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now it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur. imagine having an extraordinary sporting talent but finding yourself traumatised by the realities of elite level competition. imagine being defined by your gender and physicality in ways that crushed your own sense of yourself. add to that a prolonged battle with alcohol and drugs and you have the pain filled early life of my guest today, olympic swimmer turned artist, model and now writer, casey legler. what did it take to emerge from the darkness? casey
legler, welcome to hardtalk. thanks for having me. you come here having just written a rather extraordinary memoir of your early life, the first 21 yea rs memoir of your early life, the first 21 years or so of your life. it is raw, it is full of pain and it exposes some of the very dark places in your own life. how hard was it to write? arm, first ijust want in your own life. how hard was it to write? arm, first i just want to say that it's great to be here. i told you before we started that i'm a huge fan but my wife is a massive fan and i've done, i've done, you
know, vogue covers, features, and this is what we've been most excited about so thanks for having us.|j grew up watching. it's great having you here but i fear some of what we talk about is going to be quite tough. yeah, and i knew that coming in which is one of the reasons why i agreed to it because i do ask a lot of my reader. five years ago, i truly sat down and decided to write this short memoir about growing up in girlhood as a young olympian, as a young addict in the 90s, and what that was like for me. let's look back at the ten—year—old casey legler, raised primarily in france. although your parents were american, your dad was a professional sportsman, he was a basketball player. and by the age of ten, 11, 12, it was clear that your body,
your physique was pretty remarkable for a your physique was pretty remarkable fora girl. your physique was pretty remarkable for a girl. you'd grown to be six foot tall, you had extraordinarily long limbs, big hands and feet and clearly, your dad in particular who isa clearly, your dad in particular who is a sportsman, could see that you might have gifts as an athlete. do you think, in a sense, your body defined what happened next?|j you think, in a sense, your body defined what happened next? i think so. defined what happened next? i think so. so i was 12 and six foot two, which is 1.85 metres. and certainly when i showed up on the pool deck when i showed up on the pool deck when i showed up on the pool deck when i was 12, and i talk about it, and it was one of the first times that i understood this that perhaps my best interest wasn't exactly what was being considered. you are sort of being commodified. he was assessing you as a potential asset. absolutely. and that of course was a physicaljudgement because you had
all the attributes that a great swimmer would need. true. and as it turned out, when you started... i was very good. you happened to be really, really good. and reading the book, and this is where we get to the rawness and the pain, it is quite clear that very early on from this sort of elite swimming activity, you were desperately unhappy. he felt completely disconnected, in a sense, from the activity of becoming a great swimmer. ex- mac you felt. i hated swimming, which is such a weird —— you felt. i hated swimming, which is a weird thing to say because i excelled. i became an olympian and after i quit swimming, one of my mentors and i would often talk —— about myself as an accidental athlete and after hearing myself talking about my swimming for a year 01’ so talking about my swimming for a year orso in talking about my swimming for a year or so in this way, she stopped me and said, there is nothing accidental about showing up at the olympics and i had to really kind of
understand why i had swum and in writing the book, very shortly after it was written, i was diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum this and this, for me, shed my entire experience as a swimmer in a com pletely experience as a swimmer in a completely different light because i saw my siblings to the right and to the left of me who also swam, quit andi the left of me who also swam, quit and ijust the left of me who also swam, quit and i just didn't the left of me who also swam, quit and ijust didn't understand why i didn't. getting into the water was one of the most is equally painful experiences. you are at room temperature, you end up having to ta ke temperature, you end up having to take your parker off, your clothes off and then get into competitive temperature degree water which is fahrenheit about 67 degrees, i think... and you hated chlorine. i was allergic to it so i walked around just blowing my nose all the time. it was physically a terrible
experience. but you endured. i did. you endured partly because i don't know if this is the right word but you anaesthetised yourself with alcohol. absolutely. and with drugs. drugs. and so i think that, as my swimming took off, so did my drinking and using. as i got faster and faster, my drinking and drugging increased and there were a few reasons for that. part of it was that general irreverence and a clear understanding that any of the adults around me, just the duty of care was absent in the kind of best circumstances, it was negligence and in the absolute worst, they were perpetrators of violence. this is where it seems to me your story gets really dark because in essence, you are describing a late childhood/ adolescence in which adults were comprehensively a toxic presence in your life and we have to be honest
