After returning to New York, Richards married a model in 1970 and fathered a son. "The marriage was a kind of backlash thing," she says. "My wife and I were narcissistic mirror images of one another." Shortly after their divorce last year, Richards underwent the sex-reassignment operation in New York and, after a month of convalescence, returned to her practice. By day, wearing a wig and a suit, she was Richard Raskind, by night Renee Richards. "It was not easy," she says. "Not easy."
Discarding her past, Richards moved to Newport Beach, Calif. in February, joined the John Wayne Tennis Club and settled into a new life. Things went smoothly until some tennis friends encouraged her to enter a tournament in La Jolla. After she won easily, a local newscaster checked out reports that a "mannish" woman had invaded the tournament, and a call to the University of Rochester blew her cover. Richards recalls, "I said to myself, 'O.K., now damn it, they're putting my private life out in the street. I'm going to pursue every right I possess to prove I'm a woman and a tennis player.' "
And so she did. Inspired by the letters she began receiving from transsexuals, she mounted a crusade for "all ostracized persons." While the WTA did not ban Richards from the Tennis Week Open, it withdrew its sanction and encouraged its players to stage a walkout lest their participation be interpreted as approval in the event of a lawsuit. Tournament Director Scott, who as a lawyer had gotten "gynecological certification" that Richards is a woman, scoffs, "The women players are always talking about sex discrimination but when it comes to a real issue they run and hide. If we followed them we'd still be reading by candlelight."
Though Richards says that she will take legal action only as a last resort, passage of the Equal Rights Amendment may do the job for her. In fact, new developments in sex research also threaten the validity of the chromosome test used by the USTA as well as in the Olympics. "We're finding that sex determination is a lot more complicated than we thought," says John Anderson, the U.S. Olympic doctor.
What these developments bode for the future of sports is anybody's guess. Short of holding a Transsexual Open, Dr. John Money of the Gender Identity Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medical Center goes so far as to suggest, "We may be fast approaching a time when women's tennis as well as other sports will have to be divided into weight classes, just as in boxing and wrestling."
For the moment, though, Renee Richards is in a class by herself. Before returning to Newport Beach last week, she avowed, "I'm going to keep playing in as many major tournaments as I can, including the Australian Open in December. But regardless of how I do, I know that I've already made my point. I've won that game and now I can go home a happy woman."