This engrossing and timely documentary sends a powerful message of acceptance of transgender teens by letting them and their loved ones tell their own stories. Some of their experiences will stick with viewers long after Changing the Game's end credits roll.
A key message of all three profiled teens is that being transgender isn’t a choice. Yet, depending on which state they live in, some aren't allowed to compete on the team of their gender identity, and all suffer insults and bullying, mostly from adults, when they walk away from competitions.
"I do train as hard as a man. I fight as hard as a man. I am a man. And I'm the state wrestling champion of female high school wrestling," Mack says wryly at the film's opening. "We are females, we don't have to identify as females," Andraya's transgender teammate Terry insists towards the end. Sarah admits she sometimes underperforms so as not to call attention to herself in races.
Parents, coaches, and principals open up their homes, training sessions, and baby albums to director Michael Barnett. Mack's Southern Baptist grandparents searched their Bible for help and seem to slip up regularly with pronouns, but the teen breaks down in tears when he talks about how much they've supported him. He probably wouldn't be alive today without that support, his grandma admits tearfully, a statement backed up by frightening statistics about transgender teen suicides.
Sarah's self described "conservative" dad comments that being transgender "isn't political," though people do try to "politicize" it, and his daughter courageously advocates for policy change at the state level.
This documentary also clearly advocates a side of this overtly politicized issue of allowing transgender teens the right to play on teams, and to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice. In the process, it portrays most of the critics of this policy -- parents and pundits alike -- as angry or even belligerent.
One of the most dispassionate but convincing arguments is given by Andraya's track coach, who reminds us that the ultimate goal of high school sports isn’t about who wins or loses, but what kids learn from participating. "You have to think about fairness beyond the track," he says.
Sports are about "teaching life lessons." Changing the Game wins at doing just that.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.