The Siren Spotlight series continues with this powerful piece from Holly Hazlewood taking us behind the headlines in the conversation of trans participation in sport.
White-hot acidic anger burns its way through my veins.
I’m reading another hit-piece about the supposed tsunami of transgender women coming for women’s sport. Apparently this wave threatens to engulf the very nature of an even playing field.
As I read the headline and its baseless claims, I see it for what it is. Fear mongering aimed at one of the most vulnerable sections of the community. We already make up such a small part of wider society, around 1%, the idea that trans women are going to dominate professional sport for years to come, is the epitome of hyperbole.
It is a tsunami in a teacup. But this fake storm can have a real impact on people’s lives.
This is classic punching down by white, cisgender, heterosexual and conservative men, who are often both the author and audience of such opinion columns. These subjective stories are typical of people who have never had to consider their place in society. To them, they are ‘society’—anything that questions their too tightly held view on the world and its societal-encoded norms of gender and sexuality, which exist for no reason other than to maintain this patriarchy, is sneered at, scorned and dismissed frivolously as ‘woke’.
Before I continue, let me introduce myself. My name is Holly Hazlewood. I am a transgender woman. Yes, one of those ‘scary’ women the angry white men told you about. I have played sport all my life. I was a sports journalist for 17 years, covering the NRLM for the last four. Now I am an exercise physiologist. I’ve studied human anatomy and the physiological benefits of movement, sport and exercise. My focus is on people who have complex chronic conditions and injuries, and also how best to train elite athletes.
I am 195cm tall and weigh around 100kg. I have been on hormone replacement therapy for more than two years and let me tell you, there have been drastic changes to my physical composition. That tends to happen when you take away all of your testosterone and replace it with oestrogen. Despite this, and because bigoted views are often based on first impressions and on subjects people know little to nothing about, most would assume I could easily stroll into any NRLW team. How could I not, right? Because playing professional sport has nothing to do with training or skill, it’s only about what size your torso is, and what size your hands and feet are, right?
I know for a fact that I would be folded up like a cheap wallet if I tried to take a hit-up now in the NRLW. To suggest I would dominate, or even somehow compete, simply because of my relative height and weight does an incredible disservice to the amazingly dedicated athletes that are playing in the competition now.
The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) transgender-inclusion policy previously required all women to have testosterone levels under 10 nanomoles/liter and transfeminine people to be on testosterone-supressing medication for at least a year. The IOC is looking to redefine this policy because, frankly, it’s transphobic but also it’s highly prejudiced against other natural variations in human anatomy, be it for cis or trans people. By this long-held supposed gold standard for the Olympics, the definition of what is considered womanhood has been reduced to a number and sets the tone for other sports to follow.
Where this also gets increasingly concerning is when most sports globally are governed by cisgender men who don’t understand, or want to understand lived experiences of trans folk and the importance of inclusive participation in sport for everyone, ‘rules’ are proposed to continue to further police our bodies. Just last year, the Rugby Football Union in England proposed height and weight guidelines that would see trans women forced to complete ‘assessments’ if they fell outside of certain parameters, no matter that many current cis women playing the sport would also fall outside the proposed approved range. Yet again, cisgender men trying to define what is a woman governed by their outdated views. The human condition and the bodies we inhabit are so wonderfully more complex than that.
It’s been suggested to me that, say, NSWRL players who cannot break into the NRLM, will then seek to transition to become trans women and then dominate the NRLW. Do you realise how incredibly insulting and just plain outrageously wrong this notion is? How little it shows people truly understand the reasons why people come out as transgender and take the steps to feel at home in their own body? Trust me, no cisgender man who truly does not question themselves the way I did previously will ever choose to replace their testosterone with oestrogen, just so they can win a footy game.
But what happens when there are million-dollar contracts in the NRLW? Surely men will
transition to cash in then? Yet again, if you think this, you do not understand the intensely personal reasons why people come out as trans. We do not do it to get a pay rise at our jobs. If anything, we then start to face pay reductions and the same discrimination in our respective careers as cisgender women. So nice try if you think we get some kind of ‘patriarchal free pass’.
You only have to look at who is peddling these lies. They are people who do not have the lived experience of somebody like me, or my other trans, non-binary, intersex or gender diverse brothers, sisters and folks. That is not to say the only people who can comment on this supposed issue are trans people, our allies are important, but we give a level of insight that is simply not possible from cis people that needs to be heard. Cis people have never had transphobic slurs yelled at them by random people in the street, and as much as they can try to empathise, they are not looked at differently simply for being our authentic selves in our society. Our lived experiences need to continue to be shared.
We hear all the time that sport is for everybody, that it is inclusive. But when you have a Federal Government currently actively trying to stop trans women from playing sport, and other talking heads dog-whistling to the conservative right with hateful, baseless hit-pieces, it’s hard to see how it’s inclusive for ‘everybody’.
Unless everybody means, white, straight, cisgender men. Then sure, sport is super inclusive.
And if that offends you, have a look in the mirror and a long, hard look inside yourself as to why.
As much as this discussion is about the fair and equal right of trans women to compete in their chosen sport, it’s about basic human rights for people to be happy and fulfilled. There is enough systemic discrimination against trans people regarding access to housing, education, health-care, legal advice, employment let’s not add sport to the list.
Trans women are not a threat to women’s sport. You know what the biggest threats to women’s elite sport are? A lack of promotional opportunities equal to their male counterparts, equal or decent wages to allow female athletes to train full-time and not have to juggle a full-time job, family and other commitments on top of the training demand. Equal representation in the media and marketing campaigns. Equal access to high-quality training facilities, accommodation and transport options. The list goes on.
The people who are the loudest in this ‘debate’ about ‘fairness’ and ‘safety’ and the ‘protection’ of women’s sport are silent on the real issues. Where are you when women’s sport has been held back because of preconceived ideas of what women can do and be as sports people?
Only when a tiny percent of the population wants to play sport of their choice, then we have the clutching of the pearls and the headlines screaming, “won’t somebody please think of the cis women!”
Your real intentions are clear. Your bigotry is showing.
Holly Hazlewood is a former sports journalist of 13 years having worked across Australia and England and working for NRL.com for four seasons. Holly recently went back to university to study Exercise Physiologist and Rehabilitation (EP) which is now her new career working in a clinical space as an allied health professional. Holly’s work with the NRL saw her become the first openly transgender woman to work for the sporting body, and as such, she is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Holly is now using her professional and lived expercience to not only help clients as an EP, but also provide in-service training to other health professionals about the unique needs of the queer community, in order to provide fair, equitable and sensitive health care for future generations.