You do really well in one of your chosen sports of rugby when you return to it after a long absence.
So well in fact, you win awards at season’s end and you are considered one of the best players on your team.
You train really hard, eat healthy foods – your body is your temple and you are in great shape and display great form.
You are rewarded by being selected to play in the Sydney representative team and you’re considered to be one of the best female players in NSW.
Your coaches, administrators and your teammates treat you well in the beginning.
Your club coach, who you confide your transgender status to – tells you to keep your cards close to your chest. He even suggests you lie as a smokescreen to keep people off your tail and say you played rugby in New Zealand when they ask, even though this lie makes you feel uncomfortable and you tell him you don’t want to go with it.
You are always on guard that people will find out about your trans status and you are constantly aware that people who are now friendly to you today, may not be so tomorrow and if and when they find out terrifies you.
You decide to keep your head down, arse up and keep moving forward.
The season moves on and you are one of the fastest players in the competition.
You tested the waters at the Sydney Gay Games in late 2002 and won three consecutive 100 metre women’s 35-39 years state bronze medals 2003-04 with a personal best time of 13.54.
You run those damn multiple 300 metre sprint reps, which hurt so much when you run them – but the speed endurance work you do – manage to keep you in tip top shape and fast.
You also do a lot of gym work including a weights program for your rugby and athletics, as you’re working as a group Fitness instructor at the time
You play numerous club matches against teams top heavy with international players and your reputation is enhanced by the way you perform against this top quality opposition.
Once your being transgender is discovered a year later, you’ll mention your story to others, but many will be ambivalent at best … you’re transgender, and they see you as lesser than and you simply don’t count.
What you write below is important, factual and is written in current tense, as it sets up the rest of the story.
It is not meant to be indulgent, as some would have you believe, as the moment they knew you to be transgender – they simply took so much away.
You’re the leading try scorer of three separate categories during season 2004, including the Jack Scott Cup: Sydney Women’s first-grade competition with 17 tries and the Sydney Women’s Rugby Union First XV representative team with 5 tries.
You also take home the try-scoring-award – most tries scored by an individual amongst all players from five grade, three colts and two women’s teams – ‘The Ralph Stephenson Memorial Shield’ for your club – Parramatta Two Blues with those 17 tries.
You are nominated and win awards and one has you recognised among the six best players in New South Wales, four from Sydney including you and two from New South Wales Country.
You are lauded, feted and told by those coaches apparently in the know that there is no one as good as you in your position in the country and moving forward you are told you can do great things for your country. Those words are your provincial representative coaches and selectors and definitely not yours.
You are referred to as ‘big headed’ by your teammates due to your sunny disposition and your outward confidence.
The people who have this gripe are insecure in themselves and their own confidence levels and they wish to stay popular among their clique. Some will apologise and say how immature they were years later.
Once the season is over, you have a break and you play some other sports over the summer months to stay in shape. You play too much sport, without doing the extras you did the summer before. You become injured as your core becomes weak.
It doesn’t help that you have changed careers from fitness instructor to care worker over the summer months.
You go back and train hard with your rugby team during the pre-season. You expect from the previous season that you’ve just had – there might be recognition and respect from your teammates, but unfortunately, all you can see is them playing “games” in their little cliques at training, disrespecting you and this bothers you.
You leave and go to a better team: the premiers from the season before, who have nine international players.
You find out from your club coach they had asked for you to play in an exhibition womens rugby sevens match at an international tournament in Sydney with them, but you find out after the fact.
You think why “stick around” and be treated as a second class citizen by people who aren’t motivated other than to mock others, when other more valued and motivated players want you in their team.
You like it there, but you don’t like their coach, who patronises you by the way he talks down to you and you feel your opinion is not valued.
You head back to your old team, as you like the coach and after one of your teammates calls you and makes an impassioned plea for you to return.
That’s your weakness as you care about others too much.
The heat intensities on your return and it isn’t long before the bullying starts. They are “oblivious” and don’t understand or want to know the reason why you left in the first place; due to their poor behaviour and unprofessional training standards and habits.
