Late last month, when I stayed up into the wee hours of the night watching Victoria Azarenka battle out Li Na for the Finals of the Australia Open Women’s Singles Title, I couldn’t help but notice I was feeling sympathy towards Azarenka.
Although an overwhelming majority of fans in the stadium were cheering against her, she somehow steadied her nerves, composed herself after falling down one set to love, and battled back into a hard fought, gut wrenching, tear jerking victory. Before she had won, I already predicted and felt deep down inside that she was going to cry when she won.
And these tears wouldn’t be the same category of tears from a traditional victory.
I have been watching and playing tennis for over 25 years and I have never seen such a hostile crowd against any player. The hostility started when Azarenka took a medical timeout in the semi-finals against Sloane Stephens, when, during the third set, Azarenka tightened up and blew several match points. She then proceeded to take a medical timeout, which was seen under public scrutiny, as executed with questionable character, and the media ended up thrashing her globally all over the tabloids and news conferences.
During the finals, she was heckled throughout the entire match, and even when she missed something as routine as a first serve, there would be obvious applause against her. The odds were overwhelmingly in favor of Li Na, and very few people gave Azarenka a chance to win. Yet upon winning, she completely redefined herself, salvaged her dignity, showed the world her courage, and forced the public to self scrutinize. She planted cognitive dissonance in everyone’s psyche.
And what set this victory apart wasn’t just that she beat the odds; what was more impressive was her beating the public perception, of forcing them into acknowledging that an individual’s strength, when tested under such duress, can prevail, and upon doing so, earns back the respect temporarily lost, despite looking so seemingly unlikely prior to the match starting.
Now I’m not saying the medical timeout will be forgotten. Certain blemishes take time for the public eye to forget. What I am discussing here is the strength an individual, all individuals, possess, and when properly channeled and utilized, can provide massively uplifting effects that allow us to beat the odds, whatever the challenge.
Azarenka proved that strength, courage, and character can overcome overwhelming negative judgments, stereotypes, and earn back the respect of the public eye and her peers. Moreover, a victory of this magnitude showed it can even earn sympathy from the fans, forcing the public to momentarily contemplate self reflection, and wrestle with their own shame. It forced the mob mentality to break down, and individuals could be seen feeling sorry for her, and feeling sorry for what they had done. Raw human emotions surfaced, and were there for the world to see. That we all share the same struggles and feel the same things, no matter what side we stand on, no matter what perceived team we root for, that we still share a common human bond that runs deeper than divisive nuances such as competition.
Despite all the drama that ensued during the match, I truly felt and noticed that this lesson, this aspect of the match, was lost upon the majority of the general viewers’ eyes, and missed by the public as a whole.
So why is this topic on a TRANSGENDER blog?
Because Azarenka winning paralleled our struggles as transgender people. Azarenka was the underdog the entire time, yet she took the public by storm by winning back the hearts of millions by sustaining, believing in herself, trusting her strengths, and overcoming odds.
Because this completely relates to how we are judged everyday by people who don’t understand our background, our intent, and who we are as people. It even includes those examples of people who feel being GLBT is a choice. And despite all the odds, we live courageously and present as ourselves in the real world. Some of us are luckier than others and pass easier in the public eye. But it’s hard for all of us who identify as “gender non-conforming.”
And our plight lasts much longer than a fortnight, much longer than a tennis tournament. Our plight is lifelong, pre and post transition. The struggles merely shift but they are always there.
But I think we can all learn from Azarenka’s display of courage, tenacity, and belief in herself. By being proud of who we are, we face the challenges that are cast by society with strength, dignity, and courage, and we can trigger the much needed self reflection society needs to experience in order for civil and social rights to change in our favor. Through embracing ourselves and staying strong, we can plant seeds of change.
And that is what made Victoria Azarenka’s victory so inspiring, moving, and touching for me.