In the Locker Room with Nora Holder, Swimmer, Author of “Happy as Her”


Photo Courtesy of Amanda Phillips

Nora Holder just completed her second season on the Swimming and Diving team.

Second-year Nora Holder is a fly and breaststroke swimmer who is working on an article series called “Happy as Her.” Through this, she hopes to share her life as a trans person. Her first article focuses on her experience as a trans athlete and is expected to be released on her personal website March 17. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What made you decide to write your article series?

I have a decent following on social media, and I’ve always talked about my experience being trans. There are a lot of things a cis person cannot understand about trans people, no matter how much I explain, but I can still speak about my experience. I always journaled and wrote to myself, and then I started taking writing courses. My professor encouraged it, and I worked on one piece to show her. She told me, “You should present these. You should publish these in some form, whether it be through a blog or a personal project.” I decided I wanted to commit to that. 

Can you describe a little bit more about your first article and how your time at Oberlin influenced that?

My first article is about being an athlete and a trans woman. While I am not medically transitioned, I’m still representing as a trans athlete, and my name is still labeled as Nora. At Oberlin, it’s been a very wonderful experience, and I write about that in the article — about how I came in very anxious and concerned that I wasn’t gonna be accepted. I don’t compete with the women’s team, but I still participate with them in our social events and am a representative with them. So it’s been a very good experience and, again, is why I’m really happy I’m a part of Oberlin Swim and Dive. 

It was very weird for me because, in general, I didn’t transition until I started at Oberlin, so there’s only one person here who knew me before my transition. Everyone’s getting this impression of me so it doesn’t feel weird, especially since Oberlin is a very queer campus, but it becomes whiplash when I go back home because I’m in the South. It’s not exactly the safest place to be, let alone be trans, with all this negative media publishing. 

What are your future articles?

There’s a very serious issue with trans fetishization I experience on a day-to-day basis. I thought it would be important to write on that, but it’s going to be various things that some people are afraid to speak on. There are also just general everyday lifestyle things, like what I do to learn makeup, how I dress, general things that are just a serious point of my life that I never share.

What kind of challenges have you faced as a trans athlete?

I’m not medically transitioned, but on deck I still just appear normal beyond my makeup that I’ll wear. I can still hear these comments though. For instance, when we went to conference, one of my teammates heard very transphobic comments being made by an athlete. It wasn’t directly at me, but it still impacted me. And of course, with trans swimmers, everyone heard about Lia Thomas and would come to me and say, “What’s your opinion on this?” It was extremely mentally taxing to constantly hear how demonized I was gonna be when I started publicly transitioning.

It’s the whole reason I haven’t started hormones, and I write about that and how it’s so mentally jarring to me. Even though I’m not on hormones, I’m not a “threat,” it still mentally impacts me even now. You heard about Lia Thomas 24/7 last year, and it sucks to see the difference in responses over time because in 2016, North Carolina pushed a very transphobic bathroom bill, and everything pulled out, including the NCAA and filming for the show Outer Banks. And here we are in 2023 with even worse bills being pushed, and we’re not seeing pullouts or anything. We’re just seeing, if anything, a lack of acknowledgement. It’s bleak, unfortunately, and that’s why I wanted to write about it because no one actually asks trans athletes how they feel about this stuff. They just take it from some cis straight dude who didn’t care about women’s sports until two weeks ago. 

What do you want people, whether they’re trans or cis, to take away from your articles? 

It’s essentially closure with other trans people to know that they’re not alone. I remember when I started transitioning, I felt extremely lucky, and I slowly started meeting more and more trans people who are like me and experience crazy things. One of the articles is going to be me meeting all these trans people. I met this trans woman who is a retired school teacher. She’s 80 now, and she started her transition when she was 40. It was just this whole sense of seeing someone that had lived their life and was happy.

I’m only speaking from my own experiences. But for cis people, I want them to come into the articles with a sense that they’re not gonna fully understand a trans person. I can’t understand what it feels like to be cis, but there is an extent where you can read up on people’s experiences and at least acknowledge that they’re real. The problem I see with social media is a lot of cis people just want to dunk on transphobic legislators. The main goal of my articles is for people to read up on a few of my experiences and realize that instead of just going to dunk on transphobes, they should reach out, be supportive, and check in on their trans friends when all of this stuff has been happening. 

Hopefully, the goal is to change people’s perspectives. No trans people are actually reporting on these feelings outside of trans communities. If I can reach out to even one or two people who are transphobic and it changes their mind, I think that’ll make me content with what I’ve done.