You are benched for the first representative match of the season against ACT, as that club coach you mentioned above who you didn’t like has since been appointed as your representative coach and in his eyes, it’s “payback time”. Grrr.
You sit on the bench gathering splinters for most of the match. With twenty to go, you enter the fray. You do your bit to secure the win. Still, you are unhappy, as you know the reason you have been benched is nothing to do with ability and more to do with him for calling him out for being a bully.
You can’t hide your true feelings and others see your body language of feeling let down and hurt. They go for the jugular and on the return bus trip home tell you, “You are not as good as you think you are!” This statement is aimed at you, simply because you believe in yourself and you don’t like being on the end of someone else’s biased agenda.
An argument ensues on the bus trip home and you are the only one suspended from the team for one match, as the explanation given to you is, “You’re an adult and they’re children.”
It doesn’t sit well with you, especially considering one of those players; is the 23-year-old daughter of the team manager and they came at you. The others are early twenty-somethings as well.
The representative coach who has a problem with you, simply because you had the audacity to leave his team, isn’t finished with you and he tells you it’s all your fault, as you’re not as experienced, nor as good as you think you are.
It’s getting monotonous and starting to sound familiar. It’s like they’re all reading verbatim from the same book. It sticks in your craw and you are annoyed.
Out of anger when you return home, you write an email to him and think about it for a moment before you hit send. You tell him that he can have a go at you about many things, but not the lack of rugby experience… as you had once played against him for Eastern Suburbs v Western Suburbs (now West Harbour) at Concord Oval almost two decades before.
Of course, there is no reply as that is how cowards work, but you hear back soon enough from your own club coach who doubles as your representative team manager. Not only are you suspended for that one match, but you have to give reason as to why you should be allowed to continue playing in this all-female competition?
Your club coach asks, “Why did you tell him? It’s going to be harder for you now.”
You agree, but you say, “It felt good at the time, letting him know what I truly thought of him!”
You are a sensitive person, but on occasion, you call a spade a shovel. You feel a weight lifted off your shoulders, even if only for a little while.
You send the results from the gender tests you undertook a few years prior and your subsequent clearance as a track and field athlete from your sports doctor to the governing body of your sport. You include a letter from your endocrinologist, your papers from your surgeon, which include a statutory declaration and your hormone levels through your blood work. You tell your coach to relay your message to the chairman of your sports governing body, “I’ll see you in court if you don’t let me play!”
Of course, you play on, as they don’t have a leg to stand on, especially after you tell them “I’ll see you in court”.
Unfortunately, however, there is another layer there now. Previously it was only jealousy because you were not only older than them, but a better player as well.
Now bigotry and ignorance come to the fore.
They say, “No wonder she’s so good, it’s only because she’s really a man.”
The season continues on. You cop your suspension on the chin and witness your representative team win on the bell. You avoid your club-mates, but you have managed to forge friendships with your representative teammates from another club.
On your return, your season settles down and you play some good rugby, interspersed with some – not so good. You have an undiagnosed back injury. Your coach knows you are struggling and you tell him you’re suffering and you ask him for a break from play.
He tells you to play on, otherwise, you will be dropped not only from your club team but from the Sydney representative program as well.
It’s important you play at Nationals a few months down the track, as the Australian women’s rugby squad – the Australian Wallaroos – are being resurrected for the 2006 Rugby World Cup and you need to be playing well to make that squad.
You play on with painkillers from your GP and she tells you that you have a muscular strain of the back, even though the shooting pains goes from your back all the way down your legs – tells you it is something far worse than that.
The painkillers mask the pain. You play some good rugby, although you have lost a good measure of speed. You can’t help but afford yourself a wry smile, as you know medical help, core work and a block of sprint training will have you back near tip-top shape, but due to your club coach’s ignorance; the painkillers are the best you can do at this particular time.
A month out from Nationals you play against the team with nine internationals, which you almost joined. You have a good game and your team wins a hard fought match. Spirits are high.
The opposition players are invited to your sponsor pub for a few drinks and a feed. You hang out for a bit and then head home in good spirits, thinking that just maybe your season has just turned around for the better?
