Emerging Sports Writer Program participant Courtney Hagen speaks to Plangermaireener athlete Taylor Ling, on cricket, identity and sport’s role in bringing it all together.
Looking out onto the field at Bradman Oval, a rookie player stands for a moment to take in Gundungurra and D’harawal country beneath their feet. Donning the prestigious NSW Indigenous jersey for the first time, and marking a new story in cricket’s history book.
Taylor Ling’s rise has been a long time coming, both for sport, and the Australian pastime entrenched within its national identity. Taylor’s debut for the NSW Indigenous cricket team marks the first elite state representation of a non-binary athlete in Australian cricket.
The Plangermaireener athlete’s story starts in regional Tasmania, where opportunities to engage in sport ran short outside of physical education during school. Until a PE teacher, collaborating with Cricket Tasmania, started a local girls cricket competition, which brought a whole new reality to the way Taylor could embrace the game they love.
Taylor’s journey to understand gender diversity was intertwined with playing cricket in the NSW club system where they initially found comfort in sport.
“I felt like maybe it was a bit more of a masculine environment where performance was key, not necessarily any of these other, you know, feminine qualities that you needed for sport, it was all about performance and endurance. And that was something that I could connect with,” they said.
It was a new teammate, and now lifelong friend, Erica James, who brought light to a whole new world of understanding for Taylor. Erica joined Taylor’s cricket club for the 2016/17 season and sparked the light they needed to see to take the steps towards a deeper understanding of gender diversity.
“[Erica] was the first out trans person I’d ever met…she’s so unapologetically herself and it just made me feel like wow, for someone to just be so comfortable to be themselves and not be sorry about it really inspired me to be more open about myself.
“I mentioned to her when we met that I was gender neutral. And that was the first person that I ever told that I don’t feel like a woman. And it was just crazy. I didn’t know that it would mean so much. [Erica] was a turning point in my life.”
Without a lot of visible role models or resources, Taylor took to the internet to do further research. Outside of knowing Erica, there was no representation around them growing up in a small Tasmanian town. Youtube vloggers detailing their journey and sharing their story with transitioning became Taylor’s source of education, empowering them to take further steps to understand the complexities of gender diversity and what it is to be ‘non-binary’, eventually leading Taylor to making the decision to having top surgery.
“At the time [I was] still playing cricket in a women’s environment when I had top surgery in December 2018. I decided to take the rest of the season off. I feel like I was saying that it was because of my surgery. But you know, part of me was really trying to come to terms with playing in a women’s environment. I think it was too soon and I don’t think I had the right support with me around my cricket club. Unfortunately, just due to being such a new thing to everybody, such a new concept of non-binary people and using gender neutral pronouns. It’s very hard.”
Shortly after, in 2019, Cricket Australia launched their Transgender and Gender Diverse Guidelines providing support to players, clubs and competition. The guidelines provided the opportunity and support for Taylor to play cricket again, whilst also taking testosterone.
Taylor says that when coming out at their cricket club they were received empathetically by their teammates and people who had known them for a long time. However, as Taylor continued on their journey of self-discovery, the game they loved ultimately provided a space of anxiety and discomfort due to the binary nature of the sport. This led to a two-season hiatus, where the left-arm-cutter played only four games, a significant drop from past seasons where they were playing up to 39.
“During the time I wasn’t playing cricket, there was always this guilt in the back of my mind, knowing that I didn’t have a physical reason not to be playing cricket. I didn’t have an injury. I didn’t have something I could go into training and be like, yeah, this is why I’m not playing, oh a broken arm, you know, it was that I just didn’t feel comfortable in this women’s space.
“Even if I didn’t have those experiences at my club, I feel like I still would have had to take a bit of time to work on myself and work on feeling comfortable. And, you know, getting used to all of the discomforts that I’m just gonna have in my life and as sad as it sounds, I’m good. I’m used to that, and learning that all the discomforts, they’re not all on the same level as each other, and that some I can learn to deal with and, and some that I can’t.
“And so it’s really about taking control of the things that I could control. [My] next step in my journey is creating more awareness for non-binary and gender diverse people playing in a binary or binary sport.
“I’m really lucky that I can play cricket with my friends as a non-binary person.”
After returning to the game, Taylor went on to compete at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cup hosted by Sydney Thunder. After a stand-out performance, Taylor was welcomed into the NSW high performance system, debuting with the NSW Indigenous State Cricket Team last month. When asked about the future of gender diverse participation in sport, Taylor said:
“I know the kind of effect that it had on me not playing the game that I absolutely love. And being Trans or being Indigenous shouldn’t have an effect on your ability to play a sport. It’s not about your gender. [The future] simply would just be much happier.
As young people today are realising their gender identity earlier than ever, we are faced with a potential barrier to participation within traditional binary sport which will lead to potential loss of the social, physical and positive mental wellbeing attributes which sport has the power to give.
“You want kids out there just playing sport and being active and laughing and enjoying it because [they] love the game, not because they need to play in their assigned gender,” Taylor said.
Participation is a fundamental human right of freedom and equality. We can all be part of this story by ensuring there are more legends like Taylor on our sporting fields, in our boardrooms and in our grandstands. Taylor wants their story to grow from being a single page in history to an essential chapter in equitable sports participation in the future.