and have always been a very average field hockey player. Thirty years ago I played hockey in high school, for the B team. I played some recreational hockey club, before drifting away from organized sport in my mid-20s. It’s a familiar story for many Australians.
Twenty years later I picked up a stick again, inspired by the Hockeyroos winning silver at the 2014 World Cup. With some trepidation, I emailed the women’s section of the Melbourne University Hockey Club, explaining that I am a trans woman, and asking if that would be a problem.
Their response was simply: “We can find a suitable team for you!” They gave me advice about getting a mouthguard, not about my gender identity.
Earlier that year I went through my gender “transition”, better described as a confirmation of something buried deep inside me. The suburbs and private school in the 1980s had not felt like safe spaces for a budding trans woman. I didn’t even have that vocabulary to understand or name what I felt. So, I buried those feelings and tried to live a “regular” life. For a while I made that work, a strategy that lasted a decade or two, ultimately undermined by the emptiness I felt inside.
Taking the first step, as a trans woman, to join community and sporting activities is a huge one. Transition is full of joys but is often hard. For me, it meant walking away from a career. It meant tough, though ultimately positive, conversations with my parents. It contributed to the end of a marriage. For a time, I retreated to the shadows, head down, avoiding eye contact. Change rooms, especially early in transition, were a source of sheer terror. For some trans and gender diverse people experiences or fears of discrimination – deliberate, subtle, unintentional – are barriers to participation that remain too high. Isolation and depression are crisis issues for trans and gender-diverse people; participation in sporting and social activities can be one part of the solution.
I last played, pre-Covid-19, in a women’s mid-level pennant team. I played alongside other women, some with better hockey skills, some who were faster and others who were stronger on the ball. As a team we played hard, we often won games, and we celebrated together. Not once did anyone on that team, nor anyone who we played against, ever take issue with me being on the field. Hockey, for me, has not been a site for trans activism. It’s a place where I’m just Emily. Being part of those teams were massive boosts for my mental and physical health, and I am deeply grateful for those teammates and coaches who treated me as just one more player.
Katherine Deves, and by implication those whose support her, want you to think that we are literal monsters. Our bodies mutilated, our minds sick. When those horrid views are called out, our prime minister conjures up an alternative world in which Deves is the victim. It is no coincidence that men in the Coalition government who have failed to understand or adequately address widespread concern about the toxic, misogynist culture in Canberra are leading the defense of Deves; our existence as trans and gender diverse people, alongside lesbians, gay men and others, throws a spanner in the works of the patriarchy. We are not playing our assigned roles. We refuse to go back into the closet and back in time.
The only positive in this latest episode of trans-baiting is that most people are not biting. This includes Liberal party members who have spoken out against Deves’ offensive comments though many others have said too little. Electing Deves could sow the seeds for three more years of destructive “debate”. Braver politicians might speak and act more directly against hatred; and then focus on other issues such as rental affordability or aged care or the multitude of other issues that have implications for LGBTIQ + and other marginalized people.
Four years ago, despite an unnecessary national vote and an anti-trans fear-mongering campaign, it turned out that most Australians were happy for same-sex partners to get on with married lives. The Australian people arrived at that view before our federal parliament showed the courage to legislate.
I believe that most Australians are also at peace with transgender people being treated as humans, with rights. And that we can live, work and play together. I wish more of our politicians would catch up.