Transsexual pioneer Renee Richards regrets fame

NEW YORK Sun Feb 18, 2007 12:07pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - As Renee Richards, the world's most famous transsexual athlete, looks back on her life, she has one regret -- the fame she attained.

Richards, who was born Richard Raskind, had managed to create a new life for herself as a woman after a sex change operation in 1975 but a year later made a decision that was to have an even greater impact.

She decided to take the United States Tennis Association to court for banning her from playing in women's events at the U.S. Open as she was a transsexual -- and she won, winning headlines globally as a pioneer for transsexual rights.

Richards, now 72 and without a partner, said she does not regret the sex change operation at the age of 40 -- although she might have liked to have gone through the process a bit earlier -- but she does have misgivings about her notoriety.

"I made the fateful decision to go and fight the legal battle to be able to play as a woman and stay in the public eye and become this symbol," Richards, an ophthalmologist, told Reuters in an interview in her Manhattan offices.

"I could have gone back to my office and just carried on with my life and the notoriety would have died down. I would have been able to resume the semblance of a normal life. I could have lived a more private life but I chose not to.

"I have misgivings about that. I am nostalgic about what would have happened if I had done it the other way," said the 6-foot-2-inch tall Richards with an unmistakable air of sadness as she folds her man-sized hands in her lap.

Richards went on to play tennis professionally until 1981 then coached Martina Navratilova for two years before returning to the practice of ophthalmology.

FLEETING FAME

Fame came at a cost for Richards, who as Richard Raskind graduated from Yale, served in the Navy, become a prominent ophthalmologist and internationally known amateur tennis player. Raskind also married and fathered a son, Nick.

Her son, who is now 34 and still refers to her as "Dad" in private, attended many schools and struggled academically. He bounced between jobs before finally settling into a career as a real estate broker specializing in New York lofts.

"I am sure that had a lot to do with the chaos I went through in his childhood," said Richards, who refers to her son as "the apple of my eye."

Although Richards' mother died before her sex change operation, her father refused to acknowledge her sex change, and her sister still denies Richards' existence to friends.

Richards' former wife, who remarried and had another son, only talks to her when they need to discuss their son.

"We don't have a friendship," said Richards.

Forming relationships with men has proved difficult since she gained such notoriety, with Richards only having a couple of long-term boyfriends.

"With my first romances, they didn't know who I was but then I was found out," she said.

"You have to be a pretty strong character to have a relationship with someone who has been a man originally, and famous. I haven't had any romance in a number of years."

Richards, who spends her time between her home in upstate New York and a Manhattan apartment she shares with her son, found fame was also fleeting.

In the mid-1970s and when her memoir, "Second Serve: The Renee Richards Story," came out in 1983, was treated as an curiosity and besieged by television chat shows.

But with the release this month of her second memoir, "No Way Renee, The Second Half of My Notorious Life," few came knocking and television showed no interest.

"It is annoying to me," said Richards. "I'm so ordinary now; they're not interested. There's lots about transsexuals now."

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