HomeEquality and DiversityExclusive: The Struggles Of Transgender Athletes

Exclusive: The Struggles Of Transgender Athletes

Caroline Layt

Exclusive: The Struggles Of Transgender Athletes

Being transgender in sport leads to many struggles; in an exclusive interview with Ministry of Sport, athletes Caroline Layt and Emily Fox explore what it is like to be transgender in the sporting industry.

For many in the transgender community, sport is a hobby and a way to enjoy themselves, yet for many this is taken away when their gender identity is uncovered.

Many sports such as the AFL, Cricket and Tennis accept transgender players, according to the athletes, however, just because they accept transgender players, does not mean all are supportive.

The AFL allows transgender and non-binary people to participate in teams which best fit the gender they identify with, creating an inclusive environment for the LGBTQI+ community, while Fox explained how Tennis Australia are well known for their inclusive policies and practices.

Despite the acceptance of transgender athletes across a number of sports, personal prejudice and discrimination by athletes and coaches limit the opportunities available for people who are gender diverse, according to the athletes.

Layt, a former professional rugby athlete, shared her experience with Ministry of Sport after transitioning to a woman at 30 years old.

Layt said she had played rugby all her life, representing New South Wales and Australia, and transitioned at 30, but kept the transition a secret as she did not feel safe sharing her experiences.

In 2005, her transition was leaked, and she faced discrimination and abuse from both teammates and coaches, with many opportunities taken away.

“Virtually within 12 months I went from being one of the top players in NSW to not being able to make the top Sydney team,” Layt told Ministry of Sport.

“They tried to stop me from playing,” she said.

When officials from the sport found out, she “had to show cause for why I could continue to play on.”

Layt recalled one match in particular where she was physically abused by seven teammates, saying “the president of Sydney Woman’s Rugby at the time was cheering them on;‘yeah smash her’.”

“I felt like I had no voice,” she said.

Layt eventually stopped playing professional rugby due to the prejudice and abuse she was subjected too, now focusing on activism and supporting the transgender community.

AFLW athlete, Emily Fox, on the other hand, said she played at state level football before her transition, however, didn’t feel comfortable playing at an elite level.

“As an adult, I did attempt to play men’s football on many occasions, however regardless of how good I was at football, I never felt comfortable or safe in those environments,” Fox said.

“I guess what made me not feel safe and comfortable in those spaces was that in men’s football in particular there is a pretty strict concept of what masculinity is and I had a very hard time living that identity and being comfortable in that identity.

“I was living in a society where the acceptance and possibility of transitioning was very difficult.

“I could have potentially been playing in women’s sport living as a woman since my teens or early twenties, but I was living in a society where that just wasn’t possible.

“Practically no one in my life knew I had been struggling with gender identity since I was a child.

“The societal narrative was, if you couldn’t accept the gender you were assigned at birth then there was a mental illness and something wrong with you,” she said.

Fox also said she believes common homophobic language makes the sporting industry prejudice against the LGBTQI+ community.

“These clubs would often engage in homophobic language, just seen as a cultural aspect of sport,” Fox said.

“That language permeates how you feel people will treat you.

“Whilst we are getting so much better in that regard in both men and women’s sport, its most definitely something that was a massive barrier for myself.

“The space around respect and equality for LGBTQI+ community has only got limited funding, so you have to rely heavily on non-for-profit organisations and advocacy groups to get that message out to clubs.

“They can’t reach every club in the country; they just don’t have the capacity to do so.

“Clubs need to be coached and taught how they can be welcoming and accepting, understanding that amongst their player group, they are most definitely going to have people who are sexually and gender diverse.

“Most sporting spaces want to be progressive and want to do better,” she said.

Around the sporting world, several organisations currently enforce strict rules determining a transgender athlete’s access to participate.

World Rugby maintains strict rules which ban transgender women from competing in international tournaments, who the sport believes hold an unfair physical advantage.

The only way for transgender women to be accepted into the elite World Rugby community is if they undertook their transition before they reached male puberty or do not disclose they are transgender.

A transgender female may compete in World Rugby tournaments if they have been on hormone therapy to reduce male hormone levels for a minimum of 12 months and are within the sport’s hormone guide.

Transgender men, following similar rules, are also allowed to play if they are within the sport’s hormone guide.

The sport’s reasoning behind this decision is that transgender females hold an unfair physical advantage against other players and due to potentially increased body mass from undergoing male puberty, have a higher risk of causing injury to another player.

When asked about World Rugby’s stance on transgender athletes, Fox told Ministry of Sport: “Their policy is really disappointing.”

“It’s a really regressive move,” she said.

Now working as Tennis Victoria’s inclusion coordinator, Fox said she believes Tennis organisations in Australia are doing a great job of supporting the transgender community.

“I wouldn’t be working for them if I didn’t think they were doing great work,” Fox said.

Elsewhere in global sport, the International Olympic Committee (1OC) are another global sporting organisation where strict medical guidelines make it difficult for transgender women to participate.

However, new guidelines put into place by the IOC give the decision to determine whether a transgender athlete can compete to the governing sporting bodies, in attempt to become more inclusive.

Under the new guidelines, elite sporting organisations will have to complete a 10-step process with the transgender athlete to ensure they are eligible to compete, the decision will then be passed on to the IOC.

This decision will give a clear process for transgender athletes to follow, giving more opportunities for the transgender and non-binary community to participate in the Olympics.

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