A transgender sportswoman’s take on Sam Newman and his ilks’ rants against Caitlyn Jenner and all things trans

Hearing about Sam Newman’s rant a fortnight ago where he demonised Caitlyn Jenner by referring to her as an ‘it’ on the AFL Footy Show highlights how far society has come and still has to go before transphobic comments disappear from sports shows and the like forever.

We have made progress, as people are now airing their disgust and calling out these narrow minded and blinkered views such as Newman’s for what they are. That is progress in itself.

What Newman said reminded me of a TV host who said disparaging remarks about transgender people playing women’s state of origin (women’s interstate rugby league challenge) almost a decade ago.

I sat there gobsmacked, as I watched the rugby league expert negatively critique Amelie Mauresmo by calling her transgender, while she played tennis on the APT circuit. He followed that up with, “That’s all we need is more transgenders like Mauresmo playing women’s State of Origin rugby league.”

My ears pricked up as I watched – disbelieving at the audacity of this fellow… Mauresmo is not even transgender, but he was in full swing, as the audience laughed along at his cheap shot … my shoulders slumped, as I realised he was not only talking about Mauresmo, but also me.

I felt terrible, as I was still in the closet, although I had transitioned some 15 years before. My whole reason of being able to represent New South Wales in rugby league and Sydney in rugby union was the fact I had kept my transgender status quiet.

More honours would have adorned if I wasn’t clumsy and self disclosed to someone whom I thought was an ally at the time.

When I first returned to sport post-transition (which by the way included hormone therapy, psychiatry sessions and surgery) after passing my gender tests, I had to keep my trans status hidden.

I was immediately cleared to compete against other women in sport as a masters track and field athlete, as I was found to have no advantage playing women’s sport.

Less than a year later I wanted a new challenge, so I decided to play rugby union, a decade after I had last played as a male athlete.

When I informed my club coach I was transgender, he told me to keep my mouth shut or I would never be selected in representative teams, despite being cleared by Athletics NSW to compete.

My test results after my max vo2 test (35.5 mlo2) were well within the female range. The tests were conducted by sports scientists and overseen by a sports doctor. They were in accordance with International Olympic Committee guidelines and protocols at the time.

That was 13 years ago and not surprisingly I followed my coaches instructions and achieved selection and played in the national tournament winning Sydney Women’s rugby union team that year.

Prior to transition I hid my female self and now post-transition I had to hide the first 30 years of my life, all because of views like the fellow had aired on his show.

I thought to myself how can he get away with demonising others? Even though I had achieved playing women’s rugby league and union, I was pretty obscure as women playing either code was an after-thought a decade ago and by that very definition, how could I even defend myself against this multi-media star?

I sat there feeling powerless and angry, as I had actually “met” this fellow a year or so before.

I had decided to help my women’s rugby league coach out, who doubled as an NRL Development Officer. I was in between jobs at the time, so I voluntarily put my hand up to help out with canteen duties for the kids rugby league gala day.

Said sports show host was in attendance as his kids were playing. When he looked my way from a distance, I smiled as I recognised him straightaway – a familiar friendly face from TV … or so I thought.

He gave me a deadpan look and then a look of trepidation and fear. He was scared out of his wits … it was as though I was covered in spiders.

I don’t know how the sports show host knew about my trans status, as I am not obviously read as trans and I don’t walk around with a sign on my forehead, but he appeared to know my trans status all the same.

Whatever the reason, he made me feel like absolute rubbish when I briefly locked eyes with him and again when I heard his rhetoric during his show approximately a year later.

It may not even have been aimed directly at me? He may have a problem with women rugby league players in general, due to their not fitting his ideal of how a woman should look, act or be?

Women playing footy pfft – you see, in this fellow’s eyes, women should be adornments and submissive and are seen as nothing more than objects.

What is even more disappointing is people who are seen as role models – ie sporting stars, appear to be among some of the most homophobic and transphobic people around.

It’s usually feminine qualities which are targeted as they are seen as lesser than and the perception is all gay men and transgender women are stereotyped and seen as weak characters due to the scapegoating of femininity and their pursuing their true selves. If you head in that direction than you are fair game from the conservative and far right-wing commentators.

I know this, as when my transgender status broke playing women’s sport, some people went out of their way to antagonise me on the sporting field.

I’m aware contact sport is about getting over the top of your opponent. It’s competitive by nature, but the underhanded stuff I never took part in. But obviously some did and still do once retired from the playing field.

Which brings me to Sam Newman. He and his rugby league equivalent appear to view women in a certain manner and Justin Smith wrote as much in his article in Rendezview, “It showed that people no longer copped this kind of bullying. And it just added to Newman’s image of a person who seems to think if you’re not watching footy, playing footy, talking footy, or you’re a sheila to shag, then you’re an “it”.”

Former NRL player Ian Roberts, who is still the only gay professional footballer in this country to have ever been out during the 1990s, echoed a similar sentiment in his 1995 autobiography, Finding Out, ‘ “I think concepts of manliness and femininity are warped. There are strengths of character and weaknesses. Why is femininity such a dirty word anyway? All men have qualities you could call feminine. It’s a pity a lot more guys aren’t allowed to be in touch with that side of themselves. The world would be a better place. And I’m not talking about men doing womanly things. I’m talking about understanding, sensitivity, gentleness. Not being so emotionally stiff.” ‘

AFL player Pat Dangerfield was quoted by Smith as calling Newman on the AFL Footy Show “irrelevant”. Newman fired back he was “not understanding the era of political correctness we now live in”.

Well Sam this former transgender athlete says get with the times buddy, as your rhetoric causes so much grief and forces transgender people to go underground. Which means the only way we can succeed in life is to hide who we truly are … I’m 51 now and so over that approach.

Anyway if that type of rhetoric was aimed at your lived-life, would you refer to it as political correctness? I sincerely doubt it. I’d say you’d act all indignant.

Fortunately Newman’s views and Margaret Court’s for that matter are now starting to be seen as tired and old school, as people are becoming more educated about LGBTIQ issues.

There seems to be a groundswell of people understanding and having empathy of being able to walk in our shoes and that is a great thing, as more and more transgender and gay people come out of the closet due to there being wider acceptance in mainstream society.

As for Caitlyn Jenner, well Newman may say nasty things about her, but I thank her … if it wasn’t for her I may be still in the closet, as she gave me the courage to come out to 600 Facebook friends. Since then, my life has for the most part been great (save for losing a few friends who thought I should not be so vocal) and I’ve drawn a line in the sand, as I’ve decided I’m never going back into that closet again.

As much as life is positive for me, Safe Schools statistics reveal four per cent of the population is transgender or intersex. The rhetoric aimed at the kids among this group is simply not on, as they should be able to grow up in a more enlightened world.

The ones who have to hide their true selves due to said rhetoric are the real victims here. In this day and age it’s not acceptable.

As for Newman and Court, one lives in hope they may one day have to change their ways and views, due to their being held to account, where their views are seen as old, stale, discriminatory and outdated.

*About me – to the best of my knowledge I’m the only transgender woman to have played in the women’s Interstate rugby league challenge, representing New South Wales during the 2007 season. I was selected again during the 2008 season, but I reluctantly withdrew from the team due to bone bruising of the knee.
I also won four ARU national women’s championship titles representing Sydney in women’s rugby union.
Prior to transition – I briefly played Shute Shield (first grade) rugby union for Eastern Suburbs when I was aged-20 during the 1986 season, was a member of a training squad for South Sydney and first grade for Oakdale – Group 6 Country Rugby League 1991.
I’m a journalism student at Macleay College.

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