By Mark Fulton | June 20, 2011

Richard Raskind had a sex change operation to become a woman, Renée Richards. Renée went on to play professional tennis, even playing in the U.S. Open, and blew everyone’s minds. This documentary does a good job of chronicling Dick/Renée’s life.

Dick’s early years are fascinating because he was such a man’s man. He intensely played tennis and energetically chased women. No one guessed how badly he wanted to be one with the opposite sex. In private, he would even dress in women’s clothes. This was an intelligent person who graduated from Yale and became an ophthalmologist. One thing communicated is what will, what inner turmoil combined with forceful passionate drive made him commit to changing his/her sex. He tried hiding it away from even himself. After a stint in the Navy he tried marriage and fathered a son. It ended after five years.

After The Big Surgery, she moved to California and in her early forties became a tennis pro. The controversy as to whether she should play in women’s tennis divided the community. Some thought she had an unfair advantage having a man’s physique. Many wanted Renée to take a chromosome test to genetically prove her sex. Others felt that if she was clinically a woman then it was okay to play at the highest level of competition. Eventually she had a decent career run; she was Martina Navratilova’s coach for a while. This section detailing her career gets a bit tedious because too many individual scores and plays are shown. Seeing how this is partially produced by ESPN, I suppose it is not too surprising.

Touching is the relationship between Renée and her son who has addiction problems. He blames his “Dad” for being extremely selfish. He/she couldn’t just keep the sex change private but had to go upon one of the world’s largest stages. The son clearly is a slave to his demons. Renée tires of the blame yet obviously worries about him.

This is a thought provoking documentary. Structurally it feels formulaic in spots. But ruminations about the nature of identity, and how drastic actions can have long lasting effects on loved ones, rise it above a typical sports documentary. Heck, how many sports films are about a transsexual?

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