Transgender Athlete Valerie Green Finds Home with USTA
In conjunction with Pride Month occurring each June, USTA St. Louis is highlighting Valerie Green — a transgender athlete who transitioned from male to female in 2018.
Valerie Green wasn’t convinced she’d ever get to compete in tennis again when she transitioned, both socially and medically, from male to female starting in August 2018 at the age of 54. Green — who began playing tennis as an 8-year-old when her aunts taught her and has gravitated toward the sport ever since — didn’t know whether anyone would want to hit with her post-transition.
A conversation with Pat Purcell, USTA Missouri Valley Hall of Fame player and coach, prompted Green to reach out to the USTA St. Louis district to inquire about play opportunities. Purcell told Green the USTA’s clear-cut Transgender Inclusion Policy made the organization a terrific landing spot and that she would enjoy participating in USTA’s women’s offerings.
“I called the league office and thought, ‘Well, this will be interesting. We’ll see what happens,’” Green said. “I told them I was a transgender woman. I wanted to know if there was a place for me to play in USTA here in St. Louis. And their only question to me was, ‘Do you prefer doubles or singles?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m a total singles player.’ They said, ‘Great. Teams are always looking for singles players. We’ll get back to you and have a captain contact you.’
“That was my interaction with USTA. I was both delighted and shocked. I had no idea it was going to be that easy or that my game preference would be the biggest concern from the organization.”
Shortly thereafter Beth Causey — longtime captain and USTA St. Louis president at the time — contacted Green to invite her to join Causey’s team. The two exchanged emails, with Green expressing concern individuals might complain or raise issues of fairness. Though that ultimately did come to pass with an opposing player filing a grievance at sectionals in 2019, Causey had this reply:
“She sent me an email and said: ‘You will never have to defend your position on my team. If there is ever an issue, I will take care of it,’” Green said. “I was delighted to get that email. And I just sat and cried about it when I read that.”
Green officially joined USTA in January 2019 as a self-rated 3.5 player and has participated in a litany of women’s and tri-level leagues ever since. Green — who has played at the 18+, 40+ and 55+ divisions — has since been bumped up to the 4.0 level. She typically competes in two USTA leagues at a time and often plays two matches in a day. She also plays Impact Team Tennis (formerly World TeamTennis), twice a week with a coed group at Vetta West and Gladiator Tennis (until this year).
Green said the welcomeness of her longest-running captains, Causey and Sue Blake, as well as support from teammates and opponents has made her USTA experience a positive one. Green — who called herself a “middle-of-the-road 4.0 player” and “the worst doubles player on our teams” — has about a 64 percent win rate for singles in the last 12 months. Her win percentage for doubles, meanwhile, sits in the mid-30s.
“The most important message I could give to people, especially in regard to transgender athletes, is transgender people transition because of who they are. Not because of any attempt to gain a competitive advantage in sport or in life,” Green said. “It’s hard. There is nobody who would go through all the things someone has to do just to gain a competitive edge. People transition to live their lives authentically. They compete in sports because it’s a sport they love. For me, the tennis court is my holy place. It’s where I feel whole and alive.”
Green said she’s known her entire life she was different. When she was about 11 years old, Green read an article about — perhaps not so coincidentally — tennis transgender pioneer Renée Richards. Upon learning from the article male-to-female sex realignment was possible medically and surgically, Green then knew that’s what she wanted to one day do. But life circumstances meant that would not come for another four decades.
Green was married for 34 years and has been widowed since 2016. She has five children and six grandchildren. She estimated she attended 13 different schools prior to reaching high school with her family moving so frequently. Her independent personality in part grew from all the bouncing around, and the sport of tennis was a fantastic match.
Prior to joining USTA Green’s tennis experience was almost entirely recreational, a result of the multiple relocations and Green feeling uncomfortable about joining male teams. She said the enjoyment, affordability and speed at which a match can be completed are all contributing factors as to why she’s continually drawn to the sport. With the shape of her body and weight dramatically shifting over time, tennis has offered a physical outlet Green is grateful to partake in. She's loved being part of her USTA teams, too.
“I wondered how I would mesh with teams, but the teams have been wonderful,” Green said. “I would hate to lose any member of a team. I’ve developed really good friendships. We have lots of good conversations and opportunities to exchange information. … I’ve had team members come to me because I may be the first and only transgender person they’ve ever dealt with. They have questions and want to learn some things. I come across to them as a safe person to talk to.”
Green has faced detractors, too, including when a gender grievance was filed against her by an opponent at the USTA Missouri Valley Section Championships in 2019. Mary Vassar — one of Green’s former teammates and longtime USTA St. Louis executive director — relayed to Green the challenge against her gender. So Green whipped out her driver’s license, passport, most recent lab results and a copy of USTA’s Transgender Inclusion Policy.
“Within 10 minutes, they just came back and said there is no issue here,” Green said. “Even the captain who came over felt uncomfortable doing it. ‘Well, tell her it’s fine. Not everybody understands. Especially with what they hear in the media, they’re going to have questions. Tell that captain not to worry about it. It doesn’t matter. Let’s just settle the issue and move along. Please don’t feel bad about doing what your teammate asked you to do.’”