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Strict sports policies force non-binary footballers to choose between football dreams and gender identity

If you were forced to choose between your passion and yourself… how would you choose?

At the age of 19, Zee Schorsch was just about to begin her journey as a footballer.

Zee works in the footy industry and plays at the state level.

Zee is also non-binary; They identify as neither male nor female, so finding their place in a sport that is strictly gender segregated has not been an easy task.

“It’s definitely difficult to research your gender when the sport is so binary … you’re on either a men’s team or a women’s team in most competitions,” they said.

Zee understands the challenges of managing AFL’s hormone policies, but they hope the sport will find an inclusive way forward.(Delivered: Zee Schorsch)

Up to this point, Zee has played for a local team in women’s competition, but current AFL politics presents her with a difficult decision.

Like many other trans people and non-binary people, Zee wants to go through gender-affirming hormone therapy; a common medical process that involves the administration of low-dose testosterone to help Zee look more the way they feel inside.

“I’m much more comfortable presenting myself as manly, and I think I have to embrace that,” they said.

“When I believe in it, I love it because it makes me who I am.”

But AFL has strict rules for players taking testosterone, even at the community club level. If Zee starts the process, they’ll probably have to leave Footy.

“Taking testosterone in a women’s competition pretty much means you can’t play because you would probably exceed the maximum testosterone limit in a women’s competition,” they said.

“We just want to participate”

While Zee has a big personality, physically they are quite a small person so playing alongside much larger people in men’s competition could put them in a dangerous position.

Footy player plays a yellow footy with his hand while a golden retriever looks on excitedly.If Zee starts gender-affirming hormone therapy, it’s unlikely they’ll be allowed to continue playing football. (ABC Great Southern: Asha Couch)

“I’m most comfortable playing in a women’s competition just because of my size, my strength and my ability,” they said.

“I’m not the same size as a cis[gender] Man would…I would probably get crushed in the men’s competition.

Zee understands the challenges in maintaining fair competition; They would be happy to only participate at the community level.

“We just want to get involved and get involved and take advantage of the positive impact that everyone is getting from the sport,” they said.

The future of football politics

Gender inclusion in AFL politics has evolved a lot in recent years, but people in similar situations to Zee still fall through the cracks.

Troy Kirkham of the WA Football Commission said all footy clubs, including those at the community level, are governed by broader national and international anti-doping groups.

“Any administration of testosterone must be approved by the Australian Sports Drug Medical Advisory Committee,” he said.

“It all comes down to the level of testosterone in the body and the amount that’s being administered, especially in a female competition, and whether that’s above the normal range of what’s allowed.”

A technician prepares a urine sample for doping testingLike many other sports, AFL is subject to broader national and international anti-doping rules.( Reuters: Valentin Flauraud)

Mr Kirkham said the talk was developing quickly. It is possible that hormone administration guidelines will change in the future.

“We just want to make sure that the integrity of the competition is maintained, while also making sure that we’re truly inclusive as a game,” he said.

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The power of inclusive politics

One sport known for its exceptional gender integration is roller derby. It has long been a sports sanctuary for people of different genders.

Seven people in roller skating gear smile and hold each other.The Roller Derby League team in Albany has taken active steps to ensure that people of different genders feel included in the community.(ABC Great Southern: Asha Couch)

In Washington’s Great Southern, Natalie Jarvis is President of the Roller Derby League in Albany; a club that has taken active steps to ensure team members feel empowered to express themselves authentically.

“[We] Just don’t take it as a big deal; You play with the people you are comfortable with [and] with the identity that you think suits you best,” said Natalie.

“We have a lot of players at our club who express their gender differently… because they’ve found their space where they can be comfortable in their own bodies, which is really strong.”

Smiling roller skater wearing teal helmetTegan Stoney, who identifies as non-binary, says Albany’s roller derby club made every effort to ensure everyone felt welcome.ABC Great Southern: Asha Couch)

Natalie says most people who play sports locally are there for the community spirit, friendships and fitness. She finds it important that there are no barriers preventing people from getting involved.

“At the end of the day, we all just love to exercise; we want to feel welcome and safe, and I think any sports club can do that,” she said.

“It doesn’t have to be a point of division. It can be a real point of unity within sports clubs.”


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