A Movement for Transgender Equality in Rugby

11/01/2017 08:33 am ET

Rugby saved my life. It gave me a purpose, a community and a something to strive for. But to this day I’m barred from competing. I am a transgender rugby player and this is my story I was assigned male at birth, but I’ve questioned my gender for as long as can I remember. From the age of 6, I knew that I felt different from boys my age. I was interested in doing more traditionally feminine things such as wearing makeup. As I understood the concepts of gender more, I found myself often dreaming of being a girl, and while I didn’t have the courage to act upon any of these thoughts, I held onto them as I entered into high school.

I went to an all-boys school, and I can’t begin to describe the inner turmoil I went through daily when I entered the front doors. From the first bell to the last, I was enclosed in an environment that constantly reminded me that I was different. I spent countless nights after school taking quizzes online to see what my “inner” gender was. I remember lighting up when the results said “female,” and I started to secretly wear women’s clothing while questioning my gender. I was utterly depressed and confused. These were the first moments in my life where I began to understand that I was not happy being identified as male. I was beyond excited to enter college, and the first half of my freshman year of college did not disappoint. I had great friends, and I was in an environment that embraced my weirdness. But things changed my second semester, as I continued to struggle with my gender identity. I entered a state of deep depression and missed dozens of classes. At points I didn’t eat for days, and I didn’t want to see any of my friends.

However, that all ended on March 31, 2015 on the Transgender Day of Visibility. I was browsing through social media and saw a beautiful transgender person. It was a random occurrence, but as soon as I saw this person, I knew that I wanted to live like them. Prior to that moment, I didn’t even know the term transgender. I spent hours researching what it meant, and I knew that I had to transition. I made a decision to come out to one of my best friends, and she embraced me with love and support.

Her response made me realize that I had the strength and desire to transition.

My friends all had a similar response; they were quick to embrace me. My experience with my family was unfortunately the opposite. After telling them that I was transgender, I suffered an unimaginable amount of pain and turmoil because of how they treated me. In addition, I saw how much my identity hurt them, and it pained me knowing that I was putting them through this. It was heartbreaking. The people whom I thought would ultimately support and affirm my decision were by far the most difficult to handle.

Less than six months after figuring out that I was transgender, I had reached an all-time low. In October 2015, I woke up to a call from a family member. The call was simple and had one message: I would never be loved if I transitioned. It was the latest effort in a long string of emotional attacks that I had endured, and ultimately, it was the last straw. I put on my favorite song – Same Love by Macklemore – and I walked to the nearest Walgreens. I purchased a large package of sleeping pills with the intention of taking my own life. I got back to my room and took out over 50 pills and put them in my hand. As I was about to swallow them all, I began to sob, and I desperately called a friend for help. I was checked into the mental health wing of a hospital for over a week.

The rest of my sophomore year was spent swinging between hopelessness and critical depression. I went back to the hospital 3 times because I was afraid of my own suicidal thoughts. I started emotionally and physically separating myself from anyone that could help me. I didn’t feel like I deserved help. As school ended, I refused to go home and lived in a run-down apartment. It was emotional torture, sitting alone in that room thinking about suicide every day. To this day, I believe that during that summer, I lost a lot of what it means to be human. As my junior year began, I knew that for the sake of my sanity – and my life – I needed to get out and attempt to find a community that would accept me. As I walked around my college’s club fair, I saw the women’s rugby team, and they looked like they were having a lot of fun. I hesitantly approached the table. Most of my experiences up to that point told me I wouldn’t be accepted, but the reality was the complete opposite. I was embraced with open arms, and I encouraged to join the first practice. I was terrified, but I managed to show up. As soon as I touched that rugby ball, I knew that I was hooked.

I worked harder than ever before. I learned everything that I possibly could, and I asked my teammates to practice every day. I wanted to be great, because for once I felt like there was meaning in my life. I was a part of the women’s rugby team, and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop me. When I step on that pitch, despite the hardships that I have faced, I am a woman.

At that moment, rugby saved my life.

Ever since I started playing rugby in the fall of 2016, I knew that I had found my home. Women’s rugby draws people from all walks of life, and it thrives on its diversity. Unfortunately, I was almost never allowed to formally compete. Despite my lengthy hormone usage, I was restricted from playing by World Rugby. Current World Rugby policies require athletes to undergo a series of unnecessary, expensive, and sometimes unwanted surgical, medical, and legal barriers just to compete in the sport that they love. These barriers includes a clause that states that an athlete must undergo genital reconstruction surgery that can cost upwards of $25,000, despite the fact that sexual reassignment surgery has been debunked as a necessity to preserve the integrity of competition. In addition to that, an athlete must also wait two years after surgery in order to participate in any level of rugby.

World Rugby’s policy directly contradicts the research and recommendations of the International Olympic Committee, established in partnership with a team of medical professionals. This new policy removes the requirement for surgery and also decreases hormonal waiting times to a period of only one year. The IOC’s guidance has since been adopted by other sport governing bodies, including U.S Track & Field, International Swimming Federation, International Gymnastics, U.S. Tennis, International Quidditch Association, Flying Disk Federation, World Curling Federation, World Out Games, and National Gay and Lesbian Football Association. There is no reason for World Rugby – and by default USA Rugby— to adhere to outdated and discriminatory policies. To quote the IOC:

“To require surgical anatomical changes as a pre-condition to participation is not necessary to preserve fair competition and may be inconsistent with developing legislation and notions of human rights.”

My transition was difficult. However, I am happy for the first time in my life. At many points in my transition, I felt more depressed than ever, but luckily I found a community that supports me. I have my rugby team and a loving rugby community that has largely embraced me. It’s why I’m working with the nonprofit Athlete Ally to strongly urge World Rugby and USA Rugby to adopt the IOC guidance and remove their discriminatory policies. Life is not easy for a transgender person, and sport governing bodies shouldn’t go out of their way to unnecessarily make it harder.

All I truly know is who I authentically am – a non-binary transgender woman who wants to play rugby. I am hopeful that one day soon I will be able to join my fellow women on the pitch and be accepted by the sport that saved my life.

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