehehe
What? You've never tried a tennis skirt? It's very liberating, especially when you trip and fall and your opponent realizes you're not wearing any underwear. Seriously, though, I've always found Renee fascinating to listen to on the rare occasion she was interviewed while in the stands at a Martina match. I can't remember too much about her playing days, because her matches weren't really featured on show courts. I can imagine the hysteria among the women, though. Think how someone with the physical capabilities and speed around the court that Roger Federer has having sexual reassignment surgery and then absolutely decimating the women's tour. She wouldn't even have to be that great. Renee's movement was very much like Mary Pierce and Maria Sharapova- long gangly loping about the court at a rather slow clip.
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Old Oct 6th, 2011, 06:37 PM   #8
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

I thought it was really well done.... definitely still thought provoking... and also, I thought it very interesting that Renee did finally say, "Looking back, I dont think I should have been allowed to play. I know I wanted to make that statement, and wanted to be given access to all things any woman would... but I realize maybe there are things you shouldn't have access to overall. And having my life as I wanted it should be enough."

I am paraphrasing but very close to the quote... she went on to say there was no doubt she had a strength advantage despite the estrogen, and that only because she was in her 40s did her advantages not become even more obvious. I mean, IN THEORY, why else would it be so that someone who couldnt at all compete with the best male players in the world could so easily dismiss some of the best women players? Albeit not top 10, but very good pro players. If it was apples to apples, that wouldnt have been the case... Instead, an 'average' man became a 'super' woman (in athletic terms)

She was warm, candidate & quite likeable. Her son.... may still yet have a very interesting life ahead, in a good way. I think he may rebound ~ I sense a cool person in there, even if really still battling this confusion at age 38. Renee was 42 when she put her life together, after all.
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Old Oct 8th, 2011, 11:45 AM   #9
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

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Originally Posted by alfajeffster View Post
I thought the depiction of Renee by Vanessa Redgrave was excellent. Sorry, I can't remember the name of the film, just that it was a terrific performance, but then again, Vanessa Redgrave is great in even the worst films.
The TV movie was called Second Serve, and Redgrave was amazing in it. I am pretty sure she was nominated for an Emmy for her performance.
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Old Oct 8th, 2011, 12:45 PM   #10
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

Second Serve was really good. In my award-filled career, I didn't win any Emmys, but one of the fags I'm usually stuck with took me to a party about a year ago. Strippers who did a sex show by the pool. One claimed to be "straight" and the other, it was huge. Quite a nice party. And hardcore porn running on a loop on a flatscreen in the bathroom. What can I say, I get invited to the best parties. But there's only so much live sex and porn Helen can handle, so I wandered about the house. The host had three Emmys for documentaries. Right there in the study. I thought about ripping one off, but Helen is not a thief. They needed to be polished, but they were the real deal. The strippers were taking bids for hand-jobs after the pool "performance" and I left. Who wants to give a hand-job to a petry dish?
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Old Oct 8th, 2011, 11:32 PM   #11
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

Quote:
Originally Posted by Helen Lawson View Post
Second Serve was really good. In my award-filled career, I didn't win any Emmys, but one of the fags I'm usually stuck with took me to a party about a year ago. Strippers who did a sex show by the pool. One claimed to be "straight" and the other, it was huge. Quite a nice party. And hardcore porn running on a loop on a flatscreen in the bathroom. What can I say, I get invited to the best parties. But there's only so much live sex and porn Helen can handle, so I wandered about the house. The host had three Emmys for documentaries. Right there in the study. I thought about ripping one off, but Helen is not a thief. They needed to be polished, but they were the real deal. The strippers were taking bids for hand-jobs after the pool "performance" and I left. Who wants to give a hand-job to a petry dish?
It was like that in Toronto. I went up with a friend a few years back and it reminded me of a cleaner, less populated Chicago, not dirty and seedy like NYC. Weird thing was, The fun clubs all had porn rolling on each floor, and the higher floors were usually reserved for the big screens and customer skin. So unlike here in the US (and Paris from what I've seen) where the dark and greasy is usually down in the dungeon.

Okay, I'm way off topic, but I haven't chatted with Aunt Hel in so long. So back to Second Serve. I always wondered about that fling Renee had in San Diego with a straight guy. I don't know, but even with sexual reassignment, wouldn't a guy know something is different?
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Old Oct 9th, 2011, 11:59 AM   #12
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

You are spot on about Toronto.

From what I've read, if you have a good surgeon, guy to gal, some gynecologists can't even tell, it's that good, about the plumbing. Renee always still looked like a guy in drag to me, though.

I know a man to woman transsexual, I see her 2-3 times a month in court and socially, I don't know her well enough to ask about dating and stuff. Like Renee, she was clearly a guy once. The femme guys have it best as they can easily pass for a woman as far as face and body.
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Old Oct 9th, 2011, 10:51 PM   #13
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

Quote:
Originally Posted by Helen Lawson View Post
You are spot on about Toronto.

From what I've read, if you have a good surgeon, guy to gal, some gynecologists can't even tell, it's that good, about the plumbing. Renee always still looked like a guy in drag to me, though.

I know a man to woman transsexual, I see her 2-3 times a month in court and socially, I don't know her well enough to ask about dating and stuff. Like Renee, she was clearly a guy once. The femme guys have it best as they can easily pass for a woman as far as face and body.
We had this woman who ran a successful consignment dress shop here in Reading. She was blonde, thin-waisted and very feminine. None of the attorneys and (even more critical) legal secretaries knew she was a transsexual. One of my mixed doubles partners was co-owner of the business with Catherine, and she told me. I was totally surprised until I took her advice and looked at her hands, which were unusually large and masculine looking for such a petite and thin little woman. She could wear fashionable dresses with the best of them, and many times looked better than girls in her shop.
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Old Oct 10th, 2011, 12:35 AM   #14
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

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Originally Posted by Pat Bateman View Post
The TV movie was called Second Serve, and Redgrave was amazing in it. I am pretty sure she was nominated for an Emmy for her performance.
Vanessa was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe . Eat your heart out Helen The movie also won 2 Emmys, one for make up and the other for hairstyling

I look forward to watching the docu
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Old Oct 10th, 2011, 05:08 AM   #15
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Re: Renée Richards' life goes beyond tennis

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Originally Posted by Wimbledon9 View Post
There were only three well known players who were sympathetic towards Renee Richards Billy Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Virginia Wade.
I am not so sure about Virginia. When I was researching 1977, I recall comments from Virginia when she was drawn to play Renee in the 1R of the US OPen, and Virginia's comments weren't particularly nice. However, perhaps Virginia came around.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wimbledon9 View Post
When people asked Martina why she choose Renee as her coach she gave the only right answer: "because she is a good coach" she said. After her defeat against Kathy Horvath in Paris she fired Renee but later she came back in 1987 if I remember well.
Did Martina fire Renee after 1983 French? Or was it Nancy L who fired her? I thought Renee resigned.
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