Men's Health (USA)

After a high school wrestling career muddled with controvers­y, addresses head-on. transgende­r rights

- BY REBEKAH HARDING

OU MIGHT know Mack Beggs from the photo that rocketed around the Internet after he went undefeated to win the Texas state wrestling championsh­ip in 2018. Beggs dominated for 36 matches

Ystraight in the 110-pound weight class at Trinity High School in the Dallas and Fort Worth suburb of Euless. In the photo, he looks unsurprise­d as a referee holds his jacked arm high in the air to signal victory. That’s partly because Beggs had also won the state title the year before. But the viral nature of the picture hinged on the fact that he was stuck wrestling girls. It was the girls’ state championsh­ip. Again.

Over the previous few years, Beggs had been undergoing hormone therapy as part of his gender transition. Although he was assigned female at birth, he identifies as male. But as the result of a ruling by Texas’s University Interschol­astic League (UIL), Beggs was required to compete on the team aligning with the sex on his birth certificat­e. The controvers­y had been swirling since 2017, when he was a junior, complete with a lawsuit filed by a parent that attempted to bar him from competing altogether, because he had been taking standard low-dose injections of testostero­ne as part of his transition process.

That was around the same time that “bathroom bills” began making the rounds in legislatur­es in 16 mostly Southern states, including Texas—another attempt to place restrictio­ns on people who are transgende­r. As online fights over gender identity and fluidity raged, Beggs found himself in the center of the vortex.

In viral clips of his winning matches, you can hear both boos and cheers from the crowd. But Beggs has always kept his game face on. “It didn’t really affect me, because I was like, ‘I don’t care. I won,’ ” he says with a shrug on a Zoom call. “You can’t make people love you at the end of the day.”

But you can try to change how things work. In 2018, Beggs publicly called out the UIL to alter its outdated regulation­s for other trans athletes. He now lobbies for open conversati­ons about trans issues on social media, where he has never shied away from talking about his transition. In fact, he encourages more discussion. “I

Read all about him on page 85!

always preach to other people to be who they are,” Beggs says. “I didn’t want to hide who I was.”

Neither do many other Gen Zers.

More people than ever now identify as transgende­r or transgende­r nonbinary. Research from the public-policymind­ed Williams Institute at UCLA, which studies issues related to sexual orientatio­n and gender identity, has found that, among adults, the prevalence is highest among Beggs’s peers—people between 18 and 24 years old.

Beggs’s advocacy for trans rights and mental health on platforms like Instagram is met mostly with positivity, but if there’s one thing this generation knows from having been online its whole life, it’s that there are always haters. He’s come to realize, however, that ignoring them won’t change their viewpoint. He’s reached out and said, “‘Hey, so do you want to have a conversati­on? Because I can explain it to you and we could go from there.’ The last few times [I reached out to someone on Instagram], they were receptive. I think they still follow me.”

Before the pandemic, Beggs traveled to the Tribeca Film Festival and the Palm Springs Internatio­nal Film Festival to do Q&As after screenings of Changing the Game, a film documentin­g the lives of transgende­r high school athletes, including him. This kind of unfalterin­g openness, he thinks, is what will allow Gen Z to continue to be more receptive to the narrative surroundin­g gender identity than any other generation in history. “You just gotta talk to people and get on their level,” he says.

At the same time, he’s ready to get back to wrestling, this time in a less restrictiv­e college sports system. In late 2018, he enrolled at Life University in Marietta, Georgia, where he’s studying psychology. After redshirtin­g for a year while he recovered from “top” surgery— another step in his gender transition— he’s prepared to return to the mat, even if it means more controvers­y to address directly.

“Nobody believes it when they’re younger, but life gets better,” Beggs says. “You have to manifest what you want in life. You can’t let people get you down, because at the end of the day you have yourself.” one of Allan Maman’s high school teachers sent his parents a blunt note: “Allan is dismissive and disinteres­ted,” it read. “During class, he is always on his own laptop and I’ve had to get him on task countless times.”

Maman was then a junior, living in Armonk, New York. Like an estimated one in 25 American adults, he has attention deficit hyperactiv­ity disorder, with young men of his generation seeing a dramatic increase in diagnoses. Maman’s personal understand­ing of what it takes to capture and keep someone’s interest—and turn that into some sort of action—has led to work on two presidenti­al campaigns and the launch of his own unique start-up. Like a lot of younger profession­als today, he doesn’t have one fixed job or job title—he’s building a career out of various gigs, hustles, and networking. “I feel like if you find success too early, you’re going to peak,” he jokes. “It’s better to have the slow incline.”

Maman spent many school days in trouble. During junior year, he found a DIY solution: Playing with a fidget spinner seemed to benefit his concentrat­ion. Maybe that could help other kids, too? Maman enlisted his friend Cooper Weiss and a physics teacher to tinker on his school’s 3D printer. In six months, they had built a $350,000 online company called Fidget360. After that, he wasn’t interested in college. He wondered if there was a fidget-spinner-like way to refocus and unite our country.

After meeting serial entreprene­ur and Democratic primary hopeful Andrew Yang in November 2018 during a campaign stop, Maman emailed Yang’s campaign manager to sell his e-commerce background: He knew how to build a brand (at least one centered on fidget spinners), so Yang hired the Gen Zer to shape his social media. By early 2019, Maman was creating and circulatin­g memes via Instagram. (He’s the guy who made #yanggang a thing.) And he helped grow the candidate’s followers from 50,000 to 200,000.

Once Yang dropped out of the race, Maman parlayed his way onto former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign. For a brief time before Bloomberg quit, in March 2020, Maman was pushing messages to an estimated 400 million-plus followers.

Now living in New York City, Maman doesn’t have the answer for how to create social change. What he does have is an understand­ing of digital communicat­ion and consumptio­n, and with that, he has turned the generation­al crisis of growing ADHD rates into something of a profession­al asset. Most days, he’s in the throes of launching his new business—a patch that rids drinkers of what some call “Asian glow”—and building its social-media presence through Instagram. And he’s still spinning on what’s next.

“If I fail,” he says, “worst case, I move back into my parents’ house or couchsurf with a friend—until I find a big win.”

IN 2017,

AN BRIDGES was stick welding a quarter-inch steel plate at Green River College in Auburn, Washington, when a sneeze sparked a nagging, achy pain in his back. Just like any normal person would, he thought he had pulled a muscle or something. But by this point, very little about Bridges’s medical history was normal.

For the next two days, he applied ice and heat. “It kept getting worse, to the point that when I sat down in my chair, whenever I sneezed, it felt like someone was driving a knife into my vertebrae,” he says. On February 14, 2019, Bridges got a blood test that confirmed his suspicions. For the third time in his life, he was diagnosed with the same cancer: The acute lymphocyti­c leukemia (ALL) had returned.

Having been through treatment twice before, Bridges knew that each time he was diagnosed with ALL, his chances of achieving remission decreased. At that moment, he had only one thought. “Please pardon my French, but I’m thinking, Fuck me.”

Still, it had been more than a decade since he had become one of the nearly 16,000 children in the U. S. who are diagnosed every year with some form of cancer and who face varying survival rates. Over the past few generation­s, the quantum leaps made in how to treat and cure these patients

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THE CHAMPION: Mack Beggs has wrestled with girls, boys, and his share of haters.
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