Unfortunately your optimism turns out to be a false dawn, as you arrive at training on the following Tuesday. You argue with your coach. Expletives are exchanged: like-coach-like-daughter – similar to that bus trip only a few months before.
You think about walking, as you have run out of painkillers and their medicinal qualities have worn off.
You are now in so much more pain than you ever were before. The pills have only masked the pain and your disc has slipped further and is hitting the nerve running down your spine.
It’s hard enough to get out of bed, put your socks on and get dressed, let alone play rugby.
Everyone notices you are struggling and rather than show you empathy and compassion, they go for the jugular and most buy in.
You are told to put in from one of the laziest trainers in the team.
You tell her, “It’s a bit rich coming from the likes of you, especially considering your training ethic or lack thereof!”
She continues to snipe, “You think you’re special, don’t you!
“You think you’re better than us!”
You ignore the sniping and simply say, “I’m in a lot of pain, I can’t put in.
“My back is shot!”
The trainer Daniel even joins in and starts shouting at you and it’s all a bit sad and a bit much, as he was one of your biggest supporters and fans during the previous season, before he knew you were trans.
It’s tall poppy syndrome, as everyone is at you and that teammate says another abusive thing to you and finally after forty minutes of abuse, you finally snap.
You give chase, as you’ve had enough.
You are ready to unleash, when you are grabbed from behind and have your arms pulled behind your back by one of your teammates.
You are punched in the face seven times by six different girls who run in and take pot shots at your face.
It all happens in an instant. Two of the more enlightened girls come to your defence and your friend Lea tells them they are all gutless – seven on one is hardly a fair fight.
As you leave the scene, the ringleader is still chirping away about how you think you are “special”.
Lea puts her in her place and tells her, “Yes Caroline is more special than you [as a rugby player] and your anger towards her is simply fuelled by jealousy.”
You concur with this view, as you walk away with tears streaming down your face.
You feel sad, as most members of your own team buy into the bullying. You are seen as lesser than – your equal rights disappeared the moment they became aware of your trans status.
Girls who are new to the team are nice to you for a few weeks, but on being told you are transgender you see their attitudes shift and your rights as a normal team member disappear overnight.
You exit the scene and head for Hornsby police station and talk to the police about assault charges, but they won’t investigate, nor press charges, as you are honest and tell them you chased her after a “shitload” of goading.
They do record your statement and tell you if it happens again, don’t react, which is very well … as you don’t know where or when the next violence will come.
You arrive home and your mother sees your bruised face. She asks you what happened? You tell her through a stream of tears running down your face.
She asks for you coach’s mobile number. She calls him and reiterates what Lea says.
Your coach denies this and tells you the assault you just undertook is all your fault, if you only kept your mouth shut, he tells your mother.
This is the same coach who told you that you were the Jackie Robinson of women’s rugby, the first of your “kind” playing the game and you “must not react”.
He even gives you material to research Robinson’s story, which you’re well aware of now.
The discussion between your mother and your coach ends in stalemate.
Your mother tells you to “walk away”.
You understand why she tells you this: but you don’t and you can’t, as you have these “bastards” to thank for putting this dream of you wearing the green and gold in your head, which you wish to pursue and she, of all people, has always taught you to chase your dreams and goals.
Luckily the following weekend you have a bye and you head up to the central coast to support the second grade girls. They are on your side and having witnessed your physical assault, they are outraged by the boorish behaviour which has been directed at you.
You return to training the following week and you quickly find out where the trouble brewed.
Lea tells you at the sponsor pub that evening after you had left the West Harbour girls had “dissed the dirt on you” and told your teammates of the matters you had confidentially discussed with them earlier that season.
They paint you in a bad light even though they had concurred with your honest appraisal and view at the time: that many of your your Parramatta teammates displayed childish, immature and boorish behaviour at training and despite the fact all of them were talented, most were unprofessional, lazy and ill-disciplined to play alongside.
The West Harbour girls agreed with you at the time and even added further to what you told them, but they were happy to leave all of that out when painting that bad picture of you.
Your physical assault on Tuesday evening can be directly attributed to these two international players as you’d upset their apple cart as well.
