I am so tired of the conversation surrounding trans people in sport. I saw the announcement from Basketball Australia that they were not going to allow Lexi Rogers to play, and my heart sunk. This emotion was quickly replaced by a sense of deflation, seriously we are still here? The deflation was so strong that I actually didn’t want to write about this at all. I’m tired of having these conversations and yet relatively speaking, I’m quite new to this space. I then read Joe Ball’s post here and I gave myself a talking to. Advocates like Joe and so many others have been fighting this discrimination and exclusion for decades. The honest reality is, they were probably doing it when I was spewing out transphobic slurs as a young cricketer.
Yes, like so many others who later come to understand their identities, I absolutely made jokes about trans people in sport. I got very righteous when I came up against a transwoman on the cricket pitch when I was in my early 20’s. As I was hitting her balls to the boundary I still believed she shouldn’t be allowed to play, and I told people that. Even though I, a tiny little player (yes I’m actually short despite what people online believe) was getting the better of her, a tall strong fast bowler. How ironic and ridiculous. I think about this so often, I acutely understand the ignorance that sports associations are displaying – because once upon a time I shared that ignorance. My lived experience is not only of being gender diverse, but also of being transphobic. Fortunately to be a trans ally not everyone has to realise they themselves are trans. My path to understanding was perhaps extreme but not unique. On some level I knew who I was back then, even if I didn’t actually know who I was. But I absorbed the beliefs around me and found inclusion by also having those beliefs, it’s a familiar story that has played out for many LGBTIQA+ people.
So how do we create strong trans allies of sports administrators, players and volunteers (without them needing to be trans )? In my experience we can usually begin with a simple conversation that can be incredibly effective, after all there is no logic to the counter argument. Conversations that start with “we don’t exclude women who are over 6 foot tall, we don’t measure the strength of players and say those who are stronger than the majority of women can’t play, so why would we exclude someone just because they are trans?”. Or we can use the argument that most trans people are woeful at sport anyway because they have never felt safe to participate, and if by chance there is a trans player like Lexi Rogers who has managed to overcome all the barriers and moments of exclusion to actually get good at the sport, then the least we can do is let her play! And of course there’s the argument that all sports people seem to agree on, that sport is good for mental health and as one of the communities with the highest levels of mental health concerns, trans and gender diverse people need access to sport. If we have the time and space, bringing people to the understanding that transwomen are women, that transmen are men and that non-binary people are of no threat to your sport is also absolutely possible.
The problem in my mind is numbers. For every trans or gender diverse person with the knowledge and spoons to hold space for these conversations there are more ignorant people sharing their unfounded views and ideas about people they know nothing about. And let’s be honest, most people who call themselves trans allies don’t have enough knowledge to rebut the ignorant statements. Our allies were raised in a society that upholds gender stereotypes very tightly, it’s not surprising that its so easy for people to fall for ignorant narratives that lean into this.
I honestly believe that many decision makers don’t understand the turmoil that a decision like the one Basketball Australia made, has on the trans and gender diverse community. They can’t relate to the issue, and they certainly don’t have someone like Joe Ball, Emily Fox or myself in their ear to help inform their decisions. To top it off there are active haters that manage to insert themselves into the conversation and the media gives them the platform to do so.
So we need to increase our active support crew, allies who do have the answers and courage to stand up for justice and inclusion. Just recently I (with two other amazing trans folk) held a Q&A to empower aspiring allies to be this support crew, 30 people turned up. The questions were real and honest and I felt we all learnt a lot from that discussion. It was a starting point for many of them, I’d encourage you to reflect on your next steps.
The decision from Basketball Australia was out of touch and harmful. If you are involved in basketball, please make noise. If you are involved in any form of sport, raise your understanding and actively have the conversations, ensure there is a clear position from your club and your association surrounding trans inclusion – I know we are asking a lot but this is literally life and death stuff. Let us play, let us benefit from sport in the way cisgender people are able to, let us find safety and belonging in a our world that doesn’t often provide that.
Be our support crew because we are tired, sometimes deflated and need you to back us all the way. I promise that in return trans and gender diverse folks will absolutely give back to their clubs and teammates. We are all better off together.
01 February 2022
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10 May 2022