How are you supposed to play at the highest level when you are constantly negotiating all of your identity?
Can you name ten queer athletes at the top of their fields? Difficult, isn't it?
Maya's question makes us think about the missing conversations and lack of safe spaces for queer identity in sport. Maya Satya Reddy, a former professional golfer, is one such athlete who fell victim to the rampant discrimination and homophobia present in the United States. She also admits that being brown didn't help her cause. A three-time NCAA All-American, and strong competitor on the Symetra tour, she is recognized today as a strong LGBTQ activist who channels all her energy for queer inclusion in sports.
Golf is a very white sport. There is not a lot of space for women, women of color, or queer folks.
Maya's dedication and determination for excellence could not match up to the heightened tensions and xenophobic environment that the Trump era brought with it. As an Asian immigrant, Maya had to constantly battle hostility, which took a toll on her mental health and forced her to retire from the sport. Despite that, Maya hasn't let it deter her spirit. Ever smiling, she expresses her genuine gratitude for her mentors, trainers, community, and family support. Maya is cognizant that as part of the diaspora, she is still privileged in several ways. From accessing resources to studying law in an ivy league university, Maya has a lot to be thankful for. She pointed out how people who identify as trans are still subjected to regressive laws, face barriers to entering sports and experience traumatic violence and discrimination.
In my undergrad studies... I was surrounded by such incredible people that I was able to explore my identity.
Maya's acceptance of her identity took decades, and she took the brave decision to come out came at the age of 23. Her independent life during her undergraduate studies gave her an excellent opportunity to explore and better understand her identity. Her educational institution also proved to be a safe space for her to grow and learn.
For Maya, her goals of being a lawyer for queer rights, ensuring more queer south Asian representation in western media, enabling access to queer mental health support, and making sport inclusive as an Athlete Ally Ambassador all form crucial elements in her journey to healing. The constant mental exhaustion of defending personal rights, fending off damaging comments and actions, and realizing that multiple identities that don't fit "the norm" can force any person to cave in.
Recently, in (the) past two years, visibility of queer folks has increased within the sports.
But Maya has an infectious optimism. Her hopefulness about the future and the positive developments currently outweigh her complaints about the society she grew up in. She constantly pointed out that many queer golfers and athletes have carved a niche for themselves. She was visibly proud when she mentioned Tadd Fujikawa, the first male golfer who came out as gay. She also said Helly Davidson - the first trans woman to win a golf tournament, and many other inspiring role models. Maya sees a definite ray of hope for queer people in sports. Compared to her time playing golf professionally, queer visibility in sports has grown significantly.
You can't be what you can't see.
Despite being born in the US, Maya has a strong need to be connected to her roots. Citing the football-centric movie - Bend it Like Beckham - multiple times, Maya loved the film both for its plot and the rare representation of the South Asian community. This need to see more representation, to feel like she belongs to a community, drove Maya to form the Queer Asian Social Club. A safe space where members of the South Asian community can just come together and bond on film, sports, and everything in between. Maya also hopes that her legal career will enable her to work in Hollywood one day, an area she has previously dabbled in.
A self-proclaimed "nerd," Maya is a total movie buff and loves superhero and science-fiction movies. Her entire background was littered with merchandise and tokens. Apart from a few pleasant interruptions from her Cocker Spaniel - Cora, our conversation also highlighted Maya's love for her long-time partner, who is also invested in ensuring queer rights. A bubbly, incredibly talented, and humble person, Maya wants sports and society to become a better place so we can get closer to our authentic selves.