It was payback time for you leaving their team.
You store your disdain for a later day and a later game.
After that assault, you play at ARU Nationals and you have a stinker of a tournament.
You are benched, bullied, ostracised and vilified by the coaches and most of the players. There is one game where they feel you’re useful and you’re promoted to the starting XV against arch-rivals Queensland during the pool match.
You actually play a great game, despite the adversity thrown your way. One mistake midway through the second half where the wind picks up and the ball sails over your head from a kick downfield and you are hooked from the field even though it not only sailed over . your head, but the fullback’s and flanker standing near you as well.
Your tournament is over as you watch your team win the national championship from the bench.
The assassination of your character is now complete. That coach, who ironically was one of your biggest fans only 12 months before, when he granted you cis gender privilege – played club rugby with the Australian assistant coach and you view them spending an inordinate amount of time together.
You know by the body language they display towards you, not only has he told the Australian coaching staff and selectors, but he’s added in what a ‘troublemaker’ you are as well.
At the end of that season, you are informed you are not good enough to be selected for an 118 member Australian squad, even though only one season before you were considered one of the best six rugby players in the state. A state that had just finished one and two at the national women’s rugby championship via Sydney v NSW Country in the national final.
The irony is not lost on you, as the other five players who were nominated alongside you for that SMH Women’s Rugby Player of the Year award 2004 were all selected in that initial 118 player squad. One didn’t even play in the country for that whole year – outta sight, outta mind – and yet, she was selected on her return from England.
None of those women are transgender, so they don’t have a mark against their name.
Your season from hell is finally complete when your club rescinds two trophies awarded to you from 2004. Your name and preceding winners of the two trophies you won, are the only names struck off the list. All other annual award winners stand.
You still have the pewter mugs to this day – where your name once sat – but now there are two empty spaces.
You don’t play for trophies, but this hurts and one of your representative teammates says to you, “Their erasure of you is complete, as it is like everything you achieved the season before never happened!” You simply say, ” I know.”
It was akin to being treated as the same as someone who had failed a drug test. Actually, no – they would have been treated far better!
Their judgments are complete and your verbal protests fall on deaf ears. It doesn’t matter you went through a male puberty you wanted no part of and you were steered in a direction of manning up at all costs, so you didn’t break the mould; a direction that your mother told you not to be daft when you told her you felt you were a woman at age 14 – when she caught you dressing up.
Safe schools, had it been around back in the day, when you were growing up would have made your life so much easier and the male puberty you underwent would never have happened – as people, including your own mother would have been so much better educated.
They have no knowledge or concept of your pain. They’re unaware of how you are feeling. If people understood that our bodies are simply vessels that support grey matter between our ears and we are much more alike than people think; than people may be much kinder to each other?
Your season is complete, but the ignorance continues. You were once close to the chairman of your governing body, i.e. Sydney Women’s Rugby Union. You call him to seek his advice, as, despite everything which has happened to you, you wish to play on, as you can’t finish up on that note.
What he tells you though surprises you. He tells you that you are similar to a person who has an intellectual disability, although his words are far more harsh, as he refers to those people as mentally “retarded”.
He says that on now knowing you are transgender – you are like a “retarded person” and people don’t know where to look and your presence makes them feel uncomfortable, Once again blame has been transferred to you.
You know when the person in charge of Sydney Women’s Rugby Union feels this way than you have fewer rights than other people and he is not only condoning and encouraging bad behaviour towards you from others, but he is a catalyst for it as well.
Finally, you have an MRI scan on your back and your worst fears are realised, you have a protruding disc at L4/L5 and it is pushing on the nerve.
You tell your coach and he shows you little empathy towards you and you now realise that YOU; his best player during season 2004 was just cannon fodder in his grand plans and schemes of things that were important to him.
You are angry, as his daughter had a similar injury and he gave her a month off from training.
You are glad when the season is over and you have time away from these people and the absolute worst time of your life is over.
They have turned you into an absolute “shell of the person you were twelve months before.”
It is time to rebuild your self-esteem, which you do well, as new horizons await.