and say even your parents would stand accused of this because whatever duty of care and love most pa rents whatever duty of care and love most parents acknowledge, your parents simply won't bear for you.|j parents acknowledge, your parents simply won't bear for you. i mean, i think my parents weren't, the entire institution of swimming wasn't, my teachers won't, so i think, you know, we have to be careful when we try and look for like that one person who was the bad guy but i think what we are talking about and what this book attempts to story tell is this story of how absolutely normal this very kind of banal violence that sometimes was just neglect and sometimes was in fact physical violence, was normal and i think that in writing it, what i wa nted think that in writing it, what i wanted to hold was the banality of the evil. hannah arendt talks about
this. doesn't she? everyone was complicit. my team-mates around me. talk about arendt‘s quote about the banality of evil and you say not all adults around me were perpetrators but they looked the other way. absolutely. you said, you are in your early 40s, your parents are still alive? my father has passed, rest in power and my mother is in the south of france, i was visiting herfour the south of france, i was visiting her four weeks the south of france, i was visiting herfour weeks ago. the south of france, i was visiting her four weeks ago. so what is the relationship like now? the relationship like now? the relationship with my mum is really good, you know? we've both grown and again, the book is written from the perspective of a 14— 15—16 year old, andi perspective of a 14— 15—16 year old, and i think that all of us who run into any of that age group, they basically aren't very fond of their pa rents, basically aren't very fond of their parents, generally speaking. basically aren't very fond of their parents, generally speakinglj basically aren't very fond of their parents, generally speaking. i get you, but when she reads that when you, but when she reads that when you are still 13, you are physically
abused badly by one of the medical tea m abused badly by one of the medical team that was looking after you as an elite swimmer, she must now feel an elite swimmer, she must now feel a terrible sense of failure in terms of protection. i think that in the times that we have spoken privately about it, both of us have deep regret around, for different reasons, what that experience was like for me. i was so angry with them, andi like for me. i was so angry with them, and i talk about it in the book, all the athletes are allowed to invite their parents. you basically get free tickets to the olympics and i went out of my way to make sure my parents could not and many years before my father passed, i was able to talk to him about that andi i was able to talk to him about that and i think that again, this book was in the 1990s. this is 30 years ago. and a lot has changed and when
my mum and i have had a chance to talk and we do, it's been about what it was like being a mum, growing up in patriarchy, feeling obligated, as i felt, to be in patriarchy, feeling obligated, as ifelt, to be a certain type in patriarchy, feeling obligated, as i felt, to be a certain type of girl and just feeling absolutely imprisoned by it. as a young athlete. and i think that's where she andi athlete. and i think that's where she and i connect. you were a top swimmer. i was. she and i connect. you were a top swimmer. iwas. you she and i connect. you were a top swimmer. i was. you are a star of the french team, got to the atlanta olympics, you, amazingly in a practice session, before your heat, you broke the freestyle 50 metres world record. i did. and yet, at the very same time, you were drinking alcohol to the level of addiction, you are consuming cocaine and other
drugs, how did you maintain the level of performance? drugs, how did you maintain the level of performance ?|j drugs, how did you maintain the level of performance? i mean, i think part of it is youth. because i meant all young kids now who who it's just an absolute miracle now that they are alive. —— mentor. not eve ryo ne that they are alive. —— mentor. not everyone makes it out alive, i have some young ones who have passed and i feel quite lucky that that is not what happened to me. it could have. but as far as the people around me, from coaches to team—mates to institutions, the absolute indifference that i felt from them was something i was acutely attuned to, as were all of my team—mates, andi to, as were all of my team—mates, and i think that... did any of them know of your addictions? yes, they used with me. i was not alone. did
your coaches know? i got pulled out of the water, i talk about it in the book, i was 1a or 15, and of the water, i talk about it in the book, iwas14 or 15, and i of the water, i talk about it in the book, i was 1a or 15, and i was absolutely an irreverent swimmer. i told my college coach which —— that he didn't have a job without me which was partly true but absolutely insulting. 1a, might coach pulled me out of the water and i'm thinking he was about to tell me i did a great job on what he says instead was, so i hear that at the end of meats, you are the first one under the table, which is an expression into french thatis which is an expression into french that is you are totally drunk and i looked at him and i corrected him andi looked at him and i corrected him and i corrected him and i said, iam the last one standing. so you had an enormous sort of front and rebellious streak and it kept you going despite all of the addictions and the abuse you are doing to your own body. you got to the olympic
