A crowd of more than 30 students and faculty gathered in Haas Gymnasium on Feb. 20, for a screening of the short documentary film “Gender Games.”
The film was co-directed by a Mills alum and Stanford University MFA digital media arts student Meg Smaker.
The event was organized by Mills’ swimming Coach Neil Virtue and sponsored by the athletics, physical education and recreation department (APER) along with the social justice resource center. The film was followed by a panel discussion.
The eight-minute film, Gender Games, focused on Gabrielle “Gabby” Ludwig and her journey to competing in women’s college basketball after having gender reassignment surgery at the age of 51.
In her introduction, Smaker said she and her co-director Veronica Lopez chose Ludwig as a subject because they were drawn to her.
“As soon as we met her, like five minutes into the conversation, I was like we have to do this movie,” Smaker said. “She was just so inspirational and so … open and genuine and as a film maker you just can’t ask for more than that.”
Ludwig’s opening line in the documentary says it all: “What I really like about this team is that they’ve only known me as a female and that’s how they see me.”
The film goes on to highlight the struggles and triumphs Ludwig has had on her journey to playing women’s basketball at Mission Hills College from juggling a full-time job, three kids and a wife, to all the legal hoops she had to jump through to be eligible to play. Former Mills Athletic Director Helen Carroll, who now works for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), was instrumental in helping Ludwig sue the college for her right to play.
According to Ludwig, there were some dark moments and some of the media coverage was very nasty and downright mean.
The coverage on ESPN’s Radio program “The Sports Report,” by hosts Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin referred to Ludwig as “she/he” and “it.”
They also said, “So you lose your testicle’s but gain eligibility,” (in the National Collegiate Athletic Association). They also discussed her “gender bending” and age saying that the age limit for college athletes should be 25. Carroll helped Ludwig sue them as well.
The movie goes on to show the close relationship Ludwig has with her team and how glad the team is to have a six-foot-seven-inch tall player.
“What’s it like to be accepted by my team? It’s like the gift of life,” Ludwig said.
The panel discussion included Ludwig, Carrol, Smaker, Lopez and one of Ludwig’s teammates, Aleahlulu Lua, who is currently a freshman at Mission Hills College.
Ludwig disclosed more about her personal life, including the fact that she is a Gulf War veteran. She said one of the hardest things she had to do on this journey was to change her birth certificate. She said she didn’t want to change it because it was as if she was erasing all the accomplishments she had made as Robert Ludwig.
“And Robert Ludwig was a great guy,” Ludwig said. “He was just an
average, hardworking guy who was all messed up in the head because the body didn’t match the spirit.”
Ludwig relayed the story of the night when one of the junior basketball teams she coaches came to watch her play. She said there were two drunk men sitting in front of the team making derogatory comments about her during the game. She got choked up remembering her little players asking her if she was “a real lady or not.” Up until then
they had never known her as any different.
“It was really hard to try and tell them about myself when they don’t even understand themselves,” Ludwig said. “They’ll remember that for the rest of their lives because two drunk guys tried to rip apart my life from the bleachers. I had to share that story with you. I know there is more bad stuff coming but there is a lost more good stuff coming as well.”
At that point Ludwig closed the evening by thanking the filmmakers for changing her life, and hoped that it changed the lives of the audience members as well.
Reactions to the evening were positive as a loud round of applause rang through Haas.
“Tonight was awesome,”
sophomore Larri Ford said. “I’m psyched because I stopped playing sports a long time ago. But to come back and you’re, like, 51 and a veteran and you just got six weeks off surgery. I have no freaking excuse. All of that just happened to you and I was complaining about being a little overweight. I have no excuse.”
Immediately after making this comment, Ford joined Ludwig, Lua and other Mills students on the Haas court for a little shooting practice.
“Gender Games” is still on the festival circuit but Smaker said it will be available online in about six to eight months.