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People Top 5
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- September 06, 1976
- Vol. 6
- No. 10
Whether It's Richard Raskind or Renee Richards, the Question Still Is: 'Tennis, Anyone?'
But Renee isn't just any girl. A year ago she was Dr. Richard Raskind, a prominent New York ophthalmologist. Today the pinstripe and seersucker suits from Renee's old life molder in a closet at her father's Forest Hills, N.Y. home. "What am I supposed to do with these clothes?" wonders her chagrined dad. When Renee visits her father she removes her earrings. "It's tough for that old macho type," she says. "I don't want to hit him over the head with my femininity."
The operation that changed Richard into Renee took place in a private Queens, N.Y. clinic almost a year ago. "My friends and family were incredulous," she recalls. "They would say, 'Anybody but Dick Raskind—he's so successful.' " And indeed he was. A former Yale tennis captain with an M.D. from the University of Rochester, Raskind built a $75,000-a-year practice and was still a nationally ranked amateur in the men's 35-years-and-over class. He was married to a beautiful model and had fathered a son. He piloted fast sports cars and his own plane.
But he was desperately unhappy. "As a child," Renee recalls, "I would pray every night that I could be a girl. I knew then I wanted Renee as my name. It means reborn." Rebirth meant a change of place as well as a change of sex. Eight months ago Renee moved to California to begin a new life as a woman. In July she went public by entering the women's division of the 60th Annual La Jolla Tennis Championships. She beat top-seeded Robin Harris. Since then Renee has competed in the women's division at the South Orange, N.J. warm-up tourney for the U.S. Open. "I'm glad I had the opportunity to play in South Orange," she says, "so people could see I'm human."
But thus far she has been barred from the famed Open in her native Forest Hills. Asked to submit to a chromosome test—it involves scraping a few cells from the inside of the cheek—Renee has refused. "There was an element of moxie in it," she says of her decision. "Damn it, now that my private life has been put out for all the world to see, I'm going to push all the way. Ten years from now, somebody like me will win at Forest Hills." (Friends who volleyed with her before and after report that her hormone treatments and loss of 40 pounds have taken some of the steam from her game.)
Still, she is 148 pounds and 6'2" and if she makes it, she will be the Marlboro King of the Virginia Slims circuit. She is auburn-haired (dyed), long-legged and almost girlish in her manner, but she retains some of her former characteristics: her buttocks are flat, her breasts small, her shoulders and arms sinewy, and her voice is throaty. "I don't think of myself as a beauty queen," she says, "but I do feel like an attractive woman."
Renee grew up in an upper-middle-class Jewish home. "In our family," she says, "we didn't separate what was male and what was female. I played violin and football at the age of 12." Her father is an orthopedic surgeon, her mother a psychiatrist who, Renee says, comprehended her conflict before her death 16 years ago. A married sister, an internist in Oregon, has kept her kids away from the TV lately to spare them the notoriety of Aunt Renee.
In 1967 the then Dr. Raskind went to Europe and lived as a woman. A year later he returned to New York to resume his eye practice. Then in 1970, unaccountably, he married Barbara and fathered a son, Nicki, now 4. They divorced prior to the fateful operation. "It's much harder on my family than on me," Renee says, "because there was no choice as far as they were concerned. I'd lived with this my whole life."
In Newport Beach, Dr. Richards has a one-bedroom apartment facing the bay. She is a partner in private practice but on leave of absence until after Labor Day. She has a vodka martini every night before dinner and smokes a pack of cigarettes a day. Renee dates, and there is one chap she's keen on whom she won't name.
"It would have been easier to stay a man," sighs Renee. "But it was impossible. I developed an overwhelming urge to be a woman." She feels no disorientation. "When I used to miss a shot, I'd say, 'Oh, Dick.' Now," she finds, "I automatically say, 'Oh, Renee.' "
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