Finding creation in disruption

For Iszac Henig, Yale allowed him to grow into his authentic self — in his academic pursuits, his athletic achievements, and his personal life.
Iszac Henig

Iszac Henig (Photo by Anna Zhang)

In four years at Yale, Iszac Henig has excelled in a variety of roles.

An exceptional athlete on Yale’s swim team, he set multiple Ivy League and pool records and won an individual Ivy League title and All-American honors.

An outstanding student, he created a challenging course of study within his major of Earth and planetary sciences, including seeking an additional certificate in energy studies.

A dedicated leader, he served as a Communication and Consent Educator (CCE), working with other students to address issues of sexual misconduct. He also led the affinity group Supporting Student Athletes at Yale, which provides community for LGBTQ+ student-athletes.

With such a multi-faceted life on campus, as Henig once wrote, “‌being trans is one of the least interesting things about me.”

Still, even that aspect of his life has not been entirely ordinary. Given his stand-out role on the women’s swim team during his first two years at Yale, and the burgeoning national debate over trans athletes, he became the focus of national attention when he returned to Yale for his junior year as his authentic self — a man — but decided to remain with the women’s team. (He was eligible to do so because he had not yet begun a testosterone-based hormone therapy.)

But he wasn’t content to allow others to control the narrative. When he decided to move to the men’s team for his final season at Yale, he wrote an op-ed, published in The New York Times, that recentered the story. “I believe that when trans athletes win, we deserve to be celebrated just as cis athletes are,” he wrote. “We are not cheating by pursuing our true selves — we have not forsaken our legitimacy.” 

To offer such a raw and personal account might have been intimidating, but “I was very willing to do it,” he said. “I find that it's so important to bring our humanity back to the conversation.”

Iszac Henig with his Yale swimming and diving teammates

Making space

For Henig, who grew up in California, finding understanding and grace for himself took time — and a pandemic. When it became clear during his sophomore year that Ivy League competitions would need to be suspended because of COVID-19, Henig decided to take a year off to preserve two seasons of eligibility.

It was disruptive,” he said. “But disruption allows for the creation of new things.”

During that time away, he worked in renewable energy and engaged in, he said, “self-reflection and self-connection.” He returned to Yale with a new sense of balance.

I was more able to pursue the things I wanted to pursue without defining myself by them,” he said. “With swimming, I could put my heart into it without putting my ego into it, come back from the low moments and capture the high moments.”

After graduation, he plans to spend a few months with his family in California, and then hopes to find a job in environmental policy in Washington D.C.

And Henig offered advice for the matriculating class of ’27: remember that you are important not for what you’ve accomplished, but for who you are — and that being true to yourself will allow you to better connect with others. “We make space for other people by making space for ourselves.”

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