spot to finish the swim story, the olympics ended up being a disaster because despite breaking the world record in practice, and it came to the real deal, the heats, you bombed, you didn't get anywhere close to the final and you felt humiliated. i did. and it seems to have sent you on a descent to a rock bottom place where, if i'm reading it right, you really seriously considered ending your life. yeah, i mean, i had attempted suicide prior to this already and i think if there is anyone who is watching this show, there are a lot of resources that can help you if you are feeling that dark and blue in the uk is really great about that. but i... for as long as i can remember, ifelt very dark, empty on the inside of my chest, even as a young kid and when
i understood that you could kill yourself when i was 12, i imagined that that is what would happen and so when... so that is the background. there wasn't one particular thing. i understand a little bit more about that, you know? there are statistics out there, non— gender conforming kids and lgbt qr youth are 70% more likely to attempt suicide. the cliche is hitting rock bottom before you start to arrive and essentially you are saved by your sister who takes you back to france. shortly afterwards you came out and we re shortly afterwards you came out and were honest about your sexuality. was at the beginning of a journey to self—knowledge about your own perception of your gender and your sexuality which helped you? the
book, godspeed, and when i am 21 and it ends there specifically because life as i had lifted up to that point, as you said, it ends completely. it is a bit miraculous and inexplicable why one day i was using every day, i had quit swimming andi using every day, i had quit swimming and i was peripherally involved with gangs in the following day i would be in gangs in the following day i would beina gangs in the following day i would be in a different state and not use ever again. you went clean and stayed clean. absolutely. and knock on wood i hope that remains for ever. what is your explanation? i hope at this point, there are no more universities in the entire united states who will take me as a swimmer, understandably. iwas... some of them are humourous, the times i get kicked out and talked
about but there was one school who would and it was in dc and the reason they took me was that this one coach had actually coached me for a very short time in high school and he says, look, you have a clean slate with me. i think he was hoping to get a fast swimmer but i was like, whatever, i need to finish college. and then i came out. i came out as gay and there are no gay athletes. i come out, like this. like there is no—one who looks like me in swimming. i shaved my head, you know... looking back, i have such fondness for that experience but it was ultimately the excuse i used to quit swimming. the last, armour, the last moment i had with
the team was that i sat down to eat with them. they had all found out i was gay, maybe a week or a few days prior. half the team stood up and left. again, this is the late 1990s. homophobia in dc is still very real. there are still pockets in the us, there are pockets where safety is not as big a concern but for the most pa rt not as big a concern but for the most part it still exists. and i quit swimming. ultimately it seems to me that you are still desperately trying to find out who you really are. it seems you find it, firstly through pursuing art. art allows you to express yourself in a way that swimming did not and even a professional career did not appear able to do. so you have art. and then an extraordinary twist where moving forward some years, you are discovered by a modelling agency. that's right. they don't want you to
model as a woman, they want you to model as a woman, they want you to model as a man. while i modelled as myself. but they model me wearing the clothing that i wear. which is things like this suit, for example. and that was a very weird set of circumstances, how that happened but what i will say is that when i did the back to school and finished my other education, i was only able to do that because by this time i had mentors, adults who have my best interest. and unlike in the past they care. they care. and it is the queer elders. they helped me. i am intrigued and if i may bring it back, i am intrigued and if i may bring it back, iam intrigued by your decision to become a model which, of course, was glamorous and you got front covers of glossy magazines on
the catwalk experience and all of that. you became something of a celebrity. but you had hated the aspect of swimming that was about turning your physicality into some sort of a commodity and it seems like 20 years later you ran the risk ofa game like 20 years later you ran the risk of a game turning your amazing physicality into something of a commodity through modelling. did that never strike you? absolutely. that is why i did it. prior to this happening i think because i was an athlete also because i am curious about the body and curious about how we talk about the body, curious about how the burden of having a girlhood means, i am curious about what it means to walk around in this queer body specifically and the truth is that... i know what it is like to be afraid walking down the
street and that, for me, because i think of my physicality and because of my art and my curiosity around that, i began exploring it in photographs. in my writing. so when this happened i agreed but every single time we grieved... agreed. and the reason i agreed was because i was interested about the edge of commodification of the body. was it possible to re— appropriate the gaze? was it possible to undermine it in some way? from the outside it would look like you were, again, subjugating yourself in a sense, to the power of others. in an agency the power of others. in an agency the model does not have the power, it lies with the director of the shoot and the stylist and everyone else who wants to create an image. did you find a way of getting power back? i did.
did you find a way of getting power back? idid. because did you find a way of getting power back? i did. because i was 36. because i had 16 years of social activism behind me, because i had many years of study behind me. so when i went into these environments where the body is at stake, absolutely, i went in and was able to surround myself with photographers and stylist who understood and appreciated the questions i was asking of my art practice. and that is, in fact, why they booked me. so i am not alone in they booked me. so i am not alone in the fashion industry, which i love. it has been so good to me. and i think that when we look around now there have been changes but this question of the commodification of the body is a really important one and one we have to keep asking. and
todayit and one we have to keep asking. and today it does seem that attitudes have shifted a great deal in terms ofan have shifted a great deal in terms of an acceptance that gender is a more complex issue than may have been thought of even ten or 20 years ago, that there is a recognition non— binary identification and gender fluidity. non— binary identification and genderfluidity. how have non— binary identification and gender fluidity. how have you changed? not gender fluidity. how have you changed ? not that long gender fluidity. how have you changed? not that long ago you said that your gender is ambiguous. i don't fit easily into the category of man or woman. but that is only because these categories are rigid and binding. i am because these categories are rigid and binding. iam part ofa long lineage of amazing trends and gender nonconforming folk. so do you finally feel you have reached a place and in a society where you can truly and comfortably be yourself? absolutely. but this is a privileged position, right? iam here in london, england on this set with you
having a really important conversation. i am six foot two, i am classically good i am white, highly educated and i get to sit across from you and say yes, i am trans—, yes i come from this lineage of, you know, a lineage that is across western cultures across global south cultures and the aboriginal cultures. there is a history there but i safely get to say that to you. so you are saying it is still a privilege to have that security? absolutely. and one that has come at a personal cost to me but it is important that when i have the opportunity to sit across from you and be able to be someone who perhaps someone seeing on the television that they would be able to say ok. i am ok. that is so important. visibility does save
lives. but you have found a place where you can be yourself and be co mforta ble. where you can be yourself and be comfortable. totally. that is a great place to and after all of this pain and all of the rawness. a good place to finish. casey legler, thank you so much for being on hardtalk. my you so much for being on hardtalk. my pleasure. hello. well, most of us on wednesday are in for fine weather, bright to even clear skies, but feeling on the nippy side. that easterly breeze is making its presence felt. the temperatures slightly below the average for the time of year. the south—west of the country, different story here. in fact, it's been overcast and damp
for the last 2a hours or more and that's how it will remain through the course of wednesday, so we have a weather front that's basically stalled across the south—west of the country, so that means slightly milder conditions here but some outbreaks of rain for cornwall and for devon. you can see nine degrees at 6am on wednesday, whereas the clearer skies in northern england and scotland by this stage have led to an air frost, at least in the countryside, and towns — close to freezing. so the forecast on wednesday morning shows cloudier skies nudging into north wales and maybe the midlands as well, certainly quite cloudy in the south and south—east at times, but outbreaks of rain for cornwall and devon. wherever you are, the winds will still be blowing out of the east. easterly winds tend to be quite cutting, feeling quite chilly, so temperatures around ten whether you're in glasgow, edinburgh and london, feeling on the nippy side, despite the sunshine.
that's wednesday. there's a little bit of a change wednesday night into thursday. this weather front will be moving eastwards and northwards, and that's going to introduce one — some slightly cloudier weather and some spots of rain, but also milder conditions coming off the atlantic, so when we see the change from the colder air to the milder air, we often see misty, murky conditions and it does look as though that's what we're going to have on thursday and thursday, of course, is halloween. so halloween, cloudier weather, especially for some western and south—western areas and spits and spots of rain, nothing too heavy but at times it will be damp. still nippy, single figures there in eastern scotland and the north—east of england but in the south—west, we're around the mid—teens, 15 expected in plymouth. then a big change friday and the weekend. big low pressure swings in off the atlantic. in fact multiple low pressures with multiple weather fronts, and that can only mean one thing — very changeable and windy weather
this is the briefing, i'm sally bundock. our top story: the countdown begins. britain's parliament votes for a december general election to try and break months of deadlock over brexit. "slow genocide" — that's what the church of england calls nigeria's environmental crisis. we have an exclusive bbc investigation. a senior white house official tells the impeachment inquiry into donald trump he witnessed firsthand the president pressuring ukraine's government to investigate joe biden. confectionery couture — we take a look at the parisian fashion show where the clothes are all, stylish, sugary, and made of chocolate.