Documentary About Transgender Wrestler Will Screen at DIFF

Mack Wrestles will screen at DIFF.
Mack Wrestles will screen at DIFF. courtesy Mack Wrestles

“I wish I was labeled as just my name, instead of being the ‘transgender wrestler,’” says Mack Beggs in Mack Wrestles, an upcoming documentary for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.

In 2017, Beggs was the subject of much media attention after winning the Texas high school girls state wrestling championship twice. By then, Beggs had already undergone hormone replacement therapy and had taken estrogen blockers and was identifying as male. Still, the general public was divided, with some saying that competing on the girls’ team was giving him an unfair advantage. Beggs had wanted to compete on the boys’ team, but at the time, state laws held that athletes must compete on the team that corresponds with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Beggs’ situation caused a social media discourse. While some advocated for Beggs to be able to wrestle on the boys’ team, others hurled hate his way. The public outcry inspired several think pieces and articles, one of which caught the attention of directors Erin Sanger and Taylor Hess.

“I was working for a documentary company and was doing another show for ESPN,” Hess says. “I was reading ESPN.com pretty religiously, and I read an article about him that was written by Katie Barnes. I don’t know if it was Katie’s prose or just the story, but I had the story frozen at my desk. I had never directed a movie before, and that was something that I was hoping to do. I immediately knew that (Mack Wrestles) was the movie I wanted to make.”

Barnes was initially hesitant to allow Sanger and Hess to create a documentary about Beggs.

“Katie was very protective of the story; they have known Mack for years,” Hess says. “But ultimately, they thought that I was cool and that my interests were in line with theirs.”

“Katie was very protective of the story; they have known Mack for years." – Taylor Hess

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“We were incredibly excited and grateful to win the support of ESPN,” Sanger adds. “It’s great that we’re having these conversations now. If we’re able to give athletes like Mack a platform, it will ultimately create a more inclusive space.”

In Mack Wrestles, Beggs is shown with his grandparents. He describes his grandmother as “the No. 1 guardian” in his life.

When Beggs was beginning to transition, his family was supportive of him, despite the fact that the LGBTQ+ community didn’t have a large presence in Euless.

“My mother was the first to ask me, ‘Do you feel like you were born in a different body?’” Beggs recalls, “so I replied, ‘What do you mean?’ At the time, I didn’t really understand the concept of being trans. So I thought about it, and reflected on my entire life, and once I realized it, I kind of had like an ‘oh shit’ moment.”

Once Beggs came to this realization, he told his grandmother.

“It took her awhile to come to terms with it,” Beggs says, “but one day, she was like, ‘If you feel this is God’s plan, then I completely support you.'”

Apart from the support of his family, Beggs also felt that Euless Trinity High School was accepting of people of all genders, sexualities and backgrounds, and even recalls that the school was known as “the hall of flags,” as it created a welcoming environment for people from all walks of life.

Beggs began hormone replacement therapy and started taking estrogen blockers at the end of his ninth grade year. Although both his school and his family were accepting of his transition, the general public was vocal about their opposition to him wrestling on a girls’ team, citing “unfair advantages” as grounds for their objections.

“They said that I took steroids and whatnot,” Beggs says. “After a while, I realized this was going to be an ongoing thing, and I can’t just sit around and be mad about it. I just have to keep doing me and let time just kind of play its way out.”

Now, Beggs refuses to let online hate get to him.

“I just kind of brush it off now,” Beggs says. “I use it to drive me. I have a responsibility for trans athletes to give them the best representation they can get, but also to help them be OK and make sure they don’t have to go through what I went through.”

Following his time at Euless Trinity High School, Beggs began college courses at Life University in Marietta, Georgia, where he studies health science and health coaching.

Beggs, Sanger and Hess all hope that Mack Wrestles helps to initiate important conversations.

“I think there are all kinds of misunderstandings around these issues,” Hess says. “What does a trans athlete have to go through? What does any athlete have to go through, but particularly athletes who are being set up to be in a situation in which there really isn’t a space for them? I don’t hope the film answers those types of questions, but rather, elicits them.”

Mack Wrestles will screen at Dallas International Film Festival at Landmark Magnolia Theater at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 14 and 4:30 p.m. Monday, April 15. It is set to premiere on ESPN this fall.
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Alex Gonzalez has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2018. He is a Dallas native whose work has appeared in Local Profile, MTV News and the Austin American-Statesman. He has eclectic taste in music and enjoys writing about art, food and culture.
Contact: Alex Gonzalez