Transgender man Daniel George said he has never felt comfortable playing sports after making transition. (ABC News: Alkira Reinfrank )
Despite sport being an integral part of the cultural fabric of Australia, many transgender and intersex people say they have been ostracised by sporting communities.
Transgender man Daniel George has not played soccer in two decades due to fear of not belonging in either a men’s or women’s team.
“I loved sports when I was younger. As a child it was one of my main activities, after school I played sport all the time,” he said.
Before I went through puberty I was interested in team sports, and like every kid I wanted to be picked for the team. But it was pretty obvious I was different.
“But the message to me very early on was I didn’t really fit in to things that I wanted to do.”
When he was a young girl living in Broken Hill in western New South Wales, Mr George played on a boys’ soccer team, which he said caused internal divisions.
“I did have some tricky experiences being the only girl in a men’s soccer team, sometimes the opposition would target me on the field,” Mr George said.
“Very early on my parents tried to get me involved in a men’s soccer team, but what happened was the coach of the team at that time wouldn’t coach the side because I was the only girl on that team.
“So my mother, who isn’t sporting at all, stepped in and started to coach the team.”
Sport first casualty of transitioning
Since transitioning 20 years ago, Mr George said he had not returned to the sporting field for “fear of being bullied”.
“Sport was one of the casualties of my transition,” he said.
Daniel George has not played soccer since his transition 20 years ago. (ABC News: Alkira Reinfrank)
“Sport was no longer something I felt comfortable participating in. I think fear plays a big part in it.
“I liked being able to hang out with my mates and play sport and it was something where I could socialise, so when the sport went, so did some of my ability to go out and be sociable.”
For intersex woman Alex, whose name has been changed to protect her identify, her school years were a time when they faced constant judgment and bullying.
“Before I went through puberty I was interested in team sports, and like every kid I wanted to be picked for the team. But it was pretty obvious I was different, so I didn’t get to participate much,” she said.
“I particularly had bad experiences going into change rooms.
“[At school] I used to do things like not bring my gym gear in, and be punished because of it.”
Alex has since turned to bushwalking and solo activities because “there is no judgement out there in the bush”.
‘I felt violated by the golf club manager’
A keen golfer and transgender woman, who has been asked to be identified as Sarah, said she was initially forced off the green at her local golf club by the manager who was not comfortable with her gender.
“The manger of the club I joined was not happy with my handicap score and he went delving, without my permission, into my past and I felt quite violated by this, and [as a result] he was able to establish I was transgendered,” she said.
Transgender woman, Sarah, was forced out of playing golf by the manager of her local club because of her gender. (ABC News )
“With the information he called in Golf Australia to find out what could be done about me playing golf.
“I was asked [by Golf Australia] to provide documentation that is required as outlined in their policy and submitted those to their medical advisor.
“I did and eventually received the all clear from Golf Australia that I was a fit and suitable person to play golf with the ladies.”
Sarah said being transgender meant there were many misconceptions about her physical ability.
“I don’t know whether … [the manager] thought I was going race off with the silverware from the golf club and win the championships fraudulently,” she said.
“But it was as though someone had gone delving into the recesses of that back cupboard where you hold all your life secrets.”
Sarah continues to play at the same club but has no contact with the manager.
Australian Sporting Commission aims to change attitudes
Up until now there has been minimal work in Australia to establish nationwide sports policies for gender diverse people.
This lack of legislation has meant some sporting codes have adopted international policies which relate to elite sports. These policies can often exclude many people from participating.
When you are a trans or intersex person who is actively excluded from participating in sport or have faced barriers … it means you are prevented for participating in a part of life that most Australian take for granted.
Peter Downs from the Australian Sports Commission said it was not known exactly how many people who were gender diverse had been excluded from sports but said the issue was firmly on the commission’s radar.
“We have some research that certainly says there are many people who are transgender and intersex who don’t participate in sport and we want to address that,” he said.
The commission, in conjunction with a number of state organisations, has been working on a draft policy for the inclusion of gender diverse people in sport.
“Our goal is to get the policies out there to raise the level of discussion and awareness around transgender and intersex at a grassroots level,” Mr Downs said.
“We are about to embark on a process of consultation with national and state sport organisations about that draft.”
Dispelling gender myths
Mr Downs said there were many misconceptions about gender diverse people playing sports which needed to be “dispelled”.
“There are various stereotypes and myths around the inclusion of gender diverse people that we need to talk about so people start to understand what is real and what is not,” he said.
Transgender and intersex policy advisor Peter Hyndal said more needs to be done to include gender diverse people in sports. (ABC News: Alkira Reinfrank)
Mr Downs said the policy should be finalised within the next eight months and would “fit at a national, state and club level”.
Transgender and intersex policy advisor Peter Hyndal said the document needed to ensure the rights of gender diverse people were protected across all sporting codes.
“Sport plays a really important role in connecting people and building social connections and social networks,” he said.
“When you are a trans or intersex person who is actively excluded from participating in sport or have faced barriers … it means you are prevented for participating in a part of life that most Australians take for granted.”
On Thursday, the Human Rights Commission launched a nationwide survey to collect data on the participation of transgender, gender diverse and intersex people in sport.
The survey is open